How Kenny Loggins Broadened His Scope on ‘Keep the Fire’
Kenny Loggins wasted no time establishing himself as a solo act after Loggins & Messina disbanded. Just a year after the duo said farewell with 1976's Native Sons, Loggins issued his solo debut, Celebrate Me Home, and he was back the following year with the Top 10 hit LP Nightwatch. By the time he started work on his third post-Messina release, 1979's Keep the Fire, Loggins was fairly well established as a recording artist in his own right.
Released in October 1979, Keep the Fire extended the platinum solo streak Loggins started with Celebrate Me Home, and as Loggins told Ultimate Classic Rock's Matt Wardlaw, he never really gave any thought to a less positive outcome. "I felt very confident," he recalls. "I just really enjoyed the process, and I never really got too scared about whether or not the success would continue. I just sort of assumed it would, and focused on how best to keep that going -- to write and record what I needed to write and record."
Looking back, Loggins chalks that boldness up to youthful naivete. "I just sort of assumed it was going to keep going because it had been going. When Loggins and Messina hit, we went into that assuming that we would. I'll bet every young act has the same overwhelming self-confidence," he points out. "Otherwise, why would you do it? It's like gold miners. You go in there knowing you're going to get the gold. It's just a matter of time. I think as we get older, we get a little smarter about that."
Where his previous solo efforts had found him working with producer and prominent jazz keyboardist Bob James to develop a smooth pop fusion sound, Keep the Fire brought legendary rock producer Tom Dowd into the picture – a change whose origins escape Loggins' memory, but one he told UCR reflected his desire to broaden his scope.
"'Well, wait a minute, I also want to rock 'n' roll,'" Loggins recalls himself thinking at the time. "My dream was always to be in the Who. I never wrote that stuff, so I never could do it. That was like my hidden alter ego. ... I didn't have anything to take me into an encore and I really wanted an audience to get up and dance, but I didn't have anything they could dance to."
It was a gradual evolution, however, and those first rock strides didn't keep Loggins from continuing to incorporate those smooth-jazz strains on Keep the Fire, particularly on tracks like the vocoder-enhanced title cut. "I think it was Herbie Hancock who was the first person to use vocoder," he says. "My bass player, George Hawkins, he turned me on to his record. I love the sound of the vocoder, and that was long before it was the only sound you heard on pop radio."
Loggins also continued his songwriting partnership with Michael McDonald, teaming up to pen and perform the Grammy-winning No. 11 hit "This Is It." Given that the duo had previously collaborated on the huge Doobie Brothers hit "What a Fool Believes," further co-writes seemed like a natural next step, although Loggins admitted to feeling some pressure to continue delivering at that level.
"It took us a long time to get to writing a second song, so the unspoken feeling was that we were nervous about writing something that was up to the level of 'What a Fool Believes,'" Loggins tells UCR. "We were both at the peak of our careers at that time, and we were more up to it than we realized. So, we actually wrote three or four really good tunes at that time, but those two were the most popular."
While conceding that he needed to leave the Loggins & Messina nest partly because "everything had to be voted on and, often argued about, which is the downfall of every band, I imagine," Loggins continued to explore his collaborative side as a solo artist, a process that yielded Keep the Fire co-writes with a list of artists that included McDonald as well as Stephen Bishop, future Mr. Mister bandleader Richard Page and Loggins' wife at the time, Eva Ein.
"I've been a natural collaborator most of my career. Certainly starting with Jimmy Messina, and as I became more and more comfortable and confident in a collaboration scenario, I started doing it more and more," he points out. "When it really started opening up for me was collaborating initially with David Foster on a lot of Celebrate Me Home and then with Mike McDonald once we met with 'What a Fool Believes.' But then I started collaborating a lot. That's when Richard Page came along, and Stephen Bishop, and other artists I started writing with. ... I started out writing everything alone, and then gradually I started collaborating. What I discovered was that I got other perspectives that I never would have gotten."
At this point, Kenny Loggins also had enough stature to attract a number of high-profile guests, including sax player Michael Brecker, Little Feat guitarist Fred Tackett, and – adding background vocals to the song "Who's Right, Who's Wrong" – none other than Michael Jackson.
"I was at a benefit that Michael was at, and I asked him if he would like to sing on the record. He said yeah. I think he had just finished Off the Wall, and I just got lucky. He was available; he wanted to do it. He was a fan," Loggins recalls. "Had I really thought it through, I should have probably recorded something up-tempo with him. I kick myself and think that was a waste of his talent. Great tune and everything, but just not the right tune for Michael Jackson to be singing on."
Still, Loggins did manage to get some genuine Jackson on the track. "He was a total sweetheart and was willing to go in any direction. I remember at one point I said, 'Put more of your 'thing' on it; it feels a little too stiff.' And he said, 'You mean you want it stinky?' 'Yeah! I want it stinky.' So he put more juice on it."
Loggins would slacken his pace over the next decade, completing an album every three years instead of maintaining the annual release schedule he'd maintained since the first Loggins & Messina LP, but his solo career only got bigger during the '80s – partly as a result of the extensive soundtrack work he did for hit films like Caddyshack, Footloose and Top Gun, all of which afforded him major hit singles that continue to be a big part of his image today.
Our thanks to Kenny Loggins for sharing his memories regarding the 'Keep the Fire' album. Visit Loggins' official website for news on his upcoming recordings and tour dates.