Roots Report: An Interview with Jim Messina

Okee dokee folks…This past March I caught Jim Messina’s sold-out show at the Narrows Center for the Arts. A four-piece band of stellar musicians backed up Messina (who sang and played guitar and mandolin) with lush harmonies, guitar, violin, sax, flute, bass and drums. His set included classics such as “Watching the River Run,” “Danny’s Song,” “Thinking of You,” “House at Pooh Corner,” “Traveling Blues,” “You Better Think Twice,” “Lovin Me,” “Make Your Woman Feel Wanted,” “Peace of Mind” and “Angry Eyes” and other gems. Besides the great music he told interesting and amusing anecdotes between numbers. I had a long chat with Messina last week to talk about his upcoming show at the Greenwich Odeum on Sunday, August 4. Here is just some of what we talked about.

One of the things that intrigued me was Jim Messina’s newest release being issued on a flash drive. I asked him about how this came about.

Jim Messina: The Access All card was created because my wife came home with a new computer and I asked where the CD drive was and she told me that it doesn’t have one, so I asked her how she was going to get music into it and she said that everyone listens to Pandora and iTunes, and you just download it to your computer and I said, ‘Wow, that is the end of it for us as musicians because it’s already so controlled by the powers that be’ so I started thinking how can we deal with this issue and around the same time I bought a new truck that had a USB connector in it and one day we were in Las Vegas I think and my wife handed me a card that looked like a credit card or hotel room key, I asked he what it was and she told me that it was a USB card, when I got back home I wondered if it would hold MP3 files so I took one of my albums and put it on there…then I plugged it into the USB port and pressed play and sure enough the first song played…I started playing around with some ideas…I thought about vinyl for a release but I couldn’t get it all on one…it would take three because vinyl only holds about 16-20 minutes on each side…so it just wouldn’t fit… then I thought that I could use the card…as I got into it I thought I could put MP3s on it but I want people to be able to burn a CD so if I put a folder on it called ‘Audio Files’ that has the whole album in 24/48 bit audio files and they could load it on their computer and the computer would automatically convert it to files that they could burn into their own CD …then I thought if we used a larger USB card, double the amount, we can add video, song lyrics, photos, something that would have added value that you would have gotten in the old days for the same price as a CD or a DVD…so we decided to go with the All Access card and put all of it on there, which gives the consumer the opportunity to play it in the car like a CD or plug it into their computer and play it or load it in and burn your own CDs…however they wanted to listen to it…and if you wanted to you could erase the music from the card, once you’ve copied it of course, and keep it in your wallet and use it for storage! …and, if we put them on lanyards then that becomes their ‘meet and greet’ pass that gets them to the front of the line the next time that we do a show…and they could download more music to it at the next show and we could give them a discount on it! People seem to like it and seem to be using it and it doesn’t turn out to be a coaster like a CD would”

JF: When I met Jim and his publicist at the Narrows we talked about a future interview and his PR person mentioned that I should ask him about the night that he spent in jail with Eric Clapton. So I did!

