Tom Cruise and Kenny Loggins are forever intertwined in pop culture by the 1986 high-flying action flick Top Gun. The actor as the star and driving onscreen force, and the musician for his distinctive performance of the film’s theme song, “Danger Zone.”
But the pair had never actually met in person until October 2016 when they were coincidentally booked to appear on TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! And the singer had just one question for the onscreen flyboy.
“I said to Tom ‘I know you’re working on the Top Gun sequel right now. Is ‘Danger Zone’ a part of it or not?’” Loggins says via Zoom from his home in Santa Barbara. “And he told me ‘Kenny, it wouldn’t be Top Gun without ‘Danger Zone.’ And I’m really glad he felt that way!’”
Now, six years later, the original track (not the version Loggins re-recorded for possible inclusion) is heard near the start of today’s hottest box office ticket, Top Gun: Maverick.
Loggins talks about that song, his other giant soundtrack hits (“I’m Alright” from Caddyshack and the theme song from Footloose), life, career, collaborations, and personal journey in and out of music in a memoir written with Jason Turbow, Still Alright (320 pp., $30, Hachette Books, out June 14).
“About halfway through the process, I realized that writing this book was a cross between a therapy session and a deposition!” Loggins laughs. “I’d be in the middle of a story and Jason would tell me that I had contradicted myself earlier. I realized my life is a paradox, and it was a process for me.”
As a young man, Loggins absorbed anything and everything about music, briefly touring as a member of a latter-day version of The Electric Prunes even attending the Monterey Pop and Altamont Festivals. Both of which went down in music history for very, very different and well-documented reasons.
“Altamont became a metaphor for the end of an era, but it wasn’t consciously that way. It was just a badly-produced show. But Monterey felt like the beginning of something big. Like something was going to happen,” he recalls.
Dedicated to music (he wrote both later Loggins & Messina hits “Danny’s Song” and “House at Pooh Corner” while still in high school), his initial success came as half of that “accidental duo” with Jim Messina (ex-Buffalo Springfield, Poco). They also scored with “Angry Eyes,” “Vahevala,” “My Music” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”
But the five-year partnership was complicated and unequal, as Messina-as-producer had final say (and strong, unmovable opinions) about music, songwriting and touring that were not always in line with that of Loggins. They’ve had on-and-off brief reunions since their dissolution but were hardly—as the title of an early greatest hit compilation said—“best of friends.” But he did give his former partner a heads up on the book.
“I sent him the Loggins and Messina chapters. I wrote him a letter that said it’s too late to change it, but if he wanted to talk about it, he could call me and we’d talk it through together,” Loggins says. “It was the perspective of a 22-year-old [who felt] picked on. I didn’t have more chops on how to defend myself to speak up, so I didn’t.”
Nevertheless, Loggins would churn out many hits, often in collaboration with others. His solo breakthrough “Whenever I Call You Friend” was co-written with Melissa Manchester and performed with Stevie Nicks. Michael McDonald co-wrote and/or sang on “This Is It” (written as a motivational tune to Loggins’ sick father), “What a Fool Believes” (a big hit for McDonald’s Doobie Brothers) and “Heart to Heart” (also written with David Foster). “Don’t Fight It” was a duet with Journey’s Steve Perry, and “Celebrate Me Home” co-written with jazzman Bob James.
“It’s really musically stimulating for me because invariably, your collaborator will go somewhere you hadn’t of thought of,” he offers. “Then I bring my own personality and melodic sensibilities to the party. We come up with something neither of us would have on our own. An in a perfect world, you’ll hear both writers in that song.” Still Alright seems almost perfect 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.
Of the last in 1985, we learn that Prince was a no-show for the “We Are the World” recording session, so Loggins convinced Michael Jackson to have his new friend Huey Lewis sing the line. Months later, he and his entire band and crew quickly left a show in Houston to catch a flight to Philadelphia to play Live Aid the next day.
He’s also completely fine with his place as a face on the Mount Rushmore of Yacht Rock. According to the website run by the moniker’s founders, YachtorNyacht.com, Loggins had some hand in four of the genre’s top six songs.
“I think it’s great there’s a whole audience for that era of rock and roll that I didn’t know was there!” he says. “We didn’t know we would be creating another genre at the time. It was just an extension of our version of R&B music.”
But despite all the chart hits, Loggins considers one work of above all in terms of importance and intimacy: 1991’s album Leap of Faith. In fact, he calls some of his diehard fans “Leapers.”
“That music came to me as part of a moment in my life and career that catches emotionally into the dissolution of my marriage to [first wife] Eva and then the creation into a new relationship and ultimately new marriage with [second wife] Julia,” he offers. “And I just happened to be making a record at a very important time in my life. The music captures that experience. It was so fluid and so much like a gift.”
Kenny Loggins is a very Zen, deep and spiritual guy. So even when—as he writes in the book—the master tapes for Leap of Faith went missing when a van was stolen, he didn’t panic.
“The music came to me almost like it was guided, handed to me through my spirit. And I couldn’t believe that this could all happen just so someone could steal it,” he says. “I kept recording, because I knew it was coming back.”
Kenny Loggins onstage in the '70s at at Loggins and Messina show.
Photo by Larry Hulst
Not coming back some years later was Julia, who left him after more than a decade of being together and three children (Loggins also has two with Eva). He’s extremely open about his time with Julia, which involves a nude wedding ceremony, frequent colonics, mysticism and their practice of pursuing "talk therapy" and a “conscious relationship.”
The timing of her announcement couldn’t be worse, though. The pair had just co-written and released the offbeat love guidebook The Unimaginable Life along with a companion record by Loggins.
“She asked me for a divorce. Just after we’d put out a book about how to make love last. Wait a minute! I definitely didn’t see that coming!” Loggins says. “It took 10 years to get past it, but it was an important time for my personal growth. And all that affects the music. We learn more from the heartache stuff than from any other part of our lives.”
As for this summer, Loggins has a lot of publicity to do for Still Alright, has some live dates booked that are part concert/part onstage interview and storytelling experience, and even a couple of gigs with Jim Messina. He remembers recently playing his first post-pandemic show.
“You could just feel the excitement in the audience. They were so happy to be back. There’s an energy thing that happens between an artist and an audience, a connection that can’t be fabricated on Zoom. You have to be in the room,” he says.
“It’s part of a flow. In a great concert, there’s a level of flow and the music brings a focal point to your consciousness. That’s my theory!”
Loggins then gives an avowed rave to the book Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal and connects it to music. And how we can find a wonderful experience even in the aspects which are not neat and orderly in a performer.
“You have to be yourself. Let the burping and the farting be part of the show! It’s the imperfection that makes the connection,” he laughs. “Hey, I need to write that down—that rhymes!”
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.