Friday, April 27, 2012

June 30, 1972: Memorial Auditorium, Kansas City, KS: NRPS/Kenny Loggins (Friend Of The Devil-slow)

Poster for the New Riders with Loggins and Messina at Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City, MO, June 30, 1972. Note that the billing says 'Kenny Loggins Band with Jim Messina.'
"Friend Of The Devil" was one of most radio friendly songs on American Beauty, and it got a lot of airplay in the early 1970s. Ironically, after the Grateful Dead stopped doing acoustic sets in 1970, the song was played relatively rarely in concert. The sprightly, bluegrass styled tune never really found an electric arrangement that seemed to suit Garcia, and it only popped up once in a while. It was part of the strange mystery of the Dead that they regularly performed cover versions of songs they had never released, like "Big River," while hardly playing one of their best known songs.

Unexpectedly, "Friend Of The Devil" reappeared in a much slower arrangement with the Jerry Garcia Band in the Fall of 1975. Garcia obviously enjoyed singing the song as a ballad, since the arrangement of "Friend Of The Devil" became a regular part of the Grateful Dead's sets from 1976 onwards. Once Garcia found an arrangement he liked, "Friend Of The Devil" became a regular part of Dead and Garcia shows. Sometime in the later '70s, word trickled out somehow that Garcia had tried out the ballad arrangement because he had heard a tape of Kenny Loggins performing the song that way.

Wait, really, Kenny Loggins? Of Loggins and Messina? Pleasant, melodic, AM radio-friendly Loggins and Messina, who sold 15 million-plus records in the 70s? When did Kenny Loggins play "Friend Of The Devil?" And how did Garcia hear the tape? Frankly, who was taping Loggins and Messina in the first place? I was never a big fan of the slow version of "Friend Of The Devil," so I didn't dwell on it too much, but I do recall trying to do some research (which in those pre-internet days consisted of going to Rasputin's Records and reading the backs of albums), but I could find no connection between Kenny Loggins and "Friend Of The Devil," and chalked it up to a lost mystery.

I thought about it recently, however, and considered the fact that the internet changes everything. Does it ever. Within minutes of thinking about it, I was pretty sure I solved the mystery. It turns out that on June 30, 1972, Loggins and Messina opened for the New Riders of The Purple Sage at the Soldiers And Sailors Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City, KS, and no less than Betty Cantor taped Loggins and Messina. Loggins performed "Friend Of The Devil" that night,  and that must be the tape she played for Garcia. That, at least, explains the Garcia part: Betty and Jerry were friends (she used to cut his hair), so while the exact reason that she played him the tape remains unknown, the question of how Garcia heard it seems well answered in my mind. The focus of this post, then, will be some informed speculation of how Betty Cantor came to be taping Loggins and Messina in Kansas City in the first place.

Betty In KC
By 1972, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage were an established touring act. They weren't a big act, really, but they could headline smaller places in areas where they were getting good airplay. I have to assume that Betty Cantor was part of their sound crew for a Midwestern tour, which would account for her presence in Kansas City. At the time, groups like the New Riders would usually hire crew members for a specific tour, rather than having a lot of permanent staff. Now, they might very likely use the same people regularly, but it's more likely that Betty Cantor was a hired hand for a run of shows. Memorial Auditorium was a 3500 seat auditorium that was a regular Midwestern stop on the touring circuit.

I don't think Betty would have ended up in Kansas City with the New Riders unless she was working. Paradoxically, I suspect she had live sound duties with the New Riders, and that may be why we have no Betty Board from the New Riders set on June 30. Betty being Betty, however, I have to suspect that she decided to record Loggins and Messina because she could, since she wouldn't have been working during their set. I listened to a few other Loggins and Messina tapes on Sugarmegs, including some King Biscuit Flower Hour tapes, and Betty's tape is far superior. Since neither Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina had any known social connections to the Grateful Dead, it seems most likely that Betty was just taping for fun, but perhaps she had some kind of heads up from someone that Loggins and Messina were worth preserving.

Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In, released November 1971 on Columbia Records
Loggins And Messina
Kenny Loggins had graduated from San Gabriel High School in California in 1966. As an aspiring musician in Southern California, he had the usual interesting if random experiences: he was in the band Second Helping, who released a few singles, he was in the final version of The Electric Prunes (in 1969), he played with Mike Deasy in Gator Creek, and he wrote songs for other groups, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. By 1970, Loggins had a songwriting contract with ABC/Dunhill, but he wasn't really performing.

Jim Messina, from the Santa Barbara area, had been a musician and a recording engineer. He was working in the studio with the Buffalo Springfield when their bassist quit, and he ended up replacing him. Messina helped complete the Springfield's final record, Last Time Around. Afterwards, Messina formed Poco with Richie Furay, where he mostly played lead guitar. After three fine albums with Poco, however, Messina left the group to become a producer associated with Columbia Records. Messina was introduced to Loggins, and recorded a few demos with him. Loggins was soon signed to Columbia.

Loggins was writing song in a folk style that Messina felt was out of date. Messina proposed to Columbia president Clive Davis that Messina play a larger role in Loggins' first album than just producing it. Since Messina wanted to give the record a richer, more rocking feel, he was going to play a more prominent role anyway. Messina's idea was that he would sit in on Loggins debut, in the manner that veteran jazz artists often guested on the debut records of younger players, in order to draw attention to them. Messina was no rock legend, but he had been in Buffalo Springfield and Poco, and he would draw attention from Rolling Stone and the like. It was a good plan, and the album Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In was released on Columbia in November, 1971.

The album was released without fanfare, but Messina's plan worked. Messina had just enough of a name that FM djs gave the record a listen, and there were some fine tracks on it. FM airplay followed. People who recall the poppy and somewhat maudlin hits of Loggins And Messina may be surprised by their first album. Messina ended up playing a much larger role than he had originally planned, sharing writing and singing credits with Loggins. Some of the songs have a lot of energy to them, particularly the Carribbean flavored "Vahevala" and the bluesy "Same Old Wine (In A Brand New Bottle)." Loggins had a much stronger voice than Messina, whereas Messina's musical skills enveloped Loggins' vocals in a much richer setting. What was intended as a one-time partnership was clearly something much more. As Sittin' In slowly started to attract attention, Loggins and Messina started touring around.

June 30, 1972, Memorial Auditorium, Kansas City, KS: NRPS/Loggins And Messina
The Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City seems to have had a capacity of about 3500. That was a bit big for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. The Riders had just released their second album, Powerglide, and definitely had a following, but back in '72 they couldn't sell all those tickets yet. Orthodoxy suggested that a complimentary second act with a different audience should be sharing the bill. Per convention at the time, the preferred choice was always someone on the same label as the headliner. Loggins And Messina fit the bill perfectly. Both L&M and NRPS were on Columbia, and while they shared some general territory, as far as country flavored rock and roll, the Riders appealed to friendly dopers, whereas Loggins And Messina were a little more introspective.

At the time, while Loggins And Messina were second on the bill, they would have had a few of their own partisans in the crowd. Also, some more alert fans of the New Riders would have already heard a little about of Loggins And Messina on local FM radio. As a result, Loggins And Messina would not have faced either stony silence or utter indifference that was sometimes the fate of opening acts in the 1970s. The tape bears this out. While it's impossible to tell how many people were in their seats, Loggins And Messina seem to be getting a good reaction from the crowd.

The show begins with Kenny Loggins performing 4 songs, accompanied only by Messina, both on acoustic guitar. Loggins sounds quite comfortable, a harder thing to do than you think when you are opening a show in a 3500 seat auditorium for a rowdy crowd waiting on the New Riders. The show began with "Danny's Song" and "House At Pooh Corner," Loggins' best known songs at the time. "Danny's Song" was what was informally known as an "FM hit"--it got so much airplay that everybody knew the song (and you probably do, too: "Even though we ain't got money/I'm so in love with you honey"). "House At Pooh Corner" was mainly known for the preceding year's hit by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (you know that, too: "Winnie The Pooh/doesn't know what to do"), but Loggins had written the song.

In the 1970s, if you were opening for a bigger act, it was often prudent to open with your best known material, so that the audience would think "oh, it's these guys--I know them." After their two big numbers, however, Loggins announces that he's going to try something different, and hopes he'll remember the song, and then performs "Friend Of The Devil." He performs it in a way that seems familiar to us now, but at the time it must have been very surprising. In many ways, this was a gutsy thing to do. "Friend Of The Devil" wasn't a New Riders song, but the connection between the Dead and the Riders was very deep, and in any case John Dawson had co-written the song. It's not typical to see an opening act perform a song tied to the headliner, but Loggins went for it. He sang the song with confidence, which suggests to me that he must have performed it a few times, if only casually for friends.

Loggins And Messina got a huge ovation at the end of the song, and Loggins says "it's a great song!" Pretty rapidly, they bring out the whole band, and rock it up pretty good for the balance of the set. I have to think the New Riders audience--the ones whose memories weren't totally auto-deleted--had a pretty good feeling about Loggins And Messina. The interesting part, however, was that because Betty was taping it, she must have been the one who played it for Jerry Garcia (or at least, she effectively facilitated it). It's to Garcia's credit that he heard a completely different interpretation of his own song, by someone he didn't know,  listened to it on its own terms and adopted it on his own. I'm not a fan of the slow version of "Friend Of The Devil," but it was Garcia's lively mind that made him great, even if the results weren't always to my liking.

Loggins And Messina, released October 1972 on Columbia Records
Aftermath
Loggins and Messina were a kind of accidental duo. Messina was Loggins' producer, and he was only supposed to 'sit in' for the first album. However, after the success of the debut, the second album was just called Loggins And Messina. It was released in October of '72, It spawned the huge hit "Your Mama Don't Dance," and there was no turning back. The accidental duo of Loggins And Messina sold over 15 million albums in about 7 years, and were a massive touring act as well. Around 1976, however, Loggins and Messina decided to split up, which they did quite amicably. Loggins, initially the junior member of the partnership, went on to equally spectacular success as a solo artist over the next few decades. Ironically, because the duo split up in their prime, they are more fondly remembered than groups who stayed together well after their sell-by date. In the last several years, Loggins and Messina have reunited for a few recording projects and tours, much to the pleasure of their fans. Their classic songs have remained radio staples ever since they were released.

In retrospect, I think Loggins and Messina's biggest influence was on modern country music. Loggins' songwriting had all the virtues of country music, without the then-mandatory nods to mama, prison and trains. Neither Loggins nor Messina had pronounced southern twangs, and while there was some nice fiddling on some songs, there was never the soapy mixture of steel guitar and strings that make country songs from the 70s sound so dated. Modern country lyrics still namecheck mama, prison and pickups (and, y'know, America), but the modern country sound owes a lot to Loggins and Messina. I don't think it's a coincidence that there are so many popular duos in modern county music.

I don't know of any social connection between Jerry Garcia and either Kenny Loggins or Jim Messina. Poco played a few rock festivals with the Dead, I think, so perhaps Messina bummed a cigarette or something from Garcia, but afterwards I know of no direct connection. In some of the final touring lineups of Loggins And Messina, I know Richard Greene played violin, so there's a little bit of a musical intersection, but by that time Kenny Loggins definitely wasn't performing cover versions to win over the crowd. Yet because of the accidental presence of Betty Cantor, recording an accidental duo who happened to share a record company with the New Riders, Jerry Garcia changed the arrangement of one of his best known songs. While it's remotely possible that "Friend Of The Devil" was performed by Loggins more than once, it seems more likely that Loggins played the song to win over the Riders crowd, and as a result Garcia took his arrangement for his own.

2 comments:

  1. Ahh, what a pleasure. I also think FOTD was much weaker as a slow song, but this sure is a nice, otherwise-random intersection to pin down. Thank you!

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  2. Good info -- just found a YouTubed version of this Memorial Hall tape today (looking for the FOTD cover! -- it's Loggins solo acoustic), then a link to article in David Dodd's Stories blog. As to why Betty recorded and then played L&M for Jerry, Loggins was a hot songwriter (Nitty Gritty had a big hit with his House at Pooh Corner), and Messina was known from Buffalo Springfield and as a founder of influential country-rock band Poco. Social links might not have been close, but musically Betty and Jerry would have been fully aware of these skilled fellow Cali-located songwriters and country/folk rockers. Peace and a good road.

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