Photo: Chris Jensen
Living Legends: Kenny Loggins On Self-Acceptance, The Art Of Collaboration & New Memoir 'Still Alright'
Ahead of the release of his memoir, 'Still Alright,' Kenny Loggins reflects on the music and moments that have shaped his 50-plus year career.
One morning, in the summer of 1966, Kenny Loggins found himself at a peace rally in San Francisco. He had been in Pasadena just hours earlier, on a group date that was kind of a drag. They weren’t really his crowd and he was searching for deeper meaning. So, he hopped into a van with a few other young people to chase a counterculture vibe that resonated more — to follow a spark that had ignited within him.
“That weekend was the beginning of the next part of my life,” Loggins writes in his memoir, Still Alright, in which he reflects on his remarkable 50-plus-year career as a singer, songwriter and soundtrack maestro. The book’s title is a wink at “I’m Alright,” the hit Loggins wrote for the 1980 film Caddyshack. Loggins contributed era-defining songs for movies like Footloose and Top Gun (“Danger Zone” is reprised in Top Gun: Maverick, the 2022 sequel to the iconic 1986 original) — but soundtracks are just one piece of his wide-ranging legacy. Loggins’ impact spans generations, in part because he has always followed his heart. Still Alright is out on June 14.
Loggins came to prominence in the early 1970s with Loggins & Messina, a duo formed with Jim Messina, who had recently left Poco and was looking to produce. With sublime harmonies and a soulful blend of rock and country layered with lush, sharply-crafted instrumentation, songs like “Angry Eyes” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” made Loggins & Messina important contributors to the folk-rock genre that was increasingly popular at the time, alongside peers like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Their 1973 album Full Sail also was, as Loggins writes, “on the goddamn vanguard” of breezy, laid back, nautical-themed music that would later be defined as yacht rock. “Then again, I’ve seen ‘What a Fool Believes’ listed as the genre’s definitive song, so maybe it was me and McDonald on the vanguard,” he writes, referring to the GRAMMY-winning tune he wrote with Michael McDonald.
Loggins’ solo work further cemented him as a force in the balm of soft rock, especially as he leaned deeper into his appreciation for collaboration — working with everyone from Michael Jackson (“Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong”) to Stevie Nicks (“Whenever I Call You Friend”). He began experimenting more with jazz and R&B, dismissing radio hit-making formulas to stretch his creative muscles and allow his vulnerability — always his superpower — to lead the way, like on 1991’s Leap of Faith.
While Still Alright tells the stories behind Loggins' career, it also details his journey toward self-acceptance. Spirituality has been a presence throughout his life, manifested in different ways from Catholic school as a child, to later practicing meditation and gratitude. He had a breakthrough in 1990, when he began to understand "how holding things in a certain way matters" — including his view of himself. To get there, he had to throw everything up in the air and see what came back. "When you get a view of something that really speaks clearly to you, your job is to follow that spark," Loggins says. "And it's usually not easy. Sometimes you gotta change the situation you're in, in order to do that. And that requires courage. And the courage comes from the belief that that spark is real."
GRAMMY.com sat down with Kenny Loggins to discuss his memoir, self-love, the art of collaboration, and why Leap of Faith is his most important album.
At the end of the book, you reflect on a speech you made at your 70th birthday party and how you've finally found self-acceptance. You write: "I had created Kenny Loggins to feel acceptable, even loveable….Now I wanted to get back to what I once had been, before I'd experienced a lick of success." Who is that person, the one you're making your way back to? And do you feel like you're getting closer to him now?
I had absorbed a lot of negative self-talk, and I'd been handed that to me as a legacy of this isn't good enough and this isn't good enough, gradually trying to fit in with my brother [Danny] and his friends. And then in the process, moving into show business…there's a disowned self that is the one I was referring to there [in that passage]: that part of me that was just this sensitive kid who wanted to be a writer. And that's why I think songs like "Danny's Song" and "House at Pooh Corner" came through as such a young man, at 17-years-old. Those are still important songs in my life and career. And what I had realized was that there was a part of me — that disowned self — that I still held as unacceptable.
And so the integration of my created persona that I referred to as Kenny Loggins comes back into a more peaceful place with that part of me that I thought was embarrassing. I stopped blackmailing myself with the idea that at any moment he's going to show up and embarrass me. By accepting and holding and integrating that part of myself — and just loving, really — and saying, "Well, I get it. You're the one who wrote all the songs. You're the one who had all those feelings and had to somehow use your art to get them out." And, in that way, honoring that geeky little kid, I've become more relaxed in my approach to my career, my approach to my family, and certainly my approach to interviews and anything that's career-based.
