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Enjoy the stories behind Kenny Loggins' legendary five-decade career as a celebrated songwriter, chart-topping collaborator, and “The Soundtrack King” with this pop icon’s intimate and entertaining music memoir.In a remarkable career, Kenny Loggins has rocked stages worldwide, released ten platinum albums, and landed hits all over the Billboard charts. His place in music history is marked by a unique gift for collaboration combined with the vision to evolve, adapt, and persevere in an industry that loves to eat its own. Loggins served as a pivotal figure in the folk-rock movement of the early ’70s when he paired with former Buffalo Springfield member Jim Messina, recruited Stevie Nicks for the classic duet “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend,’” then pivoted to smooth rock in teaming up with Michael McDonald on their back-to-back Grammy-winning hits “What a Fool Believes” and “This Is It” (a seminal moment in the history of what would come to be known as yacht rock). In the ’80s, Loggins became the king of soundtracks with hit recordings for Caddyshack, Footloose, and Top Gun; and a bona fide global superstar singing alongside Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson on “We Are the World.”
In Still Alright, Kenny Loggins gives fans a candid and entertaining perspective on his life and career as one of the most noteworthy musicians of the 1970s and ’80s. He provides an abundance of compelling, insightful, and terrifically amusing behind-the-scenes tales. Loggins draws readers back to the musical eras they’ve loved, as well as addressing the challenges and obstacles of his life and work—including two marriages that ended in divorce, a difficult but motivating relationship with the older brother for which “Danny’s Song” is named, struggles with his addiction to benzodiazepines, and the revelations of turning seventy and looking back at everything that has shaped his music—and coming to terms with his rock-star persona and his true self.
CALIFORNIA HERE WE COME
SHORTLY BEFORE I was born, my father, making a Christmas promise I’m pretty sure he never expected to keep, told my oldest brother, Bobby, that if I arrived on his birthday he could name me.
Bobby turned seven on January 7, 1948, and I came into the world just a few hours after he blew out his birthday candles. This is how, for a short while, anyway, Dad paid off his promise and I was known as Clark Kent Loggins.
Thankfully, my father considered the potentially harsh reality of saddling a kid with such a name, and convinced Bobby to change things up. So I became Kenneth Clark Loggins. I guess that kinda makes me a singer-songwriter version of Superman.
That my dad sold my brother on changing my name isn’t too surprising, since he was a salesman by trade. As far as I know, he had always been a salesman, a real-life Willy Loman, selling whatever he could to get by. He possessed an easy charm and relaxed style, akin to his pop idol, Bing Crosby. He always seemed to have a pipe between his teeth and a porkpie hat atop his head. He seems like a good place to start this story.
Robert George Loggins grew up in Butte, Montana, the fourth of Harry and Stasia’s eight children, and in 1940 moved with the family to Seattle. In his twenties, during the Great Depression, when everybody worked the angles in order to survive, my dad and some friends piled into a Star touring car and traveled down the coast, passing themselves off as seminarians working their way through school by selling subscriptions to the Franciscan Herald. They’d stop at Catholic parishes and convince the priests to entreat their Sunday parishioners to support this holy cause. None of it was true, of course, except for the part about the subscriptions—and my dad’s commission.
What Dad really wanted, I think, was to reach Los Angeles and become a movie star. As soon as his group reached Hollywood, my dad jumped ship and moved in with a friend he knew from back in Montana. Years later, I found a photo taken of him during this time. It looks remarkably like a publicity shot: my dad dressed up in a black smoking jacket, lounging casually like John Barrymore in white bucks, smoke curling up lazily from the cigarette in his hand. I asked my father about it late in his life, and he explained it away as a spur of the moment thing he did as kind of a joke. I don’t buy it. I believe the picture tells the story of a young man who was headed to Hollywood all along.
His dream came crashing down when his new wife ran off with his best friend. (Did I mention that he got married? Neither did he. It was a family secret until I was in my thirties. Seems he met a girl in Hollywood and married her—and lost her—within the span of a year.) The breakup left my father so devastated that he developed a nearly fatal case of pneumonia. He couldn’t get out of bed, and refused to eat. His sister Rita had to come down from Seattle and drive him back home. Thus ended Robert Loggins’s Hollywood dream, at least until I came along.
