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MUSIC : Playing on the Past : Jim Messina, inspired by Nashville, will perform old and new songs at Glendale show.

August 18, 1995|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times

GLENDALE — Jim Messina has already enjoyed a pop music career many would envy. He was only 19 when recruited into the Buffalo Springfield in 1967 to play alongside Neil Young and Stephen Stills. He then co-founded Poco, and found his greatest personal success as part of Loggins & Messina.

The singer-songwriter has lately been re-examining that history, after some years away from active touring. Two months ago he finished recording a new album, due out later this year, reworking many of the songs of his past.

The recording, Messina says, is designed "to reacquaint audiences with where I've come from, and where I'm going."

Where he's been lately, Messina says enthusiastically, is Nashville, Tenn. Not that he's gone the way of such country-pop artists as Garth Brooks or Reba McEntire.

He's just discovered other singer-songwriters and musicians there with similar tastes in folk-rock and country-blues.

It's that mix of new and old that Messina will perform when he appears at the "Glendale Goes Country" outdoor festival on Saturday.

In Nashville, Messina sees much the same kind of scene that once thrived in Los Angeles, in the late '60s and early '70s, when Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and the future members of the Eagles were sharing ideas about pop music.

"We all used to work off of each other and write songs," says Messina, who now splits his time between Nashville and his home in Santa Barbara. "It was more of a collaboration. And Nashville is very much about collaboration. They are not selfish. They are constantly saying, 'Hey, check this new guitar lick, check this new vocal,' and it's incredibly stimulating."

Messina hasn't made this discovery on his own. Steve Winwood is often there, as is Leon Russell. Even dance music diva Donna Summer lives there now. Many of them are there to tap a talent pool that has little or no connection to the pop-country scene, Messina says.

"When I saw that the best music being produced in Nashville is not getting out of there, I said this is where I need to be. I need to find the players who want to play this kind of stuff."

Country music has been an element of much of Messina's career, particularly while with Buffalo Springfield and Poco. Loggins & Messina (the duo that teamed him with Kenny Loggins) also mixed some country into their pop, with such songs as "Listen to a Country Song."

But it was more the up-tempo folk-pop of songs such as "Your Mama Don't Dance" and "Angry Eyes" that led to their greatest popularity. In that duo, Messina's voice provided a gentler counterpoint to Loggins' booming vocals.

When that act dissolved in 1976, Loggins went on to record a string of chart-topping pop-R&B hits, while Messina experimented with other styles. He explored a jazzy Latin-salsa sound on his first solo album, "Oasis," in 1979.

"When Kenny and I broke up I was so bored with playing a country style of music that it was driving me crazy," Messina explains. "I started working with some salsa musicians, drummers and percussionists and horn players. They gave me an opportunity to really stretch.

"If we don't step out and try something else, and give it a different feeling, we never get a chance to make that leap into discovering something. I needed to jump forward and get my fingers playing on different frets."

He notes that even in the early '60s, it was nearly impossible for experimental new acts to win airplay on Top 40 radio.

It was the onset of FM radio that opened up the airwaves for more challenging sounds, such as what emerged from the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where many first discovered Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who and others.

"I loved listening to the radio because I never knew what I was going to hear next. Now we know what we're going to hear every 10 minutes. It's just limiting to the public."

During the years he slowed his own performing work, Messina built a studio near his home in Santa Barbara. Since then, it's been used by Mariah Carey, Robben Ford and Loggins, who also lives in Santa Barbara.

The studio is still in operation, but it ultimately proved to only be a temporary distraction from his own creative work.

"I suddenly realized I can't just sit home and produce records and run a recording studio. I'm an artist, I've got to work."

Where and When

What: "Glendale Goes Country," with Jim Messina, Steve Kolander, Dee Dee Wood, and the Sidney Iverson Band.

Location: Outdoors, at the intersection of Brand Boulevard and Lexington Avenue, in Glendale.

Hours: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Price: Free.

Call: (818) 548-4844.

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