You avoided writing a memoir for years; how did Still Alright come about?
I'd been asked to do one for a few years, and I just noticed that I was dragging my feet. It felt like it was somehow the preface to the end. And then, you know, at 74, I went, "Okay, I can see an end to touring now. I haven't really been involved in the business of music now for a while." So, this is a transitional point. Instead of thinking of it as the preface to dying, I'll think of it as the preface to another section of my life, whether or not it's still actively in music or in some other avenue. I'm open to that. Let's see where to from here is really the title of the next book. [laughs] Where do we go?
I'm part of a men's group here in Santa Barbara. It's really only five guys and we're at different stages of our lives. A couple are in their 50s and 60s; I'm the only one that's in their 70s now. But we're all asking the same questions, which is very similar to [what] my son who's moving into post-graduate work [is asking]. And the question is constantly: Where to from here? I believe that my spirit is taking me somewhere, just as it is taking Luke, my 29-year-old. And I watch how fluidly he dances with that. He doesn't have to say, "Oh, I'm going to be a doctor." He just says, "I'm going where the spark is taking me. And I'll follow that spark." And every time he does, he does terrific work.
And that's kind of what I mean by listening to your heart, following your spirit, that thing — if you trust that part of yourself, you're not running away, you're not trying to hide from life. You're actually engaging with life in a very fluid and spontaneous way.
The memoir was co-written with writer and journalist Jason Turbow, what was the process of working with him?
Well, we started with interviews. He interviewed me for weeks and then he gathered it all up, put it in chronological order, and wrote a rough draft of the first chapter. I hated it and rewrote it myself. Then I sent it back to him.
Then, he and I got on the phone together and we talked through the different approaches, because my main thing was I wanted my voice to be prominent in the book. I didn't want his voice to be prominent. So I rewrote it my way and then I added the anecdotal things that only I know. And then he and I kind of hammered out together, pretty much one line at a time. We did that for the whole f<em></em>*ing book.
You talk about how important Bob Dylan and the Beatles were in helping you discover rock 'n' roll. What was it about those artists that drew you in?
Well, that was a period of time where it drew a lot of people in; it's hard to explain. I think it's a thing called the zeitgeist. Which is, there's something energetic that is connecting people. And it's not just promo. When we're brought up in this business, we think that it's marketing and promo that's making people pay attention. But there's also an energetic element that we can't define. Why did so many artists, future artists, watch Ed Sullivan that night that the Beatles were on? It's not like, "Oh, gee, it's Ed Sullivan, we can't miss this show." We didn't really give a f<em></em><em>. [Laughs] But all of a sudden, we were all sitting down that night watching that band* and changing our lives. So, something was in the air.
The melodic way that [Paul] McCartney thought, in particular, was really addicting. The [Bob] Dylan thing preceded that for me, and was much more about lyrics and simplicity. And I know that influenced my writing too, because I didn't want it to speak directly to whatever it was I was trying to say. But, you know, as an artist, I also am a fan. Always have been. So I'm always absorbing new musical things that are catching my attention. And it doesn't stick there. It goes on beyond.
Speaking of the zeitgeist, one of my favorite parts of the book is when you bring the reader right into the thick of California counterculture. You're hitchhiking, experimenting with psychedelics, and immersing yourself in the music scene, encountering everyone from Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix to Cat Stevens and James Taylor. Do you think being part of that scene contributed to informing the kind of musician you wanted to be?
Absolutely. All those influences, they show up in one place or another. And not just the male artists, but the female artists as well. I found that as I sang, and got better at singing, I had the ability to mimic or emulate other artists that I admired their styles and their phrasing. I talk about Steve Winwood in the book as being a major influence. I was showing that to a couple of friends the other day, that even though I don't sound like him, there's an influence of that style in me. I don't necessarily mimic Elvis Presley, but that phrasing and that rock and roll kernel of "Hound Dog" and the early rock gets in there. And so when Jimmy [Messina] and I are writing "[Your] Mama Don't Dance," I'm leaning on that as my memory of what that kind of rock and roll is.
Part of what you draw from as a writer is everything you've heard. I remember being on stage one time and totally doing — in my mind — Aretha Franklin. Nobody heard that but me [laughs] because I don't sound like Aretha Franklin. But in my mind, I was doing her phrasing and doing that kind of soul thing. And that represents an attitude and a moment in time.
Your brother Danny is a big part of your musical history. The story behind "Danny's Song," and how it was inspired by a letter he wrote to you before his son was born, is so moving. Can you talk a little about that song and why it's always been so important to you?
