Interview -- Jim Messina (Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Loggins & Messina)
"Well, I bet you wish you could cut me down
with those angry eyes."
~ Loggins and Messina ~
In 1967, at the young age of 19 kissing 20, Jim Messina found himself recording and touring with one of rock music's early supergroups...Buffalo Springfield. After the band's third and final album, Messina joined up with one of the early pioneers of country-rock, the fantastic and sorely under-appreciated ...Poco. And then finally, in 1971 as most fans are very familiar with, Jim Messina, along with good friend Kenny Loggins, formed one of the most successful rock duos of the 70's known simply as...Loggins and Messina.
Jim Messina's music has always been readily accepted by hippies and squares, geeks and freaks. Jammers and poppers. Rockers and yachters. He's one of the Ferris Buellers of rock and roll.
Jim Messina is a righteous dude. Go get you some.
Casey Chambers: I'd like to start off with your song..."Angry Eyes." A brilliant gem. A great jam. My favorite. How did that song come together for you guys?
Jim Messina: Well that song interestingly enough began when I was working on a movie score with a friend of mine, Murray MacLeod...and Stuart Margolin. It was for a movie called, "Evil Roy Slade." (1972) It was a comedy western. And it was before the Mel Brooks thing, but very similar. And there was a scene in the movie where the bad guys were coming into town and we needed something that was just gonna feel ominous. And angry. So I had this guitar lick. I said, 'Well, how about this one?' And they went, 'Oh yeah, that's perfect!' So we recorded a few pieces for the movie.
And then later, I was working on that lick and modifying it a bit for what I thought would be better for a song. And I had the song almost finished. I remember, in those days my attorney said, 'Ya know, you're always best to have your partners work with you on stuff. That it keeps everybody working together and focused, and when you make money, we all make money.' I said, 'Well, that sounds great.' So, I brought Kenny (Loggins) in on the project and asked if he'd help me finish writing the song. And he did. And it did eventually end up becoming a Loggins and Messina song. But that lick started out as a music cue for a movie. (laughs)
Rolling Stone Magazine (Feb. 1975)
Casey Chambers: I'm gonna have to seek that movie out. Sounds right up my creeque alley. What kind of a guitar did you use for that song?
Jim Messina: Well, the original guitar on that song was a Telecaster. I still own it. It was really a basket case. Rick Kuna had bought these two guitars in pieces and he put one together that he liked and he had pieces left over and said he'd sell the rest to me for $150. So I sort of had to Frankenstein mine from the bunch. (laughs)
And it ended up having what is called a microphonic pickup. A microphonic pickup is when it starts to get on the verge of wanting to feedback. And that in-between time that you're hearing is called microphonic. In those days microphonics were created, at least in a guitar pickup, when you had copper wire and you coated it with something.
"Angry Eyes" (live) - Loggins and Messina / (2009)
In those days, they used lacquer to coat the wire. What most people did is...they'd put their guitar in the trunk of their car, and the sun would bake it. And as the temperature rises, the lacquer begins to melt. And the layers between the actual copper and the lacquer begin to thin. And as it thins, it allows the magnetism to creep out. The ultimate aspect of that is...it becomes microphonic. And the effect of it...is a very mid-rangey sound that almost becomes poppy. And of course, the way I played it, it overemphasized what that microphonic did. It gave it a sound. And just about everybody who heard that song made comments about the great guitar sound. Who knew, right? (laughs)
Casey Chambers: You know there's gotta be some old-time roadie taking credit somewhere telling his great grandkids about the time he accidentally fell asleep in the car with the instruments baking in the hot sun, right? (laughs) When you guys hit the studio to record "Angry Eyes", did you already know that you wanted to have an extended instrumental break in the middle of it?
Jim Messina: Yes. When I was working with (Buffalo) Springfield and Poco...and especially with Poco...I did an arrangement in Poco for a song called "El Tonto de Nadie Regresa" which was an instrumental tag onto "Nobody's Fool." It was 27 minutes long when it first was done. And I went into the studio with one of the engineers and we cut that down to 17 minutes. So I cut 10 minutes out of it.