Returning to Seattle, though, wasn’t all bad. That’s where he met my mom, Lina Massie, and raised three children, so it worked out okay for him in the end. It certainly did for me.
My dad’s most successful business venture was with a small costume jewelry company called Sarah Coventry, for which he traveled all over Washington State hosting in-home parties much like Tupperware salespeople would famously do in the 1950s. He was so successful at moving large quantities of inexpensive bracelets and necklaces that management offered to transfer him to the company’s new territory in Southern California.
The plan was for my father to go down ahead of the rest of the family and find us a place to live. I was only six years old, but I vividly remember him asking whether I’d like to join him. I was the only one of us kids he asked along, and boy was I thrilled. Dad had been on the road selling things for most of my young life, and I barely knew him. One rainy Monday morning he pulled me from my first-grade classroom, and we hit the highway. I didn’t know it at the time, but that trip would change my life. (I do wonder what my career would have looked like had I grown up as a Seattle musician. Hard to imagine Loggins & Messina as a proto-grunge band.)
Along the way we stayed in the kind of small, neon-lit 1950s motor lodges that US Route 99 was known for. I don’t recall visiting a single tourist site, but those motels sure captured my imagination. I’d never seen anything like them. It all felt very grown-up and glamorous.
We sang “California Here I Come” as loud as we could while we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, shouting the chorus as the wind whipped through our open windows. In Los Angeles, Dad bought me a small motorcycle jacket and cap, like what Brando wore in The Wild One. “Welcome to Hollywood,” he said as he handed it to me.
Our destination was Alhambra, about fifteen miles east of Hollywood, past Chavez Ravine and through Chinatown, where a bunch of my father’s family lived. While Dad looked for a place I stayed with my spinster aunts, Didi and Lizzie, and then later with my Uncle Frank, Aunt Helen, and their three kids, all of whom were older than me. Frank was a pretty religious guy and put me in second grade at the same grammar school, All Souls, that his youngest daughter, Peggy, attended.
Dad eventually found a place for our family to live just a couple of blocks away, and thanked Frank for his hospitality by enrolling all of us kids in local Catholic schools. I stayed on at All Souls, where I was joined by my middle brother, Danny, while the eldest, Bob, went to San Gabriel Mission High School. Up to that moment in our young lives, none of us had any religious training, and it was like being thrown into a tub of ice water. The first time Sister Mary Elizabeth ordered my class to kneel I had no clue what she was talking about—I’d never prayed before. I found myself trapped inside a school full of nuns with an insistence on discipline like nothing I’d seen. Having my knuckles rapped with a ruler during class was old-school schooling, and completely disorienting. For Danny, who didn’t take orders well (he was more like James Dean than Saint James the Apostle), it was especially difficult. His relationship with religion got off to a bad start and never really improved.
I, on the other hand, was too young to know any better, and quickly adapted to my new environment. I liked learning and was a pretty good student. It was the best way I found to stay in the nuns’ good graces and avoid that ruler.
Music and Catholic school first intersected in seventh grade, when the nuns selected me to be the primary altar boy for their monthly Solemn High Mass. I was beginning to develop an interest in music, and was eager to participate… up until they told me the role involved singing. That stopped me in my tracks. Sing? In front of the entire school? No fuckin’ way. I turned them down. My music career would have to wait a few more years.
MY DAD’S HOLLYWOOD fascination was rekindled in 1956, when the Queen for a Day show made the jump from radio to TV, and he arranged to get Sarah Coventry jewelry featured on it. That was a big deal: the show’s models would wear the jewelry and contestants would get a chance to win it. Even as a kid, I could tell he was excited by the prospects.
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. Seattle had a small-town quality to it back then, and the house-party approach that had worked so well there did not translate to the sprawl of Southern California. LA was also on the vanguard of fashion in a way that Seattle wasn’t, and maybe people just weren’t as interested in costume jewelry. Even with the TV exposure, Sarah Coventry didn’t catch hold, and as the company’s fortunes flagged my dad was unexpectedly let go. He soon developed insomnia so severe that he had to nap during the day, which effectively made him unemployable. For reasons I never understood, he became his own worst enemy.
