Kenny Loggins' new group, Blue Sky Riders, with Nashville singer/songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, made its debut before Loggins' concert at Indian Ranch on June 24 and the trio talked with us in an exclusive interview minutes before they went on.
A trio of veteran musicians – one who’s written for a who’s who of country singers, another who has performed since her early teens and toured with some of the biggest names, the third a celebrated superstar –took the stage with adrenaline pumping like it was their first time on stage.Storm clouds loomed over the outdoor amphitheatre by the lake.Months of rehearsals, songwriting and just getting acquainted, but the chemistry, the magic was there.With the first chords, they entered that great unknown:how would it play out?And how would they be received?
The answer was almost instantaneous, as Blue Sky Riders, Kenny Loggins’ latest venture with Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, opened for his own concert on June 24 at Indian Ranch in Webster, Massachusetts, to the warmest welcome and most encouraging response I’ve ever seen for an opening act.Nearly the entire audience that came from all over New England to see Kenny was seated for the start of the opener and they gave back the love like enthusiastic parents at a school recital.But there was no faking it:the Riders really are that good.
Just an hour before, the three sat down with Connecticut Concerts in an exclusive interview and were laughing, joking and generally coping with the jitters in the way that only true professionals know how:by staying loose and bottling their excitement into that energy that would be used on stage.
They were practicing when I walked into the room, playing guitars and singing in that gorgeous, three-part harmony, and working out some minor details in the arrangement.After introducing myself to the three, I noted that their blogs on their website displayed a real enthusiasm for this new venture. “I’m glad you got to hear a little bit of it,” Kenny answered.“Now you know why.This is a good sound, to my ear.”Being that he was already half of one of the biggest duos in rock, has sung with countless other stars (including We Are The World), and has hits in four decades, he ought to know.
With showtime less than an hour away, Georgia admitted, “Oh, yes, we’re excited!”“We’re moderately terrified,” Gary half-joked.“We’ll be watching our fingers today.And each other’s fingers!”“This is what brings out the stuff you really don’t know that you thought you did,” Kenny added.“Like each other!”They all broke up laughing but in a sense, it was true.Besides a short set at Nashville’s Tin Pan South on April 1, this was their first time performing together and rehearsals have been squeezed into tight schedules with Kenny living on the west coast and Georgia and Gary in Nashville.
But the chemistry is undeniable.Kenny and Gary hit it off immediately when they wrote five songs for How About Now, Loggins’ last solo album, and “considering the fact it was a pretty heavy topic (his painful divorce), we had a lot of fun writing some pretty good songs,” he told me.“A little while later, I called Gary and said, ‘if this was 20 years ago, we’d start a band, ‘cause we sound like brothers.’I couldn’t tell which one was which on the vocals.It was a tight blend.So I said ‘let’s think about a band,’ and he said, ‘okay.’He figured I was crazy, so he let it go for awhile.I was working on a children’s album for Disney so I let it go ‘til I finished the record.Then I was riding my bike through the foothills of Santa Barbara, as I try to do every few days, and I got this sudden awareness that we should be a trio.I said, 'we need a girl.She can’t be 25 or we’ll look like a couple of old codgers.She’s gotta be a strong singer and a strong songwriter.'And he said, ‘I know the girl.’Now Georgia’s here and glues us both together."
“You said the sweetest thing,” Georgia said of Kenny, who first saw her on MySpace. “You said ‘she’s a heartful singer.’”“You were really beautiful,” replied Loggins.“Georgia and I had written songs together for a dozen years so we knew that we wrote really well together and I knew what kind of singer she was,” said Gary.
“I knew that we had a great blend,” Gary continued.“It’s kind of like, ‘if A equals B, and B equals C, then, uh, A should equal … uh … well, I knew that if we (Kenny and I) sounded great together and we (Georgia and I) sounded great together, then the three of us would be great.”“I think Pythagoras said that,” Kenny joked and they all broke up again.
But chemistry is undeniably important.“It’s everything,” Georgia stated.“When Kenny came to Nashville so we could all meet and sing together, we were, like, ‘how do you wanna do this to see if we actually really sing well together?’ And Kenny said ‘Let’s write a song.’So we sat down and, as we write, we sing, and we were singing together, it was pretty cool.We kinda knew right away.It sounded really good.”
“It started with the songwriting, we knocked off five good ones and sang together very well,” Kenny said while putting on Groucho Marx glasses-nose-and-moustache that someone had brought to him a few minutes earlier (I didn’t ask) and everyone was giggling again.It was a good time to comment on all the fun they seemed to be having on their blogs.“Have you been reading them?” Georgia asked enthusiastically, like I was talking to my next-door neighbor or something.Each wrote their version of how they came up with the name Blue Sky Riders and each is wildly different.So what’s the real story?