Jim Messina: We were rehearsing one night at Stephen Stills house, it was supposed to be a Buffalo Springfield rehearsal and apparently he (Stephen) had run into Eric (Clapton) a couple of days before…Stills had rented a house in Laurel Canyon and he felt that it was the country and that they should be able to play loud usic but the police had been out a couple of times and told them that they are making too much noise and people are complaining and you have to stop by ten…unfortunately the night that was the Buffalo Springfield rehearsal was the third night, third times the charm…we were rehearsing and Eric Clapton had come to visit so they were jamming and we were sitting around waiting to start rehearsal, some gals were there and Richie had brought his wife, it was a family thing and all of a sudden the Sheriff’s Dept started busting in from every orifice in that house, apparently the two gals had some marijuana in their purses, in those days if one person had any illegal substance they just arrested everybody, so we all got rounded up and put into the squad cars and they took us down to the LA County Jail, started taking blood tests and spraying us with bug spray and poor Eric, they singled him out, he had long hair in those days and he had some pink boots, then we were all in our underwear and our shoes, they were having a field day with him unfortunately, anyway, we spent the night in the ‘county can’ and they separated all of us but it ended up Eric and I being in the same ‘tank’, it was about 3am, there was no place to sit, the room was full of a lot of folks that didn’t look very kind, Eric and I ended up laying down on the floor, the only pillows were some phone books, I think that we were laying back-to-back, ‘booty-to-booty’, basically protecting ourselves from any foul play that may go on at that time…but that was the first and last time I saw him (Eric) and it wasn’t under great circumstances, but we got out of there, the hard part was my mom, and my family were all in law enforcement and when the word got out that I was accused of being a ‘druggy’, for being in the same room as someone who had drugs, it was tough because I had to explain it but when I did go to trial the blood test showed that there was nothing in it so instead of being found guilty of felony possession of narcotics I was found guilty of disturbing the peace for playing my guitar too loud…I guess all’s well that ends well, right? 

John Fuzek: So you didn’t keep in touch with Eric?

Jim Messina: No, I don’t know that that experience would have been very bonding! One of these days we’ll meet again under better circumstances.

John Fuzek: You have been in three very well known bands, do you have a preference for any of them?

Jim Messina: They were all different experiences with different tasks… I started out as the engineer for the Buffalo Springfield on Buffalo Springfield Again putting all those pieces together for that album, on their third album my job there was to produce them…the band wanted me to produce them and I had produced records before, it wasn’t new to me but it was to be working with a band that had some success… I loved the band’s music, Stephen Stills was a real innovator on the acoustic guitar and vocally was a very soulful singer and a great songwriter, Neil was blooming in that area as well and Richie was starting to come along…I had worked with a lot of musicians as a recording engineer before I got involved with The Buffalo Springfield…my job was really to get that last album made…it was kind of like herding cats, it was really impossible to get them into one place at one time…I ended up working with Stephen by himself and Richie by himself and Neil had quit there somewhere in the middle so putting all the piece together and getting the album together was difficult…I was able to get Stephen’s and Richie’s stuff cut and Neil brought in ‘I Am A Child’, he had done that on his own…after I had gotten it all together it was very eclectic, whenever you record music in different studios and try to put it together it is always a challenge…it was exhausting but all the guy’s were great and respectful…Richie had written ‘Kind Woman’ for that particular album which is one of my favorite songs which is why I recorded it…from there, I had spent a lot of time with Richie and we had become friends, Neil had gone off on his own and Stephen had gone off to do Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Richie didn’t have a direction, we were in a taxi cab one day and I said that the Springfield is going to bust up, what are your thoughts? He said, ‘I really don’t know but I would like to work with you but instead of doing folk rock we should tie some country into it’…when we were recording the steel guitar part on ‘Kind Woman’ for that album I looked over at Richie and said maybe that idea of country rock might work…so, that recording of ‘Kind Woman’ with Rusty Young playing steel was really the seed that would become Poco…Rusty, myself, Richie, and we later would find a bass player…Richie knew Randy (Meisner) and Rusty had George (Grantham) in his band in Colorado so we brought those guys in and started rehearsing with them and that was the beginning of Poco.

John Fuzek: Were you still with the band when the Eagles took Randy (Meisner) for their band? How did you feel about that?

Jim Messina: First of all they got a great bass player, second of all Richie did something very stupid, Randy had come to the studio to hear the mixes on the album and he wouldn’t let him in…Richie said they didn’t want anybody in here while we were mixing, Randy said that if he couldn’t come in the studio then I am not part of the band and if I am not part of the band then I am leaving an he quit…shortly after that the Eagles picked up Randy and put him in their band and then we got Tim Schmidt who did a great job…Tim came in just about the time that we started to tour, we never really got the album finished until that situation with Randy and if you notice with Picking Up The Pieces, Randy is not on the cover, Richie had them paint a dog in his place, that is why their is a dog on the cover!