At first, my dad tried starting his own jewelry company, called Cathé, but his salespeople stole his sample cases, which left him with no product and depleted our savings. After that, he picked up whatever sales gigs he could: life insurance, real estate, used cars. He got a job sorting mail at the post office, which I think was mostly to get my mom off of his back, but his insomnia made keeping regular hours impossible. He even tried selling home saunas—anything he could do on his own hours. Nothing stuck. I think his insomnia was at the core of some sort of emotional disintegration that science didn’t yet understand. Today they might call it manic-depression and put you on SSRIs.
It was heartbreaking for me to watch this once unstoppable force come apart before my eyes. I found out later that my dad was so ashamed of his failures that he sometimes pretended to go to work in the mornings to a job he didn’t have, so his kids wouldn’t see anything but the illusion of a working father. I occasionally came home from school to find him asleep on the couch in a coat and tie, having given up early on that day’s charade.
By that point, my mother had stepped in to support the family with a sales job at McKay’s Drug Store in Alhambra. My father’s inability to carry his share of the financial burden became a wedge between them. Neither of them understood why he couldn’t sleep or hold a job. Mom came to resent him deeply, even giving up at one point while I was in high school and returning to Seattle for a few months, leaving me and Dad alone in our apartment. I knew he was having a hard time, and I did my best to keep him company through the night, frequently staying up with him to watch the late-late show.
The best solution doctors gave him was a sleeping medication called Miltown. Because it caused drowsiness, they also gave him Dexedrine, the upper of the era, to pop in the mornings. Later, pharmacists mixed them together in a green-and-white capsule called Dexamyl, which is what my dad took in the 1960s. He got hooked, and had to work two or three doctors to accumulate sufficient quantities. In my later teenage years I took to sneaking some of those pills from his sock drawer, especially when I needed to study for finals. I remember my geology teacher looking at me sideways during one field trip in particular, wondering why I’d suddenly become so interested in rock formations.
MY MOTHER WAS more difficult. I loved her dearly, of course, but I never felt as close to her as I think either of us would have liked. She was attentive to the physical needs of us kids, getting up to make breakfast and send us off to school, but our emotional needs were different. She was not a nurturer, and hugs were in short supply. Later in life she told me, “I wasn’t the kind of mother who would get down on her knees to play with my children.”
Lina Massie (shortened somewhere along the way from Massemiani) was the third of Luigi and Cecilia’s four children. They’d made their way from Avezzano, Italy, to Washington State, but their life in the United States didn’t seem much easier than it had been in the old world. Neither of her parents ever learned to speak English, and it wasn’t long before their lack of prosperity led my grandfather to the bottle. He’d come home in such drunken rages that on many nights the neighbors would sneak his children from the house before he could hurt them. Later on, my mom’s mother was so emotionally distant that, even though we all lived near Seattle when I was young, we almost never saw her.
Luigi’s abuse could be why my mom ended up having issues with men later in life, particularly the four of us who lived in her house. My mom never hid the fact that she’d desperately wanted a daughter, somebody to offer the type of compassion that seemed to be in short supply with us boys. It left us all constantly trying to prove our love to her, and not understanding why it never seemed to be enough. Now I know that we had no hope of filling her emotional void. I have a specific memory of a Mother’s Day in Seattle when I was about five years old. I figured we’d celebrate at dinner, just like we did with birthdays, but midway through the morning my mom blew up, screaming that we were all selfish for not acknowledging her first thing. As an extremely sensitive kid being accused of insensitivity, my mom’s anger and tears affected me deeply. It was a formative lesson that doing nothing can upset people just as much as doing the wrong thing.
Incidents like that weren’t much fun for a kid like me, but the kind of sensitivity it inspired would become handy as I got older and began to channel it into songs.
ONE BENEFIT OF my father’s ongoing joblessness was that it gave him time to spend with his kids, particularly me. I’m not sure why, but of Robert Loggins’s three sons, I was the one he poured his energy into. He taught me how to play baseball and golf. When I was nine or ten, my dad and I worked out a bunch of basketball plays and would go two-on-two with Danny and his pals. My dad was my best friend, and it was thrilling for me when we beat the big kids.
