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The Inside Story of the ‘Caddyshack’ Theme Song

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 6/10/2022 Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins’s iconic—and Dylan-inspired!—theme song, “I’m Alright,” catapulted a golf movie, kicked off a rock ’n’ roll feud and created a particularly boozy Grammys moment.

Excerpted from Still Alright: A Memoir, by Kenny Loggins with Jason Turbow. Copyright © 2022. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

My story about Caddyshack actually starts with a different soundtrack: Barbra Streisand’s 1976 remake of A Star is Born, for which I wrote the song “I Believe in Love.” While I was at Barbara’s Malibu home during that process, I got to know her boyfriend, Jon Peters, who was about to enter the movie biz in a major way. We stayed in touch, and a few years later he invited me to his office in Thousand Oaks for a private screening of a movie he was producing, in hopes that I’d write a song for it. It should be obvious what movie I’m talking about. Caddyshack didn’t yet have an ending or the gopher, but it was laugh-out-loud funny.

“You’re gonna love what we do with this,” Jon told me. “We have this puppet that comes up out of a golf hole and dances.”

Now that’s a stupid idea, I thought. Thankfully, I kept that opinion to myself. Shows what I know—people still love that f-----’ gopher. I know that I do.

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I wanted to write every song I could for the movie. I even suggested taking over the entire soundtrack, but Jon wanted to feature a variety of artists. I did, however, get the lion’s share of songs: an up-tempo interlude I called “Make the Move,” plus “Mr. Night” and “Lead the Way.” The latter was a melody I’d sung to Barbra back in ‘76, which I’d since rebuilt and jokingly called “Love Theme from Caddyshack.”

My best-known song from Caddyshack, of course, is “I’m Alright.” It was inspired by the movie’s opening scene, in which the main character, a teenage golf caddy named Danny, rides his bike through some featureless suburbs. The rough cut I saw featured a Bob Dylan song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” as the temporary backing track. That struck me as incongruous, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d chosen it. Was director Harold Ramis trying to tell me something about this character? Dylan is the quintessential rebel, yet Danny was just a kid on a bike. He spends most of the movie trying to fit in with the country club scene, but by the end he decides to thumb his nose at the whole idea and chooses another path for himself. That was when the light went on for me: Danny was a rebel. Ramis had clearly selected the Dylan song intentionally, foreshadowing the character’s evolution, and I decided my song should have similar f— off undertones. What I came up with was a chorus that insisted, “Don’t nobody worry a’but me.” Instead of addressing the movie directly, I let the song’s general message of rebellion do the heavy lifting.

I recorded a demo for Jon in a Santa Barbara studio. We were on a schedule, so rather than take time to gather musicians I knew, I went with a local drummer and engineer, neither of whom I’d met. That was a lucky decision. The drummer was a basic rock guy, not nearly as skilled as the players in my recent New York sessions, but this inadvertently freed me up. He couldn’t handle anything complex, so instead of spending time nailing down the difficult patterns I had in mind, I went with a simple foot-snare-foot-snare pattern I knew he could play. It was all downbeats—nothing cute or tricky, just gut-level rock that, against my better judgment, turned out to be the perfect groove for the song. More lastingly, the session’s engineer was a guy named Terry Nelson, who impressed me so much that I made him my primary engineer for the next seven or eight years. He even produced my albums Leap of Faith and the live Outside: From the Redwoods.

At the same time as I was writing “I’m Alright,” Gerry Rafferty’s band, Stealers Wheel, had a song on the radio called “Stuck in the Middle,” which I always heard as Gerry doing a Bob Dylan impression. Well, if Rafferty could do Dylan, so could I. The director wanted a Dylan song, so I ended up giving him me doing Rafferty doing Dylan. When I got the demo home from the studio, I played it over and over. I couldn’t stop smiling. I’d nailed it.

I recorded the final version with a bunch of my regular players, and one guy extra, which led to a decades-long beef. Eddie Money happened to be in the studio next to ours while we were recording, and I caught some snippets of his singing through an open door. Eddie had released a couple of albums by that point but hadn’t yet hit it big, and that was the first time I’d heard him. He was a terrific singer, with a big, gruff voice that I thought would make a perfect contrast on “I’m Alright.” I asked if he’d mind stepping into my studio, and 20 minutes later there he was, singing the lines “Cannonball it right away” and “Man, you make me feel good.” Unfortunately, when it came time to file the song credits I totally forgot to list him. S---. When the error was pointed out to me, I did all I could to rectify things by acknowledging Eddie in as many interviews as I could. I even sent him a note of apology, but that wasn’t enough for him. I’m still not sure what he wanted—it was never a financial thing—but he sure did disparage my name after that. I wish we’d had a chance to straighten things out between us, but I never saw him again before he passed away in 2019.

