Four decades ago, when the career of Kenny Loggins was tearing though successive stages of popularity, one constant prevailed: the spirit of collaboration.
It introduced itself in the early '70s by way of a prolific artistic alliance with Jim Messina. It was reaffirmed in one of his earliest solo hits, a 1977 duet with Stevie Nicks called Whenever I Call You Friend. Then, in 1978, Loggins co-wrote What a Fool Believes with Michael McDonald to solidify a whole new fan base for The Doobie Brothers.
Flash forward to the here and now, and you will find the multiple Grammy Award winner in the thick of yet another collaboration, one with a decidedly more modest profile. Along with Nashville songwriters Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr, Loggins has formed the indie pop-folk trio Blue Sky Riders, which performs in Lexington on Tuesday as part of a five-city tour to promote a new holiday EP, Finally Home for Christmas.
"Collaboration is something you could write a book about," Loggins said. "It has to start with respect. You've got to be writing with people whose work you admire and whose sensibilities you respect. As you can imagine, there is a lot of give and take involved. When you don't see eye to eye, you have to be willing to take the other person's position and try to see what it is they're seeing and try to go after that. Otherwise, it's just a battle of egos, and that never works. In a perfect world, collaboration should be the synergy where you wind up with more than the sum of the individuals."
Loggins began writing with Burr (who has penned hits for Kelly Clarkson and Wynonna Judd but has had songs recorded by Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and George Jones) for the former's 2008 solo album, How About Now. That led to an introduction to Middleman (whose songs have been cut by Keith Urban, Martina McBride and Reba McEntire, and whose singing has been featured onstage with Radney Foster and on record with Jack Ingram). The debut Blue Sky Riders album, Finally Home, surfaced early in 2013.
"Georgia and I write with a lot of different people," Burr said. "On one hand, we try to sell songs or write specifically for someone. In Blue Sky Riders, we get the thrill writing a song knowing that we're going to sing it. So the collaboration becomes really freeing. It's like opening the box we've been in for years. We love that box. That box has put my kids through college. But it's really great to get out of that box and just stretch."
Loggins said part of the attraction in forming Blue Sky Riders was the sheer newness of the project.
"This was a push to find a new way to express myself creatively. When I was done with How About Now, I felt like I didn't have anything left to say as Kenny Loggins. When I wrote with Gary, I felt a level of simpatico, a way to learn new things that sort of jump-started another part of my creativity."
"It's been a big challenge. We've been opening for me (the Kenny Loggins Band) for about three years, and it's been difficult to get the audience to migrate to Blue Sky Riders the way I hoped it would happen. Reviews are really strong. The people love it. But to associate the Kenny Loggins Band with the Blue Sky Riders has been a difficult transition. My sense is it's just now happening."
For Middleman, the thrill of working with Blue Sky Riders comes down to the speed with which ideas for songs ignite. She said they form and circulate at a pace the trio often can't keep up with.
"Ideas fly so fast," she said. "As soon as we pick up our guitars, everyone is off and running. You want to be the next one to say something because you're so inspired by what's flying around the room. Everybody is moving so fast that just getting a word in can be hard."