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RIDGEFIELD — Jim Messina, whose musical and production talents supported both Buffalo Springfield and Poco, and who helped catapult a collaboration with lanky up-and-comer Kenny Loggins into the stratosphere, is excited to be showcasing the work of all three groups along with select solo material when he arrives at The Ridgefield Playhouse for a headline set at 8 pm on Friday, January 12.
In a chat with The Newtown Bee, Messina promised to warm up the coldest of Connecticut winter nights as he takes the stage with his supporting band: Gary Oleyar on violin, guitar, mandolin, dobro, and banjo; Craig Thomas on horns, woodwinds, and vocals; Michael Brady on bass; and Dave Beyer on drums.
Fans will enjoy more than two hours of tunes, many of which will be familiar to classic rock and radio listeners who date back to the late ’60s and ’70s, or who have been introduced to Messina’s massive catalog of material in the ensuing years.
It has been more than 50 years since the musician first stepped into the studio with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Richie Furay to engineer the album Buffalo Springfield Again - and he is still able to recall minute details of those sometimes frustrating sessions as the band completed it final decent to breakup.
On the bright side, Messina’s work with Buffalo Springfield – including as the group’s bassist during a final run of concert appearances – earned Messina a coveted induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1968, when Buffalo Springfield disbanded, Messina signed a contract with Epic Records as a producer and a recording artist. Soon after, he formed Poco with fellow Springfield member Furay.
Poco’s aptly titled 1969 debut Pickin’ Up The Pieces laid the blueprint for what became a brand-new musical genre called “country rock” – blazing a trail for future multimillion-selling artists like the Eagles, whose members would study Poco as they played early 1970s club gigs around Los Angeles.
On the band’s self-titled second album, also released in 1969, Messina both produced and penned the band’s first hit single “You Better Think Twice,” which has endured as one of Poco’s signature songs and occasionally shows up on his concert setlists.
Lightning struck again for Messina in November 1970, when he opened up his living room to record a promising young songwriter Kenny Loggins. After Loggins presented material leaning a little too much toward folk music to suit his mentor’s by now well-trained ear, Messina approached Columbia Records president Clive Davis suggesting he sit in to help Loggins incorporate more upbeat material into his forthcoming album.
Over seven lucky years, Loggins & Messina went on to sell more than 16 million albums, became one of rock’s biggest live draws, and cemented a legacy as one of the most successful recording duos ever.
The two longtime friends enjoyed a spectacular reunion and tour that spanned much of 2004 and 2005, and they are scheduled to team up and play a California benefit on February 3, marking the first time Loggins and Messina have come together in concert for nearly a dozen years.
Messina reunited with Poco for the 1989 album Legacy — and while hesitating to label it a reunion, he and Rusty Young will share the stage when the two bring their own bands together to co-headline several February shows including a nearby stop at New York’s Tarrytown Music Hall on February 23, as well as Hartford’s Infinity Hall February 24.
On the solo side, Messina recorded four critically acclaimed solo albums: 1979’s Latin jazz rock fusion album Oasis; 1981’s eponymous Messina featuring guest performances by Connecticut’s own Joe and Jeff Pocaro; 1983’s One More Mile; and a retrospective of concert favorites Watching The River Run Revisited in 1996.
Messina jumped into our conversation ruminating about his fruitful but sometimes frustrating moments as he was teetering between gigs with Buffalo Springfield and Poco.
The Newtown Bee: So 2018 marks 50 years since you transitioned from Buffalo Springfield to Poco. Any fond memories from your time on Springfield’s final album.
Jim Messina: I was just starting to work on their third album as an engineer and got a call from Ahmet Ertegun [co-founder and president of Atlantic Records], who said he was having a hard time getting a producer, and they said they enjoyed working with me and would I be interested? Of course I was honored and I said I would love to do it and that sort of marked the beginning of me being their producer.
The Bee: And you ended up becoming an official member of the band?