I loved sports. Early on I played baseball, even throwing a no-hitter as a fourteen-year-old. (It was covered by the local paper, which called me “lanky,” leading to the inevitable nickname “Lanky Loggins.”) At San Gabriel Mission High School, I focused on basketball and track. My dad had been a high-hurdler back in Butte in the 1930s, and taught me the craft. He was so good at it that when the Mission High track coach had a stroke during my sophomore year, my dad took over the program. That it was a volunteer job became another bone of contention between him and my mom, but it was good for him and he loved it. Out on that field he became the father I remembered from my childhood. My teammates liked him, too. He was a mellow guy and a great coach. Most of all, I could tell he was happy. That was probably the job he should have been doing all along.
I was a pretty good hurdler myself. Being six feet tall allowed me to step the high hurdles better than most of my teammates. My problem was the spaces between them. My feet flicked out when I ran, which made it kind of like running with flippers on. I managed to win a few races, but ours was a small league and competition wasn’t exactly fierce.
The sport I loved most was basketball. Those were the days when a six-footer like me was considered tall enough to play center. (That was true on our team, anyway. I was the shortest center in the league.) My oldest brother, Bob, who’d played at the same high school for the same coach—Coach Crowe—inspired me to go out for the team. Coach Crowe remembered Bob’s work ethic, and thought I might bring something similar to the roster. Well, I worked as hard as anybody, but I also had outside interests like music and theater, and Coach Crowe never forgave me for that. He came to think of me as a showboat, which I most definitely was not. Not yet, anyway. Even when I had the game of my life, hitting nearly every shot I put up, Coach found a way to criticize me. My culmination came on a play in which I inadvertently jumped past the basket and still managed to reach backward and tip in a teammate’s errant shot. Coach Crowe was so upset with the unorthodoxy of it—basketball was played very differently back then—that even though I was leading the team in scoring, he pulled me from the game. Go figure.
It reminds me of an old joke. This guy, Bill, has everything go wrong for him at once. He loses his job, his car breaks down on the way home, and when he finally gets there he finds that his wife and kids have left him. “Why me?” he cries to the heavens. Just then, the clouds part and a voice booms down from above. “I don’t know, Bill,” says God. “Something about you just pisses me off.”
BOBBY WAS THE first person I knew who tried to write a song. He was fourteen, I was seven. At first, he tried to enlist eleven-year-old Danny to help him, but Dan’s attention span got in the way after an hour or two. Bobby was all about tenacity and patience, and took the better part of a week to file the edges and hone his masterpiece—which went something like, “Oh baby, baby, I’m so in love with you…” Watching my brothers try to write that tune made an impression on me. Until then I thought songs only came out of the radio. I’d never thought of writing one myself.
Despite that early seminal moment, it was Danny who held the biggest sway over me. Bobby had already left home by the time I reached sixth grade, leaving Danny, three years younger than Bob and four years older than me, as my primary influence precisely when being cool began to matter. While I followed Bob into the Catholic, gender-segregated San Gabriel Mission High, Danny opted for the public high school down the street. It had two primary benefits over Mission High: lots of girls and no nuns.
Dan loved to sing. Back in Seattle, when I was maybe four or five, he taught me the counterpart to the barbershop classic “Down by the Old Mill Stream.”
Dan: “Down by the old mill stream…”
Me: “Not the river but the stream.”
Dan: “Where I first met you…”
Me: “Not me but you.”
Ours was the comedic version made popular by a fellow named Jerry Colonna in the early 1950s, and it earned me my first-ever applause when we performed it after a business dinner my dad hosted at the house. Before long, it became a family tradition for Dad to trot us out for our little musical numbers whenever company was over. That was my introduction to how much fun performing could be.