But doing instrumentals and jams was something that was always fun for me. When I started out playing when I was 12 and 13 and thru high school, I was an instrumental player. I did all The Ventures songs and, y'know, The Torpes. So it was natural for me to want to do something like that. And that was part of what I was able to bring to both Poco and Loggins and Messina. The instrumental aspect of arrangements.
"Nobody's Fool - El Tonto de Nadie, Regresa" - Poco / "Poco" (1970)
Casey Chambers: "El Tonto..." is a Poco gem. I remember being on the east side of Wichita town driving back to the west and that song came up and took me all the way home. Just killer. FM stations love playing Loggins and Messina jams, too, like the original unedited version of "Angry Eyes." That's how I heard that song for the first time.
Jim Messina: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Casey Chambers: How important was FM radio back in the early '70s for Loggins and Messina?
Jim Messina: Well, I think it was the only way that we were able to become as successful as we did. Because if you remember, if you go back to that same time and look at the charts and really look at it...what was considered a quote-unquote hit was really what the record companies were putting promotional dollars into getting played. So those of us getting played on the FM, it was because most of the DJ people there were real music lovers. They were the modern day musicologists of rock and roll.
I mean, they were playing all styles of music at the same time, on the same radio station, at any given hour. You could hear Otis Redding. You could hear Buffalo Springfield. Hell, you could hear probably the "Okie From Muskogee" being played. (laughs) It was beautiful because they were just playing whatever sounded really...nice and different. But I think FM radio, it really helped artists, especially like myself or Crosby Stills and Nash to really become highlighted. A lot of the ones who really made it on FM were mostly performing artists. That was the big thing. They weren't the typical go-and-cut-track acts.
"Your Mama Don't Dance" - Loggins and Messina / "Loggins and Messina" (1972)
Casey Chambers: Your good time rocker, "Your Mama Don't Dance" was your highest charter and a song that still captures that line-in-the-sand between teenagers and parents to this day. A metaphor for a lot of things, I suppose...and it's a smiler. What do you remember about writing that song?
Jim Messina: I know, that's weird, isn't it? (laughs) Well, we were starting to get some attention, Kenny and I. We had just finished, I think, a Troubadour engagement. And it'd come off really well. And, at that time, my focus was really on trying to get Kenny up and going as an artist and give him what he needed to launch his career. And giving him my best experiences on being well received as a performing artist. And one of the things I felt we needed was a closer for the evening that would get people up on their feet and get them moving. Put some energy into them.
So, I had this idea for a song called, "Your Mama Don't Dance." And again this was a song I had brought to Kenny to help me with. It was kind of born out of my own experiences growing up in a very strict household. My stepfather was from Arkansas and he was not much of a mover or a groover. (laughs) And my mom...my mama...she loved music. She loved Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. She loved race music. My stepfather was more of an Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash kind of guy. There was not a whole lot of connection or understanding with me wanting to do music other than from my mom.
So just the line, "Your mama don't dance and your daddy don't rock and roll..." came from me thinking about how my mother wasn't really doing what she loves to do. She couldn't do that. My stepfather was not into rock and roll. He thought The Beatles were just...weird. (laughs) Screaming, long-haired idiots, right? (laughs) So I grew up having to put up with that. And it was a fun lyric to come up with. I had no intention of it ever having any kind of social significance whatsoever other than my own experience of a kinda funky household.
"Your Mama Don't Dance" - Poison / "Open Up and Say... Ahh!" (1988)
But over time it's just...it's unbelievable how it's affected not only our generation but other generations. When Poison recorded that song, they sold 4 million copies of that record. So it's hard to know when something is going to have the effect that it does on a given audience. It's just not predictable. You just don't know if you squeeze that goose whether you're gonna get a golden egg or something else. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: You mentioned your mom being an Elvis fan, were you aware that Elvis sang a couple of lines from that song on one of his famous live albums?
("Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis" - 1974)
Jim Messina: Oh yeah, I heard that! I was so pleased. That was such...'cause I was a big Elvis fan. I loved Scotty Moore. His guitar playing. And of course James Burton. I got to know James when I was working in a studio in like...1966, I guess. I was at Universal Audio. And I met Roger Miller. And I met Dorsey Burnette. The old rockabilly guys. And of course, James Burton and Joe Osborn were all friends of theirs out of Shreveport, Louisiana. So when James Burton started playing guitar for Elvis Presley, I was just so pleased. Yeah, good moments.