Messina: I was working on the album and suddenly their bass player had to leave the country and I auditioned for that. I was like the tenth or twelfth person to audition, and about eight bars into the first song Stephen Stills looked up at me with this interesting grin on his face and I got the job. They were surprised that I could play it so well, and I didn’t have the heart to remind them that I’d spent almost a year listening to this material and it wasn’t too hard for me to figure it out. Even before I was working with them I remember driving along and hearing “Bluebird” for the first time and thinking, what a great song – what a great voice. So to walk into the studio and find them right there in the room with me was fantastic.
The Bee: It must have been weird being around during that final decent when everyone knew the gig was coming to an end and Springfield was breaking up.
Messina: I think the most difficult part of that for me was having now become a member of the band – who was part of the process getting that album done – and I was not really part of their inner dynamic. I was an outsider only having been there as an engineer, bass player and producer. And it was weird because they were spending less and less time in the studio, and hey – we have this album to finish. I remember calling Ahmet saying we couldn’t get all these guys in the studio, and would he consider bringing them to New York. I was hoping if everybody was in one place with less distraction, we could get the record finally finished. I think everybody came except for Neil [Young]. In really thinking about it, I think it was Neil who was the most disenchanted. But when we got to New York we got “Kind Woman,” and “Carefree Country Day” recorded. Of course Dewey [Martin] shows up drunk to sing the song I had written for him. And I don’t know what happened but Stephen [Stills] didn’t show either. So we eventually get back to LA and we’re on the verge of releasing the record, and we ended up going on tour with The Beach Boys. And while we were out Martin Luther King was assassinated. I mean it was not a happy time. It was not only a trauma for the country and the world, but it served as a breaking point for the band.
The Bee: But history points to the fact that you got the album out.
Messina: In the final analysis, I was kind of stuck there with all these bits and pieces to put together. And I made a commitment to Ahmet that I would produce this band, and to the band that I would complete the record. So I spent a lot of time in the studio doing hard work, especially trying to get Richie’s song “Kind Woman” completed.
The Bee: Is that when you started talking with Richie about taking your music in a new direction, which not only became Poco – but the foundation of ‘country rock’ which the Eagles so frequently get credit for?
Messina: Richie Furay and I were out on the road with the Springfield and by then we knew they were going to break up, and I knew he had some great songs — “Kind Woman” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame” among them — and I said to him instead of going back and doing folk rock, let’s try something like country rock, put your best music together with what I learned working with the rockabilly and country guys as an engineer and studio player. Therein lies the beginning of country rock. We brought in Rusty [Young] as a steel guitar player, and we played some songs and Richie and I looked at each other and said – hey, we’ve got something here. So a couple of the guys [Glen Frey and John David ‘JD’ Souther] from Longbranch Pennywhistle used to come and see Poco at the Troubador. And they were in awe of the same things we were in awe of – in terms of growing up in families that loved music, and who had a great love and respect for Country Music. But they managed to work together, and stay together, and get a good team behind them to make it work.
The Bee: But Poco had great songs and good chemistry.
Messina: In our situation, I think Richie was always drawn to the wrong people to do the work we needed to do. But since he was one of the original Buffalo Springfield people, we all respected and honored his wishes. We had bad management, collectively made bad choices – not one person – and because of that it was a downfall. And you have to credit the Eagles for those great song. We had Randy [Meisner] in Poco, and he gave a nice feel to the Eagles singing those high parts that blended so well with Glen and Don. Maybe most importantly by comparison, the Eagles were very successful in taking country sounding songs and having the rock stations play them. Whereas with Poco, we’d go to rock stations and they would say we’re too country, and we’d go to country stations and they’s say we were a little too rock. (laughing) We were riding the record business Roman style – on two horses. Unfortunately they never went to the same stable.
The Bee: It’s hard to find anyone who would label your work with Poco as exclusively country – and yet your sophomore project with Poco is represented in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Messina: Where did you get that?
The Bee: I hope I got that right, I think it came from your publicist…
Messina: She has been updating my bio, maybe she came up with that and I just missed it completely. So thanks for the good news.
The Bee: You don’t always get that from the newspaper…but this kind of elevates you to a pretty high alter in the Country Music world.
