53 Minutes With Kenny Loggins

Photo: Patrick McMullan

It’s a grand night to be in a vaguely Native American–themed casino: The air is crisp and dehumidified, and Kenny Loggins, at 64, is in fine vocal fettle, his falsettos still steady, his top notes on “Angry Eyes” still muscular, his defiant ­toasted-wheat hair mustered into a respectable power-mullet. But although thousands of middle-aged Anglo-Saxons are jiggling like curds and whey all around me, the concert I’m watching doesn’t officially exist: We’re sealed inside acres of hypercontrolled gambletainment pavilion, all aglow with LEDs advertising various acts—Gin Blossoms, Enrique Iglesias, even, yes, Jim Messina—yet there’s not a single mention of Loggins’s presence. Nor will you find it on Loggins’s official tour schedule. Tonight, the “Danger Zone” goes mysteriously unposted.

That’s because this is a corporate gig—the buyer is the house, which rewards members of its frequent-wagerer club with special concerts not open to unregistered low-rollers. (Or journalists: At Loggins’s request, New York agreed to withhold the name of the casino, which did not participate in the story.) So-called legacy acts like Loggins subsist on these high-­paying off-tour one-offs. They help pay for passion projects like side acts and college-aged children. Loggins, who has both, just flew in from Nashville, where he’d been recording with his new, don’t-call-it-country band Blue Sky Riders. The week before, he had another one in … well, he can hardly recall. “It was an awards-show banquet in … where were we? Atlanta, I think. It was four songs. That’s all they wanted. And they all got up and danced on ‘Footloose,’ as if I’d done a whole show. In their tuxedos and the women in their long dresses. It’s almost Pavlovian.”

Loggins, a seventies hit-maker and eighties soundtrack maven, is now, in his mid-sixties, a touring machine. “The fact is, I go where they pay me. I let the promoters decide,” Loggins says. “When I’m out on the road, it’s what my ex-wife called ‘Daddy’s gone hunting and gathering.’ ”

Loggins started his career “spoiled” by the early success of Loggins & Messina. At 22, he surfed the instant fame (“People showed up singing ‘Danny’s Song’; our tour was really profligate”) and left the details to the pencil pushers. “Later, I found out that accountants want you to lose money on the tour because they want you to keep touring—their percentage stays the same,” he says. “If you think stardom is the answer to your problems, you’re sadly mistaken. And if you can do something other than this, you should. I watch American Idol, with all these kids who think being a star is going to solve their problems, and I think, You fucking idiot. Stardom is good if you want a nice table and a ticket to a show. It’s not a free pass around all the problems of being human. And it can cripple you if it hits too young.”

Loggins hit financial white water about a decade ago—lousy manager, lousier market, a costly divorce from his second wife. The fallout rolled back the gains of platinum decades and made this behind-closed-doors greatest-hits victory lap that much more urgent. “In music, you can get better and better, but you can’t control what people want to buy.”

The house usually wants performers to keep it short, so they can get the gamblers back on the floor ASAP. Loggins is worried they’ll truncate him tonight and sends a road manager to go check. He comes back to the greenroom with good news: a full 70 minutes. Loggins brightens. “Okay, that’s good. We can do a whole show. If I have to shorten it too much, I have to get rid of trademark tunes. Even ‘Your Momma Don’t Dance’ goes some nights. They always want me to focus on ‘I’m Alright,’ ‘Danger Zone,’ and ‘Footloose.’ Which is what’ll be on my tombstone.”

But “tombstone” sets are often what’s expected at a “linchpin” booking. “You want a show like that to pay the expenses for the rest of the tour. It depends on how slim the budget is. I imagine with Fleetwood Mac, their expenses are high—but then their guarantees are very high. Whereas my guarantees are just okay, so I have to tour with a tighter belt. You don’t want to have to get on an airplane every day. It costs a lot less to bus an act.” (His secret? Sleeping through the trip. “If the bus is moving, it kind of rocks you to sleep. As long as it’s not a bumpy road.”)

Corporate gigs don’t come with a lot of glory attached, but they can help underwrite the more experimental, exploratory stuff that keeps an artist going. Like Loggins’s Blue Sky Riders. Except even they spend their time chasing money. “We have to write exclusives for Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy. But we can write a song in a day, sometimes one and a half,” he says. “I was told, ‘You’ve only got ten years left, max—why waste six of them starting a new band?’ But I’m an artist. I gotta go where the juice is.”

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53 Minutes With Kenny Loggins