“I’m Alright” became a top-10 hit, and I was asked to perform it at that year’s Grammy Awards in New York. I ended up winning, but not for “I’m Alright,” which was beaten out as Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) by Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses.” Instead, I took home Best Pop Vocal Performance (Male) for “This Is It.”

The thing that sticks with me most about that ceremony isn’t winning, which was nice, but the performance, which was . . . surreal. I was about to go on vacation in Europe with my wife, Eva, when the organizers called and asked if I wanted to play. They gave me the chance to bring my band along, but I was about to leave town and had no time for rehearsals. When I found out that the house band included Steve Gadd, Eric Gale and the rest of Paul Simon’s New York cats, I figured, well, that song is so simple that anybody can play it, and those guys can play circles around anybody. I’ll just bring them up to speed at a pre-show rehearsal, I thought, and off to Europe we went.

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I returned two days before the Grammys and was scheduled to go over “I’m Alright” with the band the day before the telecast. When I got to the rehearsal hall, though, the band wasn’t prepared—no charts, no nothing. I don’t think they’d even listened to the song. When we ran through it, they started swinging like it was some sort of jazz number. I guess that makes sense, because they’re jazzers, but “I’m Alright” is one of my true rock numbers, and that’s how I wanted it played. I ended up going over the song individually with each musician. I sang Eric Gale’s guitar part to him, then did the same for Steve Kahn. I tried to get Gadd to play a simple rock ’n’ roll beat, like on the record, but he couldn’t help but swing it. That’s how we spent most of our two-hour time allotment. I returned to my hotel room exhausted and shaken, terrified about going on national TV with a band that could not master my simple f---ing song. F---! I guess it was too simple. I slept maybe two hours that night, tossing and turning until dawn. I did, however, hatch a plan. On the way to the theater I stopped at a liquor store and picked up a quart of tequila. If I can’t make the song smarter, I figured, maybe I can make the musicians dumber. At the very least, I could get myself to the point where I didn’t really give a s---. Maybe.

The Grammys were held at Radio City Music Hall, with its famous hydraulic stage. We were supposed to begin playing in the basement, then rise up to stage level mid-intro. We walked onto the set about 10 minutes before we were supposed to start the song, which is when I made my move. I grabbed my bottle and took several laps around the group, singing each guy’s part to him as he swigged. It was my version of a pep talk. We had to be loose, and tequila is a great lubricator. No jazz for us tonight, my friends. It’s time to rock.

Well, the drunk part worked. By the time we went on, that bottle was empty and I had a hell of a buzz going.

Then, just before the stage ascended, I noticed a sound guy furiously messing with the microphones. I swear I saw him inexplicably switch the two up-front mics, exchanging the one I’d used at sound check with one of unknown origin from the other side of the stage. My heart skipped. Uh-oh, I thought. I was about to say something when the stage began to rise and the band began to play. Thanks to the tequila, the floor was already moving for me before it actually started to move.

We reached stage level just in time for me to step into the spotlight and sing the first line—“I’m alright / Don’t nobody worry ’bout me”—to myself. I didn’t hear anything in the house. Maybe it’s just the stage monitors, I thought, and the audience can hear me. I looked into the front row and saw Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, and gave Dionne a questioning look to see if she could hear anything. She shook her head no. So I backed off the microphone and signaled Steve Kahn to play a guitar solo. He looked at me like I was crazy, but started into some random licks while I ran to the edge of the stage and did my best cheerleader impression, getting the crowd to clap along and kill some time while the techs figured out what the hell was wrong. After what seemed like 10 minutes, I went back and tried again—and got another head shake from Dionne. So I vamped some more.

Loggins collected a Grammy—and a short-lived tequilla buzz—in 1981. AP/Shutterstock © Provided by Sports Illustrated Loggins collected a Grammy—and a short-lived tequilla buzz—in 1981. AP/Shutterstock

By that point, the crowd knew what was happening and was fully on my side. Finally, somebody swapped out the mic altogether, and on the third try my vocal was live. I guess the tequila did the trick for Gadd, because it was full speed ahead for him on the twos and fours: straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll. What we ended up with wasn’t exactly “I’m Alright,” but it was a whole lot better than the swing groove from rehearsal. They cut the entire clap-along intro out of the West Coast feed, but the whole crazy performance aired live on the East Coast.

As soon as we finished playing, I walked offstage and straight back to my seat in the audience next to Eva. I was drenched in sweat and stone-cold sober—whatever alcohol I’d consumed had completely evaporated through my pores. Almost as soon as I sat down, they announced the winner for Best Pop Vocal Performance. I’d been so focused on “I’m Alright” that I hadn’t really considered my chances, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard my name. I had nothing prepared, so I made up a speech on the spot, dedicating the award to my dad. It all goes to show that preparation sometimes has little bearing on how well things go. Those stage techs must have spent days setting up a system that ultimately didn’t work, but speaking from the heart about my father was one of the best moments of my night.

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