Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with singer, songwriter, musician and record producer JIM MESSINA
Pillow Talking has interviewed multi-hyphenates in the past, but Jim Messina is truly a multi-multi hyphenate. He is a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, recording engineer, carpenter, techie and visionary. He is probably best known for his participation in three bands over the years: Buffalo Springfield, Poco and Loggins and Messina. In this fascinating and entertaining interview, Jim talks about technology, Adirondack chairs, jack asses and, of course, music.
See Jim at The Ridgefield Playhouse July 16th
PT: Jim, thank you so much for granting us this interview. (Wayne) I have to tell you. I was a HUGE Buffalo Springfield fan and a Loggins and Messina fan. (Both) We know quite a bit about your background and your music, so this will be a difficult interview to ask you questions for which we may know a lot of the answers. By the way, if you hear our dogs in the background, it’s because we are doing this interview at home!
PT: (Stephanie and Wayne do double takes) Jackasses?
JM: Real ones! We have three donkeys
PT: (Laughs) That’s wild. We didn’t know what or to whom you were referring. Maybe people in the business or politicians.This is a first for us — starting off the interview talking about jackasses!
JM: (Laughs) No, these are real!
So let’s start with my new album that I have coming out which may be very interesting to your readers.
JM: I was a producer most of my life. I started out in my teens – God, it was 1965 – working in my school years for Ibis Records. It’s something I’ve been involved with all my life. I also was a recording engineer. When I got to Hollywood at eighteen, I said these guys are so good down here I’m never ever going to be anybody. So I thought what I’m going to do is be a recording engineer since I always loved recording, engineering, and I always loved electronics. I got under the wing of a man named Mike Dorrough who, at the time, we were both just as poor as bald field mice on a hot day.
JM: So fast forward, he became a multi-millionaire with Durrough Electronics. I had many successes as an artist, but I also had many as a producer. And I’ve always been interested in production and audio and so, I realized this past year that CDs are gone. They aren’t even selling them anymore unless you special order one and even then it’s difficult. When I traded in my lease on my truck I noticed they had all USB connectors. And I went, Hmmmm…this is interesting. So I’ve come up with a new album that is on a USB 8G flash drive card that looks just like a credit card.
JM: It’s called Jim Messina with my logo on it – Access All and then below that it says, Music, Video, and Data. On this 8G drive is my new album which is also coming out as a vinyl. But what I did was put the whole album on MP3 so that you can immediately stick it into your computer and it will go to your iTunes or whatever you use for your music player – or you can stick in in the car and it immediately starts playing out of your USB drive that’s an aux in.
PT: Jim, you’re an electronics geek!
JM: (Laughs) Beyond that, there are several folders inside of it. One file is an audio file folder that contains the whole album in 24/48 bits so that a person who really loves audio and the kind of masters that are going to hit the LP when it comes out – they can enjoy the sound quality of what’s that about. There’s another folder that contains a video of an encore which is not included on the LP vinyl because there’s just not enough room (laughs). There’s not enough space to be able to put the amount of time that we recorded – which was over an hour and a half. So on that we have a special encore in video that’s about 27 minutes because we did a long version of “You Need a Man.” The guys are all great players and great jazz musicians as well as everything else that they do. So that’s where I give them an opportunity to stretch out and express themselves. So that video is on there. And then we go to another folder and that folder has all of the song lyrics on the album. Another folder has all of the artwork that is on the LP so you get the outside and inside covers. There’s also some extra photographs that were taken. The album is titled Jim Messina In the Groove so it expresses the LP aspect of the album with special guest Rusty Young.
JM: Well, if you followed Poco, Rusty is the steel guitar player who I hired to perform on the Buffalo Springfield album. So I have that history with Rusty. He was supposed to open the show and I said, “That’s not okay.” I said, “You’re not an opening act. You’re someone who I worked with and you are part of my family.” I asked if he would instead come into the show. If you’re coming to the show—
PT: We wouldn’t miss it.
