In 1985, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of our charter, the College of Charleston commissioned a song to mark the special occasion. More than 30 years later, that song – “Finding Roots and Gaining Wings” by Grammy-nominated recording artist Dave Loggins – has largely faded into history.
But thanks to the wonders of modern audio technology (we digitized the song from a vinyl record) and some good old-fashioned sleuthing (the College’s Special Collections is a treasure trove of CofC history), you can now hear the song for yourself and learn the surprising story behind its creation.
I had never heard of singer-songwriter Dave Loggins before I was asked to track him down for a story for College of Charleston Magazine.
I figured it would be fun to reminisce with Loggins about the origins of his song “Finding Roots and Gaining Wings,” a melodic tune about the College recorded in 1985 to celebrate the bicentennial of our university charter.
It seemed like a straightforward assignment until I ran into one dead end after another.
I had a digital copy of the song and its lyrics, provided by Special Collections in Addlestone Library, but little else to go on. I Googled his name and discovered that Loggins had been a major recording artist in the 1970s and ’80s and that he is the third cousin of singer Kenny Loggins. No one responded to a contact form I submitted on a website devoted to Loggins’ music career. The site appeared to be maintained by his son, whom I unsuccessfully tried to contact on Facebook. I also tried several telephone numbers after discovering that Loggins might still be living in the Nashville area. Still, no luck.
As I searched for other leads, I continued to learn about Loggins’ successful music career. His stuff is all over YouTube. His 1974 single “Please Come to Boston” reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy. Over the years, it’s been covered by many popular artists, including Joan Baez, Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett.
In 1984, Loggins and country music singer Anne Murray scored a huge No. 1 hit with their duet “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.” They were nominated for a Grammy in 1985 and that same year won the Country Music Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. He also wrote dozens of songs and a few hits for artists such as Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire and Wynonna Judd and groups such as Alabama and Three Dog Night.
But when it comes to staying power, no other Loggins piece has endured as well as the 1982 theme song he penned for the Masters Golf Tournament. Still a staple of CBS’ coverage of the annual spectacle, it is said to be the longest-running sports theme song in history.
That longevity – and the fact that it still generates the occasional retrospective news story about Loggins – is how I ultimately found him. I came across an article about the Masters song from 2012 that quoted Loggins. This meant he was probably still living and apparently still granting interviews. I contacted the reporter who wrote the article, and he kindly passed along a phone number for Loggins.
When I tried to call the number, I was continually greeted by a woman’s voice on an answering machine. I left messages explaining why I was trying to reach Loggins and hoped for the best.
As weeks went by, I was beginning to think I’d struck out on finding the singer when I decided to try the number one more time. To my surprise, a man answered on the second ring. He sounded a little groggy. I thought I had woken him up.
I introduced myself: “Is this Dave Loggins, the recording artist?”
He said it was and asked if I was the same fellow who called earlier. The information about the song didn’t ring any bells, he said. He hadn’t called me back because he assumed he wasn’t the guy I was looking for.
“I definitely didn’t write that song because that’s not a title I would use,” he said. “I not only wouldn’t write it; I don’t think I’d be singing it. I don’t know how I got into this equation. I’m sorry I can’t help you.”
Loggins was polite but seemed ready to get off the phone. I apologized for having bothered him. But I had to ask: would he mind listening to the song and looking over the lyrics so we could be certain they were not his?
He gave me his e-mail address and promised to give the song a listen. When I called him back the next day, he sounded chipper. And with good reason: “That’s definitely me singing,” he said confidently.
A singer’s voice and style create an unmistakable vocal fingerprint. When Loggins read the lyrics I sent him, he knew immediately how he would sing certain words. When he played the audio clip, he found himself singing along in perfect unison to a song he had not sung nor heard in three decades. It was as if he’d performed it a thousand times before.
“I heard my style in it,” he said. “I knew how I would do a certain word, and I did it. The way I said wings, that’s when I realized it was me. That couldn’t be anybody else.”
But the mystery wasn’t completely solved. While the voice on the recording is unmistakably his and while he recognizes bits of his own writing style, Loggins suspected someone else wrote most of the lyrics, arranged and titled the song.
To seek those answers, I turned to Mary Jo Fairchild ’04 (M.A. ’08), manager of research services in Special Collections, who located a box of materials pertaining to the College’s bicentennial celebration, Renaissance 200. Inside was a folder containing a 45 RPM vinyl record of the song, still tucked neatly in its original paper sleeve. The College had sold copies of the record as part of the anniversary festivities.
News clippings in the archive materials revealed that the song was based on a speech by former College president Edward Collins Jr. highlighting the College’s strong roots and the wings on which it would soar into the future.
Walt Woodward, a folk singer and advertising jingle writer, adapted the speech for the song. Charleston’s WCSC- TV, owned by the Rivers family (namesake of the John M. Rivers Communications Museum on campus), helped cover the recording costs, and David Rawle’s public relations firm arranged for Loggins to record it.
It’s not surprising Loggins doesn’t remember singing the song about the College. Around the time it was recorded, he was crisscrossing the country, making music, touring and writing commercial jingles for the likes of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. “I love Charleston,” he admitted, “but I swear I just can’t remember doing it.”
Now 67, retired and a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Loggins said this wasn’t the first time a long-forgotten piece of music from his career found its way back to him.
“I wrote for 30 years,” he said. “Every day you go in and sit in a wooden straight-back chair and hold a guitar for 10 hours and think and try to write something nobody has ever said. Your brain turns to gravy.”
But when I finally tracked down Loggins 30 years after he recorded “Finding Roots and Gaining Wings,” he knew one thing for sure: “I think it sounds great. It’s really moving.”