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Blake Shelton and Kenny Loggins enter the danger zone during a fun performance.

Hit-making singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins joined country music's biggest party last night, kicking off the 45th annual CMA Awards performing "Footloose" with Blake Shelton, who went on to collect his second consecutive male vocalist of the year trophy. Loggins' current ties to the Nashville community extend beyond his high profile awards show gig as he continues work on his debut album with the Blue Sky Riders, a trio he formed with noted songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman.

"I met Gary when I came to Nashville to make my last album," Loggins told Billboard. "Richard Marx said, 'You can go there and write with a bunch of people, but you've got to write with Gary Burr. He's the best.' We hit it off immediately as I'm sure he does with many people."

Loggins says the creative chemistry with Burr fuels this new endeavor. The 63-year-old star said he hadn't felt that kind of connection since teaming with Jim Messina in 1971 to form Loggins & Messina.

"Gary is an extremely adaptable collaborator, but when we sang together we sounded like brothers," says the pop/rock icon known for such solo hits as "This is It," "I'm Alright" and "Danger Zone." "I thought this is an amazing blend that we can write together effortlessly and can sing together effortlessly. I said, 'Let's start a band.'"


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Burr is a veteran Nashville hitmaker who has penned hits for Tim McGraw ("Can't Be Really Gone"), Patty Loveless ("I Try to Think About Elvis") and Randy Travis ("Out of My Bones") as well as getting cuts by Ringo Starr and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He penned the title track of Joe Nichols' "It's All Good," which streeted on Tuesday.

Every new band could benefit from a pretty girl with serious songwriting chops. Enter Georgia Middleman. "I called Gary and said, 'We need a third. We need a girl. Do you know a great female singer/songwriter?' And he said 'Georgia Middleman,'" recalls Loggins. "He didn't hesitate, He brought her right in. I met her and we all hit it off. We wrote our first song together in about two hours and we've been writing everything together as a trio for the new project."

Formerly an artist on the now defunct Giant Records, Middleman has had songs cut by Reba McEntire, Faith Hill and Martina McBride, and penned the recent Keith Urban hit "I'm In."

The Blue Sky Riders debuted last spring at Tin Pan South, Nashville's annual songwriters festival, and have performed select dates in 2011. Earlier this week (Nov. 7) the trio performed at "Let Us In" Nashville, a Ryman Auditorium show benefiting The Women and Cancer Fund, a not-for-profit charity led by Dr. Alicia Alvaraz; established in the memory of Linda McCartney. The Blue Sky Riders are among the artists who have contributed an original version of a Paul McCartney song to be included on "Let Us In Nashville - A Tribute to Linda McCartney," which debuts Nov. 21.

The trio has an EP available on their website, "Blue Sky Riders -- Live at the Rutledge," but continue to work on a studio album for release next year. "We're halfway through the making of our first CD, if we can still make those," Loggins says with a smile. "Our co-producer is Peter Asher from the old days. He made a couple of records with me and probably most famously with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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