JM: You’ll see that I open the show. I start out as the opening act. I start out playing acoustic songs and things like that. And then I bring Rusty up to join me. And I have him do “Follow Your Dreams” which was on the Poco reunion album which was 1989-1990. We do some of the first stuff we ever did together. We do “Kind Woman” in honor of Rusty and because it’s one of the first songs I produced for Buffalo Springfield of Richie’s (Richie Furay). We do “A Child’s Claim to Fame” which we did on Poco and Springfield which is featured on dobro. I brought him on “You Better Think Twice” which was a Poco record. And then I asked him to play on a country song, “Holiday Hotel,” which were really Loggins and Messina songs. But they were the songs I wrote right after leaving Poco. I usually tell the audience if I had stayed in Poco this is probably the way it would have sounded with Rusty playing on those tunes.
PT: You two have such chemistry together.
JM: Yes. It’s a very special guest appearance by Rusty. And then from there I do “Be Free,” “Same Old Wine,” “Changes,” “Angry Eyes,” and we end with “You Need a Man.” It’s a fun album. It’s been getting a tremendous amount of inside interest. A friend of mine who helped me produce it — he’s kind of a nerd guy like me, in the sense that we like engineering and stuff. He’s an electronics designer; he took it to AES. While he was at AES, people had gathered around listening to it and wondering how it was recorded. So it has something to it that ordinarily you don’t get. I think the reason is it’s recorded live and we’ve made very little corrections. It was all recorded at one time so you get the feeling of people really working and playing together and being on the edge together and sometimes falling off (laughs) and getting back on.
PT: It sounds really cool and different.
JM: It’s a new format which I am trying to push. As we move further along into this badland of music – electronics and technology is moving along. And what’s happening is that it is leaving some of the people who create in the dust. In order to stay current, as an artist, we need to find out what formats that we can participate in that are easily accessible and utilized by everyone. So this particular USB card – which looks like a credit card – has a serial number on it. And on the back it has a place for a person to sign. And when they do get an autograph of the artist there’s a place to put it on there. But most importantly, by being serialized, it gives us an opportunity to have a fan base which is based on a person’s interest in the music and it gives them an opportunity to get discounts on certain records as they come out in the future.
JM: It looks like a laminate and you can wear it around your neck. You can wear it to a show and it grants you the ability to be part of a meet and greet in a special line to say hello. So it has a lot of aspects to it that a CD doesn’t. It gives an opportunity for an artist to use it for numerous aspects of their career as it relates to that music or, in some cases, you can put in a couple more albums because it’s an 8G drive. The point is, if you need something to sell as merchandise when you get to a venue, they are lighter than CDs and they hold more information than CDs. And they offer an opportunity for an artist to have something that you weren’t capable of having in the past with a CD. The extraordinary thing about it, and it’s what got me into it in the first place, once you get the music off of it, you can erase it and you have a hard drive that you can stick in your wallet or purse and if you have an interview you need to do you can use it, transfer it to a big computer and boom, it’s done.
PT: (Laughs) You’re a great electronics salesman, Jim!
JM: Well, it offers a lot of opportunities beyond the music as opposed to something that you put your coffee cup on when you’re tired of listening to it.
PT: (Laughs) That’s incredible! You must be one of the pioneers with this.
JM: You know what? It was there. And I thought this needs to be utilized. I’m sure someone has thought of it but I don’t know if they’ve necessarily put it together in this kind of package. I think it’s a good thing and I’ve decided to release it. We’ve already manufactured the cards and they are on their way.
PT: We would love to review it.
JM: That would be great.
PT: It’s such a great tool. And you really have a tech background.
JM: Yes. I have been very fortunate in my life that I have been afforded the opportunity to do think and do things that I would probably never do or have access to. I have my own studio, but I also have a full wood shop and a full metal shop (laughs) and an electronics shop. So if I get bored, I have plenty to do. And if that’s not enough, my wife will have me out brushing those jackasses (laughs).
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) I read somewhere that you are really into carpentry and you do cowboy furniture?
JM: Yeah. Lately, I‘ve been building a set of Adirondack chairs.
PT: (Stephanie) I love those!
JM: They’re so unique, I mean, they always look the same. They are like a cowboy – they always have a hat, pair of boots, and some jeans. But as I’ve studied them, I realize that everyone is different. I found a book that is published twenty-five years ago that had an interesting design. But it had flat blacks on everything. So I redesigned them so that the backs are curved – and oh, boy – they sit nice. I’ll get some pics out on FB once they’re painted. Or maybe I’ll put some raw pics out to give a sense of what they look like.
PT: We’d love to post some pics of your chairs (laughs). We can hawk your wares!
Maybe we should ask now our standard opening question of telling us about your background, although I feel we know most of it already.
JM: I grew up in two households – my mother’s household and my father’s household. My father’s household was basically an Italian background and that’s where all the music came from. My dad was a guitarist. My uncle played mandolins and guitars and so every Christmas there was that opportunity to be with family and play music. It was very inspiring. On my mother’s side – she was part American Indian and they were in the Texas area – so I spent a lot of time there which is where I got a lot of the TexMex influence in terms of music and the Latin stuff – and of course the Italian side – they had the polkas (laughs). My Dad loved Lefty Frizzell – you know, some of the early country western stuff. That’s what his joy was.
PT: What an eclectic mix.
JM: Yeah, so I had a potpourri of music growing up. But eventually when I moved from Manhattan Beach into the Inland Empire which was basically Colt, Riverside area, I was going to the high school, that’s when I had taken what I learned as a kid playing the guitar and started a band right out of the eighth grade. So all through high school I played music and had bands. It was at that point in my senior year that I started going to Hollywood and working for Ibis records. Glen Edwards was the man who owned it and was a DJ at the Disneyland Hotel and somehow he discovered me and hired me. As I said, once I got to LA, I didn’t think I was ever going to make it, so I apprenticed under Michael Durrough and started working as a dubbing engineer first making dubs and lacquers and then graduating to mastering and engineering for them. And then I started working in the studios assistant engineering. And then finally became a mixing engineer and had worked at several studios by that point. I worked for Madeline Baker’s Studio that was the publisher for Jimmy Webb. I worked at Audio Arts, Universal Audio and eventually at Sunset Sound Recorders as their second mixing engineer – Bruce Botnick was the first that worked there—and I was the second to be hired. And it was there that I got the job of engineering the Buffalo Springfield album – that’s what made that connection happen.
JM: They lost their bass player and were auditioning. I put up my hand because I was learning under Joe Osborn who was one of the Wrecking Crew guys. I built him a studio in exchange for him teaching me how to play the instrument – which he did. I was able to grasp it. So when the opportunity came up to play bass for Buffalo Springfield I auditioned and they loved what I did.
PT: So you did double duty.
JM: Yes. I was their engineer and bass player. Somewhere in there Ahmet Ertegun called me and said, “Listen, the guys need a producer and you seem to be the only one they trust – would you be willing to do that?” And I said, “Well of course.” It was a great opportunity.
JM: So I ended up producing, engineering as well as playing bass on the last Buffalo Springfield record Last Time Around.
PT: And that led you into Poco.
JM: Yes. When Springfield broke up, Richie and I were riding in the back of a cab one time and he said, “What do you think we should do?” And I said, “Why don’t we start a country rock band instead of doing another folk rock band because most of the music you like to play is country and most of the music I’ve learned to play is country.” I think that pretty much coined the country rock thing. Looking at his material – we had done “Kind Woman” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame” on that album – and I was the producer at that time as well. That’s what I thought we should do. Richie liked it. We coined that phrase – country rock – and started Poco.
JM: It was during those Buffalo Springfield sessions that I hired Rusty Young to come in and perform on “Kind Woman” and that’s when Richie and I thought that this might make the beginnings of a great country rock band. So that’s how that whole thing started. Around December of 1968, Poco signed its deal with Epic Records, a subsidiary of Columbia, and I did three albums with them during that time – Pickin’ Up the Pieces, Poco, and Deliverin’.
JM: Yes. I found this singer, songwriter by the name of Kenny Loggins and I was trying to figure out how to make him work. I spent about a year trying to find musicians, rehearsing him, and trying to get him prepped. He had no agent, no manager. He had never been in a record deal before.
PT: (Wayne) Not even a lawyer?
JM: No. No attorneys, accountants, nothing. So it was a little bit of a task to get him prepped and then get him pointed in the right direction and find people that would work with him. That’s one of the reasons why I had suggested to Clive Davis that we call the album Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In because he really needed some support on the first tour – just to get through it – and deal with all of the managers and agents and everything else you have to do.
JM: And that includes cutting the album and the stress of all of that stuff. It’s not easy for someone to do it for the first time. I know it was really overwhelming for me. But I thought by lending my name to it – I spent a lot of time rehearsing with him and gave him some of my songs to sing – “Peace of Mind” – and some other tunes. So I figured we’d call it Sittin’ in with Jim Messina, get him out on the road, get him started, introduce him to the fans that I had earned and made through Poco and Springfield and hopefully it would catch on and – what’s the word? – slingshot him into the business?
JM: (Laughs) Catapult! Thank you. That was the word I was thinking of. And that would allow me the opportunity to jump off and just produce him as I had intended to do. But the success of that first album was so compelling that Clive came to me and Kenny and asked both of us if eventually whether or not we would consider working together. So when Kenny and I met to talk about it he said it’s working so far, why break up a good thing? So that was the beginnings of Loggins and Messina. From there I think we produced another five or six albums over the course of time. Maybe eight—
PT: (Wayne) I think it was more like eight. In fact, I think it was nine altogether from 1971 to 1977.
JM: I think you’re right. There were three studio, one live, and then there were three more studio and maybe one other—
PT: (Wayne) There was Sittin’ In, Loggins and Messina, Full Sail, On Stage, Mother Lode, So Fine, Native Sons, Finale, and The Best of Friends.
JM: (Laughs) That’s right. I forgot about those.
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) I told you I was a big fan! (Stephanie) He’s cheating! He’s looking at your Wikipedia page.
JM: (Laughs) Doing all those albums was a lot of work.
PT: It sure was.
Can you tell us, what do you think the impact of social media has been on the industry?
JM: It is having a great impact or both new and legendary artists. It gives us (the artist and the audience) a chance to reach out and make contact and to know there is a source to where both can appreciate the music and those who create the music.
PT: Yes, it definitely makes those connections easier. It was an impossible time when fans could only send mail and sat around hoping theirs was one of the ones picked out of the bag and then possibly answered!
So, you’ve been in the business for some time, worn many hats, and worked with so many legends. What advice would you give to musicians/performers just starting out?
JM: I’d say, focus on your songwriting, singing your own material, and performing as much as you can. That alone is what will afford you the luck you need, by being prepared when opportunity knocks.
PT: Great advice. Do you remember what the best advice was that you ever received?
JM: That first I am a craftsman not a rock star.
PT: (Laughs) And you are a craftsman of many talents!
We have many artists, musicians, singers, actors, etc. in our readership. A lot are interested in process. What is your process, if you have one, in approaching a project — whether it be a song, an album, etc.
JM: That all depends on the project, the artist, the musicians, and the budget. Much too variable a question to give just one answer to.
PT: Fair enough.
We’ve talked quite a bit about some of your hobbies, including your great woodworking, but what else do you do in your free time when you are not producing, writing, or performing?
JM: Yes, part of it is building furniture. I also weld gates, do lighting, and tractor work around the house. I do electronic repair of my gear…
PT: Busy guy!
We know your children also work in the biz. Can you tell us about them?
JM: My son Julian Messina is a musician (drummer first, piano second, and guitar third). He is a recording engineer and has gone back to college in Nashville to Belmont University to study audio engineering in their studio that George Massenburg [recording engineer and inventor] donated to the school.
So tell us, what is on your future agenda?
JM: To be continued.
PT: (Laughs) If you hadn’t made it in the music business, what do you think you’d be doing today?
JM: Not much!
PT: We find that very hard to believe…we get the feeling you’d be making cowboy furniture full time.
Jim, this has been such fun! We always like to ask one final question: If you were to sum up your life to date in one word what would it be?
JM: (laughs) Extremely lucky.
PT: (Laughs) That’s two words, but we’ll let it slide, Jim. Thank you for an EXTREMELY great interview and we can’t wait to see you at the Ridgefield Playhouse!!