When I wrote it, I thought of it as a gift, a baby gift to my brother. I hadn't yet met his wife. And because of my heart connection with Danny, the song just sort of poured out. I was going through a phase as a writer where I was very influenced by Tim Hardin, who you may know from the song covered by Bobby Darin called "If I Were a Carpenter." And so that kind of soft spoken, picking thing was influencing my writing.
Then you have to remember I was 17. I chronicled it based on the outline that [Danny had] given me in his letter. And that's why I think it was four or five verses when I first wrote it. And then when Jimmy and I finally recorded it, we tightened it up into a four verse or three verse song.
You crossed paths with Jim Messina many times before actually working together as Loggins & Messina. What do you think was the key to your magical creative alchemy?
I think the connection for Jimmy Messina and I was Buffalo Springfield. The fact that he produced them and actually been in the band for a period of time allowed me to come into our relationship with an open mind, knowing that he'd already spent a few years on the road and in the studio where I was pretty green, as I was clear to say in the book.
I think that when he showed me his stuff and I felt the synergy and the similarities in style, I felt like this was someone I could work with. And then the more we worked together, the more it gelled. And by the time Clive Davis asked if we would be a band and not just a one album act, when I thought about it, I said, "Well, this is working really well. We have a lot in common musically, and I'm doing good work, so let's keep going." So it all just sort of grew together.
Read more: GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Kenny Loggins And Michael McDonald Take Home A GRAMMY For "What A Fool Believes"
Loggins and his Ovation, with L&M. "Look how hard I’m concentrating to keep that thing from sliding off my lap." | Photo: Larry Hulst
As you describe in the book, there were complicated interpersonal dynamics between you two — which culminates in what feels like a really beautiful, powerful moment years later when you saw Jim talking to his musicians in a hallway in Chicago. You wrote: "I realized that Jimmy was just a guy. And so was I."
Yeah. My daughter has a little OCD. And because of that, when I saw Jimmy working his band in the hallway, I thought, "Oh, that's OCD. That's like my daughter." And I think because I made that connection, that's what opened up my heart to be more compassionate. This is something that happens. It's not anything about me. It's all about him. I can drop that one.
You're playing a couple of shows together this summer. What has it been like preparing for them?
Well, so far, we've been very gentle about it. Jimmy loves doing homework, so he's been making lists. And I am just about to download my guitar parts so that I can relearn to sing and play the stuff. There is a bit of a lag time between [2009, when the duo last performed together] and now, right? I've still got a month and a half before the show, so I think I'll be fine. And I know it's like getting on a bike. I know there's a major part of me that's going to go, "Oh, yeah, I remember how to do this."
I talked to my friends I was mentioning, this men's group…and they all said, "Think of it as gratitude. Think of it as honoring your friend and honoring the situation, but mostly honoring the audience." The audience is still there and still wants to feel whatever it was we were doing back then. So hopefully we'll come close to that.
I know it gets a little trickier with every year that goes by because, you know, I was 22 when we sang all that stuff. And things tend to be pitched a little higher when you're 22. But I've been working on my vocal chops and have a vocal trainer. We started off like five days a week, now we're down to three days a week and it's really important stuff because it allows me to get my voice up where it belongs. That's what was happening in 2020, I was losing my voice, I was losing my high notes. So, he had to teach me a new technique for where to sing from and how to reach that place.
You describe Leap of Faith as your best work. Can you talk about why it stands as such an important album for you?
I think primarily because it came along at a real pivotal moment in my life where I was making a huge decision to leave my [first] marriage initially. And then when my relationship with [my second wife] Julia started after I'd left my marriage, there was another huge decision to be made, which [was]: Is this where I belong? And is this something I should follow? And the creative process all was churning all at the same time as these big moments in my life had arrived. So, a song like "Now or Never" was like this feeling that I have to make a decision about my marriage now, I can't put it off anymore. That was part of the reality of Leap of Faith.
And then the other songs like "Sweet Reunion" and "Too Early for the Sun" could not emerge until I had allowed myself to feel where I was at in my life. And then, because I'm an artist, I had to write about it. And it's so rare in one's life to be in that artistic moment where there's big changes happening and you get to chronicle it. So I think that's the reason why Leap of Faith is an important record, because people who really get that record are living that record. And I get a lot of people who say, "Thank you for this."
"Real Things," the only pro-divorce song I've ever heard, is talking about following your heart. And that's been a message — talk about my songs writing messages to me — that was the message that I was getting when I wrote "I'm Alright" for Caddyshack. You know, in the middle of the f<em></em><em>ing song, something in me stopped and did this whole "listen to your heart" section. Like, what does that have to do with the movie? [Laughs*] It's like, okay, whatever.