Casey Chambers: After that song climbed the charts, how much pressure was there to follow it up?
Jim Messina: Well, there was some pressure. But it also sparked some inspiration I think, at least on my part, to see if we could take it another step. That was why I wrote, "My Music." That was the followup. Or what I would call...the record company wanting another, "Your Mama Don't Dance." It was sort of in that same groove. But "My Music" was more of an inspirational statement rather than a critical statement.
"My Music" - Loggins and Messina / "Full Sail" (1973)
(intro by Keith Moon on "In Concert")
Casey Chambers: Not too shab-shab. Good stuff! I picked up the Jim Croce bio, "I Got A Name" last year and I was surprised to learn he toured with you guys. And that the sold-out shows you guys did together at Carnegie Hall was one of the most exciting times of his life.
Jim Messina: Oh, absolutely! Jim was great.
Casey Chambers: Did you get to know him pretty well?
Jim Messina: I got to know Jim at soundchecks and 'how ya doings?' And from watching him play. Kind of interacting with him. I didn't get to know Jim well. You know his passing occurred on our tour. He was starting to become really, really successful and the agents and people were getting him work everywhere and he was taking whatever he could. And regrettably, he needed to make an engagement and the only way to do it was to get out that night in bad weather. That's usually what gets us, y'know? Extending the bar too far and taking risks that really shouldn't be taken. It was just really a sad thing. I think he would have gone beyond the success that he had as a musician.
I think he would have also made a great...like a David Letterman y' know. That kind of talent. I think Jim had it. And I believe almost every song he wrote became popular. (laughs) To watch him sing some of those tunes that we later heard on the radio was just cool. Jim's songs had so much character to them. And I don't know if this is a good comparison, but Chuck Berry, to me, was one of the great rock and roll lyricists of all time. His lyrics just create picture after picture after image after image. As does Jim Croce's.
Casey Chambers: I think that's very cool your paths crossed. Switching gears, you were pretty young when you began working with Buffalo Springfield. How did you get involved and what was it like during your time with them?
"Buffalo Springfield Again" (1967)
Jim Messina: Well, I was first working at Sunset Sound Recorders as a recording engineer. I was the second engineer that Tutti Camarata had hired. Bruce Botnick was the first engineer that was working in Studio One. They built a second studio and Tutti hired me to work that particular room. And they (Buffalo Springfield) had come in to do some work.
Actually, there's a precursor. David Crosby had booked time in the studio with our studio manager. Her name was Gypsy. She told me one day, 'Listen, I've got an act coming in here tomorrow. David Crosby's coming in and wants to cut some demos with a new artist. Would you be willing to do that?' It was a morning gig.
And I said, 'Well, I guess so if I don't get out too late.' Because sometimes I worked until two or three in the morning. So I came in the next morning to set up and this guy by the name of David Crosby came in who, quite honestly, I thought was Bing Crosby's son. (laughs) I didn't get the connection. I was working as a studio engineer. I'm not watching hit records, I'm watching hours fly by and microphones and tape machines.
So anyway, David comes in and brings this gal and I set up the mics and record the songs and I thought she was really, really, really good. What was weird is she wanted to turn the lights down and put on this lava lamp. But then I couldn't see anything. But I'm listening to this music and I'm going, 'Oh wow! This woman is really great.' And she's pretty, too. (laughs) So at the end of the session, I asked David who do you want me to write down here as producer and he goes, 'Well, you can put me down.' And I asked, 'What's the name of the artist?' And he says, 'Joni Mitchell.' I said, 'How do you spell that?' (laughs) And he wrote it down for me.
"Last Time Around" (1968)
And at that particular time, David, I think, might have been sitting in on bass or guitar or something because at times he would do that when Neil (Young) would quit...and said to the others in Buffalo Springfield, 'Hey, I just worked with this young engineer and I think you guys might really enjoy working with him.' They had tried somebody else, but they didn't like him. And so Gypsy asked me to work with the Springfield and that was really the beginning of my relationship with them.
