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Loggins has kept musical career afloat through changes

| Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins
Stephen Morales
Singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins

Just so you know, when you deal with Kenny Loggins, you're automatically in the “Danger Zone.”

Loggins, the guy who's known for making the softest of soft rock — who's cut not one, but multiple albums of lullabyes and children's albums about Winnie the Pooh — has an edgier side.

A side that's worried about some kind of deal-gone-bad with a dude named Borgnar in Caracas, but still trying to play it cool. A side that totes around a briefcase containing “either plutonium or a human soul.” A side that can look death in the eye, then crank out a country-fried duet of that “Top Gun” theme song like it's no big thing.

That's a lot of sides. There may be yet another side to the singer-songwriter, though. It's kept him relevant, despite his strong affiliations with dated-sounding music (first, as a folk-rock softie in the '70s as Loggins and Messina, then as a synthesizer-wielding movie soundtrack kingpin in the '80s).

Earlier this year, Loggins played himself on Adult Swim's odd animated show “Archer” (FX) — about a group of dysfunctional secret agents starting a “Miami Vice”-era drug cartel. Of course, this is a version of Loggins (with Borgnar and the briefcase) that could only exist in the twisted, alternate universe of “Archer.”

Loggins, who will perform at Heinz Hall on Nov. 6, is a survivor, musically speaking. “My son was in the business for a while,” Loggins says. “He said, ‘You were in rock 'n' roll the only time where musicians could make a million dollars.' ”

The latest transformation of Loggins probably began with the term “yacht rock.”

That was the name of a parodic webseries, telling made-up stories about the ludicrous misadventures of the smooth, synthesizer-slinging hitmakers of the '80s, like Loggins, Michael McDonald, Daryl Hall & John Oates — music that seems to require shades, stubble, pastel jackets and never-ending sunsets, usually aboard a yacht.

The name stuck.

“My kids think it's hilarious,” Loggins says. “I even tried to put a ‘Yacht Rock' tour together with Daryl (Hall) and Michael (McDonald), but they weren't as keen on it. (Those guys online) created, inadvertently, a genre, a classification that we could still jump on if we wanted to.”

Loggins is no stranger to pop culture. Songs like “I'm Alright” from “Caddyshack” (1980), “I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)” from “Footloose” (1984) and, of course, “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun” (1986), played major roles in some iconic movies.

“I think my advantage was that it was a new idea in the '80s,” Loggins says. “People got off on hearing rock songs in a movie in the '80s. I saw a screening of a rough cut of ‘Cadddyshack,' and composed it to that. ‘Footloose,' we wrote the music to the screenplay. Nowadays, they just pull a song off an album and put it in the movie.”

Believe it or not, there was a time when nobody wanted anything to do with the heavily produced, synthesizer-dominated sound Loggins had become known for. Now, it's a different story.

“Everything goes in cycles and turns, anyway,” Loggins says. “It started getting sampled a lot for hip-hop and rap. Then, rappers started using analog synthesizers, getting away from the crisp, digital thing. It's fashion, like clothes. Hemlines come up and down.”

Live, Loggins is happy to play the hits. It's just him and three backing musicians, and only one keyboard. The slick studio sound is absent.

“It still sounds like me,” he says. “I've always gotten carried away in the studio. Learning to take the brush off the canvas is a big challenge. ... I'm always struggling to figure out how much is enough.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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