Messina: You know it’s nice to have the awards and recognition, but I’ll tell you I never had any desire to work any less to make it what it is. The Poco album is one of my favorites personally because I did not enjoy making that first album. CBS Records had hired me as an artist and producer, but the union in those days wouldn’t let me touch anything. Being an engineer and producer, that was like asking me to give up my tools. This was part of my craft – like signing me as a guitarist but not letting me touch a guitar.
The Bee: So were you able to get any collaboration from the guys they stuck you with?
Messina: I was working with engineers who knew very little about cutting five-piece rock and roll bands. I tried to get them to do what I wanted them to do, but they wouldn’t listen or let me touch anything. As a result, that album sounds flat – it doesn’t have the personality. For the second album I found engineer Alex Kazengras who listened to me and understood what I wanted. He was greatly responsible for getting the band Poco to sound as it should on record. Alex and I were the first guys at CBS who started modifying some of that old equipment built for music to go out over the air. They were still recording kick drum on one track and the entire rest of the drum set on the other. So Alex and I took our 16-tracks and put the kick on one track, the snare on another, the high hat on another track, and all the others we’ll make them stereo. Then we record them all on five tracks. That was the beginning of stereo drum sounds on record.
The Bee: And drummers never looked back – I mean that was it, they were all recording drums like that in short order.
Messina: For the first time you could really, really hear them, and they would jump out, there was air around everything. For fun, take a listen to the two albums side by side and tell me you don’t immediately hear the difference. The drums come alive, the bass is warmer, the guitars has the necessary attack.
The Bee: Any particular cuts that you recommend?
Messina: Listen to “Anyway Bye Bye” – that was recorded really well. You know we originally did “Nobody’s Fool/El Tonto de Nadie, Regresa” with a 27 minute solo. Me and an old timer at CBS who was there before God cut that down. He’s so old school he’d edit tape not on an edit bar but on his fingers. But we got it down to 17 minutes with this guy doing the edit cuts on his finger and you’d never know the difference! I also love the song “Hurry Up.” A quick story – I played a nice Gretch 6120 (guitar) on that one, which I got for trading a certain black [Gibson] Les Paul to Neal Young that would never tune up. He just fell in love with it and he’s been playing it ever since. It’s the one you constantly see him playing. So while I got the better value when it comes to a guitar, (laughing) Neil’s got a guitar that’s probably worth, like $300,000 on the auction market…
The Bee: And after a couple of reunions over the years, you’re getting back with Poco for some area shows in February?
Messina: So it’s my band performing with Poco. I’ll be sitting in on a couple of their songs, and Rusty’s going to sit in on a few tunes he did with me on my album In the Groove. And this works out fine because I’m not really into doing a Poco reunion situation. I’ve been there, done that, it’s fine for the audience but very difficult. We’re all such different personalities whose lives have gone in such different directions, and our music has changed a lot. I really enjoy working with Rusty. I love him and we’ve stayed friends over the years. So on my show, we’ll be doing a bunch of songs from In The Groove. At the Poco shows, Rusty will be sitting in doing “Kind Woman” and “You Better Think Twice,” and we’ll do “Listen To A Country Song / Holiday Hotel.”
The Bee: And of course we’ll hear some Loggins and Messina?
Messina: Right now I’m working up a nice medley of great Loggins and Messina songs for an event I’m doing – so I’ll be playing that. It will have stuff like “Danny’s Song,” “Pooh Corner” and “Watching the River Run.” And we’ll have a few others everybody will know.
The Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street. Tickets to the Jim Messina show is $42.50, and an AllShows.com VIP Party Pass is available providing priority parking and open bar from 6:30 to 7:15 pm ($25 upcharge).
Call or visit the box office, 203-438-5795 or go online at ridgefieldplayhouse.org.
Check out Jim Messina on mandolin and vocals performing “Be Free” at The Kent Stage in Ohio on October 13, 2016
Jim Messina plays “Listen to a Country Song” and “Holiday Hotel” at the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee on March 24, 2017