Why do you think smooth, soft rock had such a big moment in the '70s through the '80s?
I don't know. Again, we were just riding that wave, right? I'd come from a folk rock era. "Danny's Song" is not the smooth rock that you're referring to. And, all of a sudden, I started learning new chords and playing new melodic lines.
And, as an artist, I was drawn in that direction, which meant that I had to leave Loggins & Messina behind and find a new avenue — especially because, chordally, I only knew so many chords on the guitar, but what I was hearing was way beyond that. So that's when I decided to write with keyboard players as somebody who could help facilitate that.
Collaboration has always been an integral part of your process. You wrote how the idea first came to you in high school after reading about George S. Kaufman, a playwright who collaborated on tons of Broadway plays. How has it shaped your creative approach?
Dramatically. When I first started with "Danny's Song" and "House at Pooh Corner," I was just sitting alone in my bedroom and writing. And over a few years, I saw that I was limiting myself, that I had melodic ideas that I did not know how to do on the guitar. And it was keeping me from going in another direction, and especially when the smooth jazz thing started to really infiltrate pop music. And I wanted to write for those guys. I wanted to write something that those players could really do. And so collaboration became an important part of opening my head to other ways of writing and other ways of creating melodic structure.
I really enjoyed how you get into the DNA of the musical arrangements. "Footloose," especially, struck me with how deeply complex it was, from the mosaic of musical influences to the actual production of it where you got up to 96 tracks of guitar solos, hand claps, drums, and more instruments, and then linked four 24-track tape decks together. I mean, wow.
It had to happen in order to get all the ideas down. And, you think about a song like "Footloose," one thinks it's a very simple song, and so it's hard to imagine needing that many tracks on a simple, straight ahead rock and roll song that really equates back to Chuck Berry. But in order to get the clarity and precision of that sound, I wanted it on its own track.
"Danger Zone" is featured in Top Gun: Maverick. What's it been like hearing it in the new film and having it become a hit again?
Well, it was a rush to see it in the premiere. But I think that, emotionally, opening with "Danger Zone" was like harkening back to the original [film]. It gets everybody in that mood again. And I'm sure if there's a third [Top Gun], they'll do the same thing. It'll be the flight deck and the planes going in and out — god knows if it'll be planes, it would probably be remote control, small things. [Laughs]
I just found out yesterday it's, like, the sixth most downloaded song in the world, so that's pretty cool! I didn't see that coming, especially because the movie's just come out.
A photo shoot at the Top Gun school in San Diego. | Photo: Courtesy of Kenny Loggins
How did movie soundtracks add another dimension to your career?
When the movies came along, disco was taking pop radio over. And a lot of the acts from the '70s were going by the wayside because they couldn't compete with the disco era. And I would say I did an end run around disco because, being adopted by the movies, I didn't have to play the game to compete at Top 40 the way most other artists did. So, yeah, it absolutely protected me during that late '70s, early '80s thing where you couldn't get a straight record on radio unless it had a dance beat.
How does writing for a movie, for the perspective of someone else, differ from drawing upon your own emotions for songs about your own life?
My music has been autobiographical, primarily, for many years. And so the movies come along and they give me a character that I can write in, and they give me a motivation, an arc of personality, that I can then go into being that person. What would that feel like, from my point of view? And what does he or she need to say in this moment? And I'm practically given the dialogue, you know, the lyrics are pretty much if I can just sort of poetically stay close to it or just even get exactly what it is.
For example, when I wrote "I'm Alright" for Caddyshack, that character, Danny, the teenage boy, the opening scene is him riding his bicycle through a suburban area. And the temp music that the director put over that original scene was a Bob Dylan song. It seemed so arbitrary to have a Dylan song over a teenage kid riding a bike through suburbia. And I figured, "Oh, well. I think the director is trying to tell me that this boy is a rebel" — but he's hardly a rebel at the beginning of the movie, he's not at all.
And I'd forgotten about that until the end of the movie, when [Danny] finally goes, "F<em></em><em> you people, I'm doing it however I want to do it." And I said, ‘Oh, so he is* that rebel.' Therefore, the Dylan song was foreshadowing the emotional change in that character. That's where "I'm Alright" came from.
It's like following that spark we were talking about earlier.
Yeah. It just sort of jumped out, in that whole Dylan-esque approach to it, a little bit. Being as I don't actually imitate Dylan, [laughs] but I went into that character enough that you get that kind of edgy, gravelly guy. And it was really fun to make.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!