I loved to sing with Dan, but more than that I wanted to be just like him. Anything he liked had to be cool. Luckily for me, it actually was. By the time Danny was a teenager, he’d become the rock rebel of the family. His love for rock ’n’ roll and early R&B turned me on to groups like the Coasters, the Del-Vikings, and Danny & the Juniors. He showed me Fats Domino and Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. We were watching American Bandstand together, he and I, when Jerry Lee Lewis stood up and played the piano with his foot. That was rock ’n’ roll. It was the beginning of my musical awakening, and became a major part of my DNA. It still occasionally shows up in my own music, like the line in “I’m Alright”—“Get it up and get you a job, dip, dip, dip, dip,” which is, of course, borrowed from the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job.”
A couple of years after we moved to California, I discovered Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” in Danny’s record collection. I hadn’t yet seen Elvis on TV; for me it was all about the sound. I played that 45 over and over again—an obsession that came with no small amount of risk, since Danny had barred me from his bedroom. That didn’t stop me, of course. His record collection was my holy grail, and I had to get to it. My school day ended earlier than his, so I would race home and binge-listen on the little box turntable in his room before he arrived. My worries about getting caught had less to do with Danny walking in than with making sure I put things back exactly how he’d left them. My brother kept his 45s in special binders, in such perfect order that he’d notice if anything was amiss. One time, he even spotted a disturbance in the dust on the spine of a book. He burst in on me, shouting, “You were in my room!” leaving me to scratch my head and try to figure out how he knew. Clearly, Danny missed his calling; he should have become a detective. Thanks to his unending scrutiny, I could have become a master thief.
I was so taken with all the music Danny fed me that in the fourth grade I tried to start my own rock band. I didn’t even play an instrument, and neither did my friends, but that didn’t stop us. The only music we could make, of course, was from Danny’s portable record player, so we mostly just sat around listening to his 45s. Those kids didn’t know any of the songs because they didn’t have big brothers like Danny.
The other item I borrowed from Danny was the guitar he’d hung on the wall, an old Kay nylon-string acoustic. It was mostly there as decoration; he never really learned how to play it. I thought that guitar was so beautiful. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I’d sneak it down and just hold it. That was the first step toward making my own music. It also led to a full-blown fascination with guitars. I started hanging out at Pedrini’s Music in downtown Alhambra, just to ogle the merchandise. Some guys cut out magazine pictures of girls or cars to hang on their bedroom walls. I cut out pictures of guitars.
Noting this, my parents signed me up for guitar lessons at Pedrini’s. I had high hopes until I learned that my new teacher didn’t know any rock music, or even folk tunes. It turned out he was a guitarist for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. Lawrence Welk? It was 1960; I wanted to play “If I Had a Hammer,” not the “Pennsylvania Polka.” Ultimately, it didn’t even matter—we never got to the music itself because this fella was all about theory. He kept trying to teach me scales when I wanted only to play and sing. I quit almost immediately, and that pretty much ended the guitar for me until high school, when a guy named Rodney Ruggles showed me a better path.
Rod was twenty-five years old, and the big brother of my friend Marty. He was a struggling professional folksinger who was happy to teach me what he knew—and he knew a lot. The funky back room in his parents’ house was his personal folk cave, dimly lit, moody as hell, and home to a half dozen gorgeous acoustic guitars. He collected sheet music and folk-focused magazines like Sing Out!, which was the scene’s bible back in those days. Rod taught me songs by acts like Gordon Lightfoot, Ian & Sylvia, and Peter, Paul and Mary. The best, though, was Bob Dylan. When I heard “Blowin’ in the Wind”—Rod’s version, not Dylan’s record—I was so moved that I learned to play it that night, straight from the pages of Sing Out!. That was only the beginning.
Armed with Danny’s guitar and Rod’s classic folk songs, I began joining in on local hootenannies—sing-alongs with other wannabe folkies. I worked up an act with a friend from the girls’ wing of my high school, Mikele Parisi. She was only about four foot ten, and for the novelty of it I gave her a friend’s stand-up bass fiddle to play. It was almost twice as big as her, but so was I. We were both good singers, and our Smothers Brothers–style routine was full of quips and skits. It played well at the frat parties and college halls where most of our gigs took place, though it played less well at the first talent show we entered. I thought our act was solid, but we ended up losing to a guy imitating Bob Dylan—and not even the new electric Dylan, but the older folkie Dylan. I should have taken it as a sign that my repertoire, which consisted entirely of the songs I’d only just learned from Rod, already needed updating.
