‘It’s way bigger than even I expected’: Kenny Loggins on his new collaboration with Blue Sky Riders

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As the Blue Sky Riders kick off a new summer tour on Thursday, they gathered to talk a little — and laugh a lot.

This homey amalgam, it would seem, is fronted by superstar Kenny Loggins, and it’s easy to see how his name alone would bring this new trio a large portion of its early attention. But the Blue Sky Riders, who are rounded out by acclaimed Nashville composers Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, have earned the rest of their fast-rising fame on their own — blending genres, textures and (perhaps most interesting of all) vocals on a completely realized new effort called Finally Home.

“That was the kind of album that we said we wanted to try to make,” Burr says in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “We wanted to cross a lot of lines, and be unexpected — with every song being something new. We just let the music lead, because we all have different influences. There are common threads that run through the histories, but I said early on: Let’s not aim this at any one market.”

How quickly have things come together? Even before this tour gets underway, the Blue Sky Riders have already appeared at the Sundance Festival, and on “The Tonight Show.”

For Burr (a former member of Pure Prairie League who penned Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”) and Middleman (who has written songs for Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney, among others), this is a chance to give flight to their own creative ambitions. For Loggins, who’s won two Grammys over a career that includes both solo hits and a stint in the similarly styled Loggins and Messina, it’s a surprising third-act chance to make music in a new way …

NICK DERISO: Starting a new band must have been a daunting task — for all of you, though the focus has naturally been on Kenny. What told you that Blue Sky Riders that would work? After all, this is a lot bigger than your average album project.
KENNY LOGGINS: Nothing told us this would work. (Chuckles.) We’ve gone into this as blindly as 20 year olds. It’s very much a passion project. We just liked each other — and I’m happy to say that’s still going on.
GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN: That’s good! (Laughs.)
KENNY LOGGINS: We like writing together, we like singing together. And it’s just a shot of adrenaline to be able to jump back into a band after all of these years. It’s like having a new family.
GARY BURR: It’s funny because I think we all had a different idea on how this would work. For me, just the fact that we did it at all — that we went into the studio and had a product at the end. It worked fine for me. Everything else was gravy.
GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN: It’s definitely a passion project. We get to be really creative, and we really admire each other separately. Then, together, it’s really special. Every step of the way, it’s been fantastic. From going on the road and supporting the record, to starting our own label, it’s been wonderful having that creative control.
KENNY LOGGINS: It’s way bigger than even I expected. Having gone around on it with Loggins and Messina, and then starting my solo career — each time it was a big deal to launch a new career. It’s always based on the music, and music has been the guiding force of Blue Sky Riders. We just sort of go where the music tells us.

NICK DERISO: It’s one thing to write songs together, of course, but there seemed to be an instant connection vocally with Gary and Georgia. That was interesting to me. I wonder what it felt like the first time you heard that.
KENNY LOGGINS: I was pleasantly surprised. I’m kind of spoiled, because I’ve sung with so many good singers — and having already sung with Gary on our demos, I knew that he and I had a good blend. But I had not anticipated the sound of the trio with Georgia. The three of us together was like a whole different thing.
GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN: There are moments when I kind of get stunned a little bit, on stage, when we are all three singing — and it’s not three, it’s one. That’s really cool.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Before his solo hits, even before Loggins and Messina, Kenny Loggins was part of a gritty group called the Second Helping.]

NICK DERISO: For Nashville stalwarts like you, Gary and Georgia, there must have been a great sense of freedom, too, in being able to focus on one thing for a while — rather than churning out songs for a variety of artists.
GARY BURR: There’s a moment when you’re writing songs where you say: “Is so-and-so going to want to say this?” To have that not be a factor, because we are going to be the ones saying this, it was very, very freeing.
GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN: Gary and I write for so many different people — and Kenny has, too — and so learning to slow down was my thing. Kenny is an artist and writer; he takes his time figuring out what’s right when he records stuff. I’m used to going to fast, because I usually only have one day with somebody. It’s been really cool to change mindsets and go: “You know what? You’re the artist here. Take your time with this, and really, really dig into this.” It’s been really good.

NICK DERISO: Was there some sort of trepidation on your part in joining together with a bonafide superstar star like Kenny? Did you worry about ego?
KENNY LOGGINS: They were more worried about it when they thought it was Kenny Rogers. (Everyone laughs uproariously.)
GARY BURR: We did talk about it. We did sort of have to set some ground rules, per se, just in that we didn’t want any one of us to stand out in a song where you can identify that it was written by one or the other. As far as the rest of it, we just went into it thinking: “If we’re going to do this, we have to be a band. It’s going to be Three Musketeers.” And, for me, you mention food, and I’m happy. (Laughs.)
GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN: It’s really pointed when we’re on tour. When people don’t know us, we show up and they all want pictures of Kenny, so Gary and I kind of move over. And why not? Kenny’s an icon. They don’t know us. But once we play, then they want pictures of all three of us — and that’s pretty cool. When we’re writing, and when we’re touring, we’ve very much a threesome, though. Very much a band.
GARY BURR: Kenny’s been amazingly generous, and amazingly strong, in making sure that we’re presented like that, too. When somebody asks a question about him, he always miraculously finds a way to direct it back towards being about the three of us. That’s a pretty wonderful thing. It could easily be the other way, and he goes out of his way to make sure that we all share in the light.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Kenny Loggins staged a small, but memorable reunion with his old partner Jim Messina in 2009, taking on a Beatles deep cut.]

NICK DERISO: It certainly would have been easy enough for this to turn into Kenny Loggins and Friends.
KENNY LOGGINS: Gary said that the agreement was that it’s not a one-man show for any one of us. But at the same time, it’s not that we’re subjugating individuals for the sake of the group, either. It’s that I want all three individuals to shine. I want all three of us to be identifiable, and to emerge as strong individuals that then coalesce as a group — so that we are not putting our light out, any one of us, in deference to the others. All three lights shine to their best of their ability.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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