John Fuzek: Did you aspire to be an engineer or a musician?

Jim Messina: I played music all through high school, played in bands, had my own band called The Jesters, at the end of high school I was hired to work at Ibis Records…when I finished at Ibis I didn’t know what I was going to do, all the musicians there like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell were all such phenomenal players and readers and I figured that I was never going to have a chance…I apprenticed as an engineer, learned how to wire patch bays, build consoles and all those kind of things, I figured I would be an engineer, I didn’t think I would have an opportunity in music again…but it was a way that I would eventually become reintroduced to playing…my fate that wound up becoming my destiny.

JF: You wound up in three iconic bands- Buffalo Springfield, Poco and Loggins and Messina! And after Loggins and Messina you had a great return with Poco’s Legacy album

Jim Messina: That was a good album, I was glad to do that and as it turned out it was great for me to reconnect with Rusty, and the album In The Groove has him as a guest artist on it…we can go back and perform ‘Kind Woman’ and ‘You’d Better Think Twice’…but there was a lot of drama in the (Legacy) situation, Richie had become a minister, he fought us all the way in terms of what we could write, what we could say and what we could sing and what he would want to play on…that was hard…who we are and what we bring to the situation can cause conflict, it’s so hard anyway to get music recorded, done, and done well.

JF: You did a Loggins and Messina reunion tour about ten years ago, is there a chance of that ever happening again?

Jim Messina: I don’t know, the tours were very successful, it all just depends on where Kenny’s head is at, he’s going through some personal changes himself and with his health…the last time we did something together was a PBS special, he had been given some prescription meds to help him and it was not great medicine and it really messed him up…he was having problems with his neck and it was hard for him to play or hold guitar for any length of time so he’s been having more people sit in and play for him, I’ve seen him do some singing projects and I think his voice is still in great shape…the Loggins and Messina stuff takes a lot out of us because the music is intense, lot of parts, lot of arrangements, I know because I still do them on stage.

JF: One thing I noticed about the show was that the band was stellar and the song selection was great!

Jim Messina: I work at making the show and the arrangements flow where people get a chance to experience all of those songs they so enjoyed…one of the reasons that I start out acoustically is because I don’t want to beat people up with sound and that is why I keep the volumes low, we start off acoustically so we can slowly build the set…so by the end of the evening when the music does come up in intensity you’re not beat up from having been there for an hour already…As for the band, we’ve been together for quite a while, Craig Thomas for instance, we’ve been working together on and off since 1977-78, Michael Brady worked with me in the 80’s… and Gary Oleyar I met in the early 90’s and by ’94 we were doing an album called Watching The River Run…Dave Beyer, we have been working together on and off since 2004…they all know the music and they have all been a part of it…Gary was part of the Loggins and Messina reunion in 2009…pretty much everybody who is in that band are not drug users, they’re not alcoholics, it’s kind of nice working with people that are stable, it makes the music work, not having all that excess baggage…at this point in our lives if you haven’t gotten over that go do it somewhere else…I’ve been around people who’ve had issues with it and it makes it difficult to work, communicate, get things done…it just didn’t fit into to what inspired me most which was the work that I was doing, the engineering, the playing, it gets in the way of all that, if anything gets in the way of me doing what I need to do as a professional it just doesn’t fit…it’s a business, if I want to party I can party at home…I keep it away from my work.

JF: One last thing, can you tell folks what to expect from your upcoming show?

Jim Messina: Well, I will certainly try to get to as many Loggins and Messina songs as I can, that have been popular, Poco songs, I bring in a great group of guys that love to perform, you’ll get some great performance from people who want to be there! I do and I am looking forward to it!

Jim Messina will be at the Greenwich Odeum on Sunday, August 4th. If you are a fan of  Loggins & Messina, Poco, or Buffalo Springfield you will want to be at the Odeum on August 4. For more, Full Sail to: GreenwichOdeum.com

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prove that you are human *

Previous post:

Next post: