It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Messina’s career is a lot like watching a river run. From his first music experience as a teen, he has continually grown, evolved and altered course, but his creative output goes on and on.
If you aren’t familiar with Jim Messina’s solo career, you surely know him from his successful collaborations: Kenny Loggins, Poco, Richie Furay and Buffalo Springfield, to name just a few.
What the crowd gets on Friday, March 16 when Messina appears at The Canyon Santa Clarita is what most concertgoers want: to hear beloved music from the past and travel forward with the artist as he reminds you of the many songs he had a hand in creating.
When you interface with Jim Messina, you visualize the river once again, in his depth of thought which has been formed, in part, from time spent at Esalen, a renowned retreat center in Big Sur that focuses on personal transformation. He uses the word “gestalt” to describe his world view, which could also be used to describe his music experience – a lot of pieces forming a distinctly original whole.
Messina’s drive to be his own person, his own musician, was at times problematic.
“One of the problematic aspects of being a recording artist and a performing artist is that once you get into the major leagues, they try to figure out what you are and pigeonhole you,” he explained. “It happened with Poco. The evolution I saw myself going through, and Richey (Furay), who I collaborated with … we were coming up with something new and different. We were too rock for country and too country for rock music.”
Poco sold out every concert, Messina said, but didn’t sell enough records.
“It didn’t translate to radio, which was really important in those days,” he said.
In 1970, Messina met an unknown singer/songwriter named Kenny Loggins. As an independent producer with Columbia Records, Messina auditioned band members, rehearsed and recorded demos for Loggins, shared connections, and ended up adding his voice to Loggins’. The result was an album entitled “Sittin’ In” with such popular songs as “House at Pooh Corner” and “Danny’s Song.”
The duo later moved on to have successful solo careers, and when Messina is asked about the necessary change of partners in the business, he compares it to marriage.
“Even for couples in loving relationships, there’s an attraction, a like-mindedness, there’s fun, creativity, doing things together,” he explained. “Then there’s the effort involved in making it successful – making a household work, or with a group it’s making enough to sustain a tour, staying in hotels. … It’s awkward, because when it’s time to move on, when do you tell the person you don’t think this is happening? For me, it’s always been, ‘How do I make this choice and not leave in a mean spirit?’”
While Jim Messina’s musical style is almost too original to describe, it’s helpful to know what inspired him. It began when as a seventh-grader he heard the song “Tequila” recorded by The Champs.
“The sound of the drummer playing the bell, that feeling resonated with me so much,” he said.
Surf music was another influencer, such as surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale.
“His band was so good,” Messina said. “He had a great drummer, had a rhythm guitar player. … It was a magnificent sound. I was in awe of the guitar and amps. It was unbelievably inspiring.”
There is a strong Latin flavor to Messina’s music, perhaps from some of his childhood living in Texas. And holidays with his Italian uncles, who would play mandolin, adds an exotic flair to his style.
“It’s just something I breathe and like the scent of,” he said, “more so now, because I’m doing ‘Be Free,’ which has almost a Greek influence, and Arabic influence.”
When it comes to advice for young musicians, Messina keeps it simple. “Avoiding drugs, avoiding alcohol, avoiding hanging out just to hang out,” he said. “I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could. …
I think you have to be prepared for when opportunity knocks. Spend the time to be the best you can be.”
Jim Messina’s creativity continues to flow, even when not in a studio or onstage, though at times the river moves a bit slower. These days, Messina spends free time painting, and he has a wood shop and metal shop at home in Santa Barbara County.
“If I’m not making records, I’m fixing a gate or building a fence,” he said. “Even though music is a way of life, it’s not all of life.”
For tickets, visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.