Multi-platinum and Grammy-award winning artist Kenny Loggins’ career dates back to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970. In the mid-‘70s he was the soulful voice in Loggins & Messina. When the 1980s rolled around, Loggins’ music was featured in popular movie soundtracks such as Caddyshack, Footloose, and Top Gun. His song book of hits includes “Whenever I Call You Friend,” “Celebrate Me Home,” “Danny’s Song,” and “House on Pooh Corner.” Loggins is definitely one of rock’s most prolific artists.
I recently spoke with Kenny Loggins after a mentoring session at the eighth annual Hawaii Songwriting Festival. We talked about the Festival, getting lost in the Big Island’s Waipio Valley, future projects, and had some fun with several rapid-fire questions. This printed interview was edited for space, clarity, and continuity. You can hear the complete audio interview in a section below.
Aloha, Kenny. So, this is your second year here at the Hawaiian Songwriting Festival. Tell me about what you’ve experienced and how you got involved with this project?
Well, I was originally invited here last year through a friend of mine in Santa Barbara, Adam Zelkind. I met him through some teenagers who I was working with. I started mentoring a project after the  mudslides in Santa Barbara. We had big fires and then the rains came. One night we had a torrential rain that caused a terrible mudslide that took a few hundred homes and killed 23 people. There were a bunch of teenagers that contacted me because they’d been told that there was nothing they could do. They went to go look for some missing friends, and they were not allowed to go into the mud because the mud had become toxic with septic tanks and dead animals and all kinds of things. So, in order to do something, they started production of a show. Most of the shows in Santa Barbara that involve these kids were either musical theater, or competitions, like, you know, teen stars, stuff like that. So, they came to me and wanted to know if I would headline… instead I changed the form of their show to be a cooperative thing where they would support each other and bring in the best talent of their teenage friends to create a show. We ended up putting together a show (Teens Sing For Santa Barbara) that raised seventy-thousand dollars, and did a lot of support for a disaster relief organization in Santa Barbara called Unity. In the process of doing that benefit, and working with the teenagers, I discovered that I really enjoyed mentoring teens. I felt like I had a gift for working with them and that led to this (Festival). I met Adam though one of the girls in my show, and Adam invited me to do this. I found that the energy of the mentoring continued on with these writers in a different kind of way because these are songwriters and those kids were just performers, but it didn’t matter whether they were teenagers, or not. I found that this was an interesting forum for me and that I could make that connection.
You just finished one of your mentoring sessions a few minutes ago. Can you describe it briefly? What’s the experience like? What are your students looking to learn?
Well, they are each trying to achieve something different. Some want to be writers for TV shows or commercials. Others want to be pop writers. Others want to be performers and write their own material. Yeah, it was interesting today in that I had a lot of diverse types of songwriters. Well, not so much different genres, as in different goals. Some were confused about what their goals were. But that’s the way it works. Everybody pulls out a song they’ve written, either play a recorded version, or pick up a guitar. In this case guitar, but sometimes a piano, and play it live, because then I get to hear how it was written because the time is short. They’ll pay me a song, and I can give them feedback on where the chorus would’ve gone, or if they even need a chorus, or maybe the verse is too long. There’s just hundreds of things set up that I can jam on with them once they start to play their music.
Have you heard of any success stories from these up-and-coming songwriters you’ve been working with?
Well, the last girl who just played in my class won a songwriters’ contest last night and she’s been writing for eight years. Her material was very advanced. Most of the young people in my class were beginners, and so that’s a different kind of thing to direct them and help them, encourage them, to go in a particular direction.
One of our readers [Helen Nahoopii] had a question and said I should ask Kenny about the time he got lost in Waipio Valley.
I had gone to do a retreat for a weekend and was staying in Waipio Valley at that time. There was a treehouse about 50-feet up a monkey pod tree, with stairs, and it was really a beautiful spot. There was even an outhouse about 20 steps down the tree. The day I got there I put my stuff into the treehouse, and I hiked out to the beach, which about a 30-minute hike, and spent the day on the beach. When the sun was going down, I started hiking back. It started to get dark. My flashlight’s batteries died on me, and I couldn’t see where my next step was. I fell over walls. I fell into creeks. I finally gave up in the middle of the night, and had fallen into a dry river bed. I just started throwing stones out of the river until I had a sandy place to lay down. Waipio Valley is one of the wettest places on earth and I knew that at any moment it could start raining. All I had on was a t-shirt and my swimsuit. I had a towel to wrap myself up in or use it as a pillow. I think I ended up using it as a pillow and because I was so exhausted from trying to hike through the valley. I just laid down in a sandy spot but knew that by throwing rocks I could be meeting the centipedes. There’s a lot of them in the valley. At that point I didn’t care. I was like, “Go ahead!”
I hope there’s a happy ending to the story.
Once I started laying down, I heard wild horses around me, and I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna get trampled because horses can see in the dark.” They’re out wandering in the dark, and I thought maybe they could see me, or smell me, or whatever, you know, maybe I should stand up and go, but no I didn’t. Anyway, I fell asleep and I got maybe a half-an-hour of sleep before the sun came up, and then I wasn’t sure if I’d hiked up a tributary canyon. I had to find high ground and see where I was. I was about 150 feet from my cabin. I’d made it all the way to the back. It was an interesting time for me. I learned nothing at all from that about myself.
Sounds like the premise for a song.
I wish. Yeah.
What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing up a year of touring. About 25 dates this year. I’m also working on a movie project that I’m not at liberty to say but it has something to do with (laughs) “top guy.” But I didn’t say that you didn’t get that from me. It’s a remake of ___ coming out next year.
That sounds interesting. I usually like to finish up with some lightning-round questions…
I’m sorry, but that was not the answer we were looking for. (laughs) Your first guitar?
It was a Kay (guitar) and it belonged to my big brother. He had it on his wall and I would sneak it off his wall when he went off to school, learned to play it, and then put it back on his wall before he came home, or he’d beat me up.
Most pivotal career experience.
I have a lot of those.
Best advice for young musicians.
Go where the fun is. Do the kind of music that makes you excited. Keep learning and meeting the people who are doing what it is you want to do.
The weirdest concert experience.
I was in Salt Lake City and I was going on stage in the dark and I took one step too many and fell off about a 15-foot stage under some packing cases and broke three ribs. I was lying on the floor yelling “Help!” No one could hear me because the audience was yelling my name. And so that went on for about 15 minutes – just lying there. They dragged me back into a dressing room, which the doctor later said, “Never move someone with broken ribs.” It actually bruised my lungs, and that made it really painful, but it would’ve punctured my lungs and that would have been a drag.
Let’s put that under ‘Most Dangerous Concert Experience.’ What superpower would you want.”
[Long pause] I’mthinking like a mental power – to read minds.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Depends on what day, and where I am and in the world. When I’m home, I have a granddaughter and she’s four. If we’re not visiting her or doing something with the five kids… most of them are in Santa Barbara… we can go play Pickleball with our friends. It’s the fastest growing sport in America today. It’s played on a small tennis court. Two against two. Kind of ping-pong meets tennis. It’s played with a Wiffle-Ball and wooden rackets. It’s really fun. Very fast game!
Thanks for your time Kenny, and I hope you have a wonderful experience here at the Hawaii Songwriting Festival.
Thank you! It’s been going really well.
Listen to the complete audio interview with Kenny Loggins.
Be sure to stop by Kenny Loggins’ official website for the latest music and concert news.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Concert photos: Steve Roby