“Did you see the picture of my dog?” Kenny asked like a proud parent. "When I got him in Detroit, I named him Rider, after Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.The day I got him home, I called Gary and said, 'hey, y’know, Rider is a good name for a band.’And he said, ‘we’re sorta thinkin’ about Blue Sky.’And so I said, ‘well, let’s put ‘em together.’"I looked at them skeptically, not wanting to get taken in again.“No, it’s true!” Georgia laughed. “At first, Kenny said, ‘how about The Riders?’ but I said, ‘isn’t that too short?’And Gary went, ‘how about the Riiiiiiiiiiderrrrrssssss?'”When the laughter died down yet again, Gary admitted, “We can’t tell where the legend ends and the facts begin.”
But it is undeniable that all three are gifted and already-successful and embarking on this quest is uncharted territory.Loggins “could do this with anybody,” Burr says, turning serious.“Anybody would jump at the chance to do it.To have two relatively behind-the-scenes type of people like we have been, to get to do this is a dream-come-true for us.We spent our lives being the supplemental people, being the ones who pump the gas for the race car driver so he can get the checkered flag.We’re gonna get out there and get to play for a whole bunch of people and we’re not unaware of how generous that is.” “We’re also not unaware of how difficult it is,” Loggins added.“The fact we’re all over 40 flies in the face of common pop music wisdom.In a way, by doing what we’re doing, we’re telling other people, ‘if your heart tells you to do something, get up and do it.’” I remind Middleman of a quote from Joseph Campbell she put up on their site.“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls,” she remembers.“I’ve been solo my whole life, ever since I was a little girl.Singing with two guys I trust is so much fun.We’re sharing a load and that makes it really fun.”
"It’s not ‘Kenny Loggins and Blue Sky Riders,' it really is a trio," Kenny states firmly.“Alright, it’s Georgia’s band!” he says, cutting up again.I suggest that the idea might be taken seriously.“Oh, we already call her Yoko,” Gary quipped.“Yeah, they call me Yoko!It’s ‘cause I wear that stupid beret,” she mused.Kenny got quiet again.“We’ve talked about that, actually.You don’t know this,” he said, glancing at her, “but when he and I had our talk, I said, ‘how would you feel if this became Georgia’s band?’And … it pissed him off, but -- ” and they all chuckled.“I know I’d be the first one fired!” said Gary.
Begging them to get serious one more time before wrapping it up, I wonder what is the long-term goal here.“I think that’s three answers,” said Loggins.“For me, I’d like it to make enough money that I can keep doing it.But I don’t expect this to be a get-rich-quick scheme.We all dream that something crazy could happen, wonderful-crazy, but right now, we’re just doing the best we can.”
“This feels like the first steps of a really cool adventure,” added Burr.“It really feels like we’re getting ready to dive off the diving board and it feels real for the first time and we’re really, really excited about it.It’s going to be a lot of fun to be up there and look at those two other people and know that we’re a group.”
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Minutes later, with light mist falling, the three went on stage in their signature black, Western-style dusters, and the trio fearlessly played and harmonized to a crowd that was alternately adoring and stunned – some weren’t aware that Loggins himself was in the warm-up show.They started with a song that’s shaping up to be their theme, I’m A Rider, then the amusing How’s That Workin’ For You.Kenny talked about gaining inspiration for Another Spring, when, on one of his bike rides shortly after one of the California fires, he noticed how the vegetation was slowly returning and would fully return in a few more seasons, an analogy for having patience in life.
Georgia Middleman got to show off her marvelous voice on Little Victories (“take it from me, these little victories are all a heart needs”), backed by Kenny’s three-piece band with Loggins veteran Shem von Schroeck playing a heart-tugging concertina-like backing on his electric keyboard.Kenny told the crowd the story of how the three got together. "It was instant, we knew immediately we had a trio," he said. But he called a friend, who told him "You're crazy! You're too old to start a band!" The audience started booing the notion! "I texted Georgia 'too old to dream' and she turned it into a song but we just call it Dream -- we took out the 'too old' part. And so should you."
After singing Dream, showing off their lovely three-part harmony, they closed with an electric version of I’m A Rider. The audience showed their appreciation for this new group. "Leave some applause for the headliner!" Loggins shouted as they left the stage.
Although the crowd was there for a Kenny Loggins concert, they embraced this “new baby” as Burr had put it, with loving arms.It was an auspicious start in this next chapter of their lives and careers.