I started out with them as an engineer...engineering them on their 2nd album, "Buffalo Springfield Again." (1967) Putting pieces together from stuff that they had done at Columbia Records.
And while I was working on that, their bass player got busted and sent to Canada. And there was an audition for a bass player and I raised my hand so I could come. And so I sat in a theatre with 10 or 12 other people while they auditioned and I was the last one to audition for the position of bass player. And I got that job.
"Carefree Country Day" - Buffalo Springfield / "Last Time Around" (1968)
Casey Chambers: That's very cool. Note to self: I need to work on my resume. (laughs)
Jim Messina: Yeah. (laughs) And then Ahmet Ertegun called me one night asking if I would be interested in producing the band. And would I consider it? And yeah, I would. So I took that position on as their engineer/producer and then played bass with them on the road until the group broke up. And I guess to answer your question...I liked it.
I thought it was a great band. I thought that "we" as a band were really stepping up. But I think Neil...and Neil had had those feelings even before, it's just...Neil always just wanted to do his own thing. I think it was hard working with so much creativity. I mean, Stephen (Stills) was, and still is a phenomenal guitar player and just a phenomenal songwriter and singer. It's such a different style and vocal epiglottal from anybody at that time. The only person who even came close was Dave Mason. And Neil has never been a great singer. Neither have I. But he has a quality and he emotionally affects people in a very, very positive way which is one of the reasons why he's so dearly loved. Willie Nelson doesn't have a great voice either but for the same reasons, he's a great songwriter and delivers his songs in a very unique way and I think this is part of what makes a person a great artist. The consistency and tonality in their work.
Casey Chambers: I would also add that longevity is part of greatness, as well. And here you are still performing and making good music.
Jim Messina: Thank you.
Casey Chambers: Are there any upcoming shows or projects in the works that you can clue us in on?
Jim Messina: Yeah, I'm doing a lot of dates all throughout the summer and into the next year. And I'm going to be doing some shows with Poco as a double bill. I have the dates on my website and Facebook.
Casey Chambers: I'll leave a link for everyone to check out.
"Watching The River Run" - Jim Messina (1997)
Jim Messina: And another thing that has been really interesting and fun for me...I produced this product called the All Access Card. It's a nice 8GB USB flash drive that looks a whole lot like an American Express card on a lanyard. It holds several digital folders, one of which contains the complete..."Jim Messina in Concert" album...in nice 24-48 bit audio quality. It's very portable. It's over an hour and a half of music and it sounds fantastic.
This album is also really special because guest Rusty Young is sitting in on songs we did together with Buffalo Springfield and in Poco...as well as a couple of Loggins and Messina songs that I wrote and performed right after I left Poco. It gives the audience a bit of an idea of what the songs might've sounded like had I stayed with Poco. So it's a really fun record.
Also on the All Access Card, I included the original encore performance from the live show that I was never able to release on the original vinyl. It has the encore performance from that show in audio, but also includes a nice digital video of the same encore. It's about a 17-minute performance of "You Need A Man" and "Your Mama Don't Dance" and it looks and sounds fantastic.
All of the song lyrics are included on it, too. And there's plenty of photographs from the concert as well as the front, back, and inside cover of the vinyl album.
Casey Chambers: Yeah, I love it when the lyrics are included and other goodies. That's great!
Jim Messina: Yeah, and for the hardcore gearsluts, (laughs) I added the original setlist with all the guitar tunings I used, so they can see how everything was edited down to the final record. So there's a lot of fun stuff.
And on the back of the card, it has your name and a place for a signature. And people who buy it, when they come to a show, can use that to get to the head of the line for a meet and greet. So it's called the Jim Messina All Access Card and they're available on my website.
Casey Chambers: I'm there! Good stuff. Again, I'll add a link. Jim, I really appreciate you taking time out to hang with me this morning. It's been a lot of fun. Thank you very much.
Jim Messina: You bet. And my pleasure. Thank you.
"Watching The River Run" - Jim Messina feat. Crystal Bernard / "Watching The River Run" (1997)
Jim Messina Official Website
Jim Messina Facebook
Follow Me On FACEBOOK