Music

Blue Sky Riders

Kenny Loggins for everyone!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Because of who he is—because of all the Grammys and the platinum albums and hit singles—the Blue Sky Riders will probably always be viewed through the lens of its most famous member, Kenny Loggins.

When considering the depth and breadth of Loggins’ career, that fact hardly seems surprising.

One of the things that sets Loggins apart from his contemporaries and counterparts is that his musical endeavors have been varied enough over a long enough timeline that my parents have their version and I have my own.

Allow me to explain.

My folks—and the rest of the music-listening world—got to know Loggins via his first serious music endeavor, the pairing that would become known as Loggins and Messina. Jim Messina—a successful established songwriter and producer—met Loggins in 1970 and what began as a mentorship between the well-known producer (Messina) and his talented upstart protege (Loggins) became one of the ’70s most successful duos. The accidental twosome collaborated on such hits as “Danny’s Song,” “House at Pooh Corner,” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”

Of course, I knew none of this when my own incarnation of Loggins appeared via, “Footloose” (you might’ve heard of it. Or the movie by the same name), a monster 1984 hit that, along with “I’m Alright” from the Caddyshack soundtrack four years earlier, firmly established the pop singer as the so-called “King of the Movie Soundtrack.” And we weren’t even done cutting loose when Loggins struck again, this time taking us to the “Danger Zone” by way of Tom Cruise and Top Gun—and he’s also responsible for “Playing with the Boys,” the song that provides the musical backdrop for that film’s much-ballyhooed volleyball scene. After that, came “Meet Me Half Way” from Over the Top, and “Nobody’s Fool” from Caddyshack II.

Somewhere in the midst of all that soundtracking, Loggins managed to find time to sing on USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” with the likes of Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Sprintsteen, and could even be found taking the stage at Live Aid.

There is a Kenny Loggins, it seems, for every era and occasion.

These days, Loggins has reinvented himself again, this time as part of singing, songwriting trio dubbed the Blue Sky Riders. Collaboration seems to be an itch Loggins needs to scratch—along with Messina, Loggins has written songs with Michael MacDonald of the Doobie Brothers—and joining forces with Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman (the other two Blue Sky Riders) probably feels pretty familiar, albeit in slightly bizarro fashion.

You see, this time around, it is Loggins who is mentor, while Burr and Middleman are able to reap the benefits of his wisdom and experience.

But make no mistake: Burr brings some musical firepower of his own to this deal, and Middleman is holding her own as well.

Burr earned his musical pedigree as a member of the Pure Prairie League before concentrating his efforts on songwriting for a list of artists that, from what I can gather, includes nearly everyone in country music. Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Wynonna Judd, Garth Brooks, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, and Faith Hill are just the tip of what is a very deep iceberg of singers who have given voice to Burr’s songs.

While Middleman’s resume isn’t as vast, I believe her to be the wild card of this trio. When Blue Sky Riders plays its back-to-back shows Oct. 18 and 19 at the Skagit Valley Casino Resort, I have a feeling this Texan girl with the big voice will steal the show right out from under the two more experienced musicians who bookend her onstage. While Loggins and Burr provide expertly balanced vocal harmonies, it’s Middleman—who got her start as a teenager opening for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard—who gives the songs penned by Blue Sky Riders their warmth and heart.

Given that all three members of this group are, first and foremost, accomplished songwriters, expect to hear songs that touch emotions and tell stories. And, in spite of the fact that the Blue Sky Riders would prefer not to be pigeonholed into a particular genre (and they do draw from their varied backgrounds and influences), given that both Burr and Middlemarch have long called Nashville home, most of their songs have a certain twang.

For Loggins, an artist who has accomplished enough to be able to do, plainly speaking, just about whatever he wants musically, the Blue Sky Riders is another reinvention, one that has him reinvigorated and back on the road—further proof that there’s indeed a Loggins for every occasion.

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