The loss didn’t deter me. Talent shows were kind of a big deal back then, and I kept at it, occasionally with Mikele, but mostly solo. My next one was much bigger, featuring young performers from across the county. I actually had to audition, then make it through several rounds of judging to qualify for the public performance. People had to buy tickets to get in. The competition was serious: amazing bluegrass bands, classical pianists, trained vocalists, and a smattering of pop groups. Somehow, we all lost to a trio of cute high school girls in cellophane grass skirts doing the hula under a black light. Man, the audience went crazy for that. Those girls were oozing with… talent. I learned that night that showmanship really does matter. Also that sex sells, and to use black light whenever possible.
In addition to playing with Mikele, I started a group with a couple of guys from the basketball team, Pete Hermes and Mark Stafford, dedicated specifically to old-school folk songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” We called ourselves the Yeomen. We were all still learning how to play our instruments, and our lone live performance (at yet another talent show) ended with an early exit. Our act was outdated, and we didn’t look good in grass skirts. I realized then that my material was stuck in a genre that had lost its vibrancy. The times they were a-changin’, and boy did I need it. Luckily, change was right around the corner.
What unstuck me was the Beatles.
ONE MORNING NOT LONG AFTER that woebegone Yeomen show, my mother called me into the living room just before leaving for work.
“There’s a new band on Ed Sullivan tonight that everyone is talking about,” she said. “You might want to check them out.”
I wasn’t used to taking pop-culture cues from my mother, but for some reason I listened to her, and boy was I glad I did.
I’d never heard of the Beatles, but that night I sat on the floor in front of our black-and-white Sylvania, transfixed. Like so many future rockers, the arc of my life changed dramatically over the course of that hour. I stopped playing folk music then and there… and so did Dylan. It wasn’t long before he released a record with a full band and a bunch of rock songs. As it happened, he also met with the Beatles in their New York City hotel. Talk about my worlds colliding.
Dylan’s new electrified rocker was called Bringing It All Back Home, and I first encountered it, where else, in Rod Ruggles’s back room. I didn’t even hear the album—just saw the cover—but the title struck me as poetic. When I learned he didn’t actually have a song by that name, I went home that very night and wrote it myself. I didn’t even know what the song was about when I started, but it poured out of me, words and music all at once. It was my first glimpse into the hypnotism of songwriting. I never recorded it, but I still remember some of the verses. The main character makes big decisions based on his experiences, and by the end realizes that some of those decisions might not have been the right ones.
I started building pyramids
Just to see how great it was
And suddenly I realized
How little one man does
And it’ll only cause me pain
So I’m bringing it all back home
You profit from experience
To be a wiser man
You learn as you travel
As you roam
But it might be just an echo
That you caught inside your hand
And you’re bringing it all back home
And I’m bringing it all back home
- “A wonderfully written book…very honest and very entertaining.”—Geoff Edgers, The Washington Post
- “A page-turning memoir…The book is an honest, straightforward account of [Loggins’] rock n’roll career.”—Margaret Hoover, PBS’ The Firing Line
- "Highly entertaining."—Spin
- “A good beach read for the yacht-rock generation.”—Kirkus Reviews
- "Legendary songwriter Loggins brings the energy of his live performances to the page in this exhilarating look at his career.... Loggins’ frank reflections on his craft are what beg an encore.... Fans won’t want to skip this one."—Publishers Weekly
- “Still Alright seems almost perfectly balanced in that includes plenty of words of all three legs of a good Rock Memoir Stool: creative/recording process, personal revelations/insight, and stories/anecdotes.”—HoustonPress
- “Loggins’ thoughtful reflections on the process of songwriting turn this memoir into more than a run-of-the-mill rocker’s reflections on a life of sex, drugs, and, oh yeah, rock and roll. Songwriting occupies the center of Loggins’ narrative…His appealing memoir celebrates him home in fine form.”—No Depression
- On Sale
- Jun 13, 2023
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Hachette Books