An Eagle takes flight

eagle-57227_1920 Barely a week after David Bowie’s passing, we hear of the death of Glenn Frey, the leader/founder of The Eagles, whose catalog of hits included “Hotel California,” “New Kid in Town,” "Desperado," and “The Best of My Love.”

The Eagles, thanks to Frey, were a band that featured exceptional songwriting—which was unusual for a band that also showcased guitar virtuosity, including the talents of Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh at various times. But even more unusual—especially for a 70s country-rock band—was their steel-eyed focus on being commercially successful.

Glenn wanted a band that had everything going for it. “Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good, and write good. We wanted it all. Peer respect. AM & FM success. No 1 singles and albums, great music, and a lot of money.” This was a band with a mission—and a business attitude. (See the post I wrote on that, after I caught their Hartford concert last July, on what would be their final tour.) As band mate—and co-writer on many of their hits—Don Henley said this week, “Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some."

The last two days I've been reminiscing on the band with Facebook Friends, including those of us who used to frequent the Troubadour Coffeehouse in West Hollywood, where the Eagles got their start in the early 70s. At the Troubadour Monday night “Hoots” (open mic), Glenn often performed with Longbranch Pennywhistle (a duo with J.D. Souther), before he put the Eagles together. Glenn was a friendly and accessible dude who had encouraging words for my band and the other local acts that worked the Monday night crowds. (Many of those regulars at the Hoots included the likes of Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Tom Waits.)

I was also reminded by FB Friends in Connecticut of the Eagles’ Saturday afternoon concert at the Yale Bowl on June 14, 1980. I had a front row view of the band that day, courtesy of WPLR-FM, from which I had been broadcasting traffic reports a few hours earlier for the 70,000 fans who were converging on New Haven. (I have no clue why I was asked to do that.) The concert, produced by Jim Koplik, remains the biggest rock event in Connecticut history.

The Little River Band and Heart were strong opening acts, as I remember. The Eagles, including the incomparable Don Felder on lead guitar, did not disappoint. (I just discovered the Eagles’ set list for that performance here.)

To see a video of "Hotel California"—performed on acoustic guitars in 1994—check this out. (The fellow on the far right is Don Felder who plays the opening guitar riffs, followed by Joe Walsh on classical guitar!)

To see a video of "Take It Easy"—performed at the concert I attended last summer in Hartford—check here. (That's Glenn on lead vocal, singing his first Eagles' hit, which was co-written with Jackson Browne.)

Now that I think about it, that's a generous span of time, nearly 45 years, for one guy and a band to have reached so many people—and to have affected so many lives. (In the process The Eagles also managed to sell more records than any other American band.)

It's great to have a mission. And even better to achieve it.

*Thanks to Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns (Wiley, 2006) for the Glenn Frey quote.

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  1. I fell in love with the Eagles early on. Then, I fell out of love. Then hell froze over, and I dove in and stayed.

    I think they did that to people. The intensity was attractive, then oppressive, then comfortingly familiar.

    Spending 45 years doing anything with anybody is a recipe for some kind of success.

    I'm hoping Dylan is getting a checkup right about now (though I guess that didn't do Robert Palmer a bit of good.)

    1. I too fell in and out of love with them. I still wish Frey and Henley didn't micromanage the operation, renege on their promise of equality—and equal stake—for all members, and eventually fire their best musician (Felder). But if we focus on our higher angels, the Eagles—and especially Frey and Henley with their songwriting—were capable of tapping into something brilliant and sublime. (To say it less elegantly, I hate it when I discover that people I admire can be complete A-holes like me.)

      1. best musician

        The more songs I write, the less interest I have in becoming a great musician.

        More to the point: going back on one's word is hard to defend in any circumstances, but I suspect the some of the other "flaws" are what made the diamond. Not that it's possible to know that or not.

    1. Yes, I've seen that article — and many others similar to it. I can't excuse some of their behavior — especially as a consultant who for the most part espouses workforce democracy, team collaboration, etc. But these guys also wrote some amazing songs with killer arrangements and performances. And to paraphrase Joel, their dysfunction was grist for the mill in regard to their music.

      It seems to me that most of the greatest singers, songwriters, and musicians — some of whom I've been lucky to work with and observe up close — have been battling some pretty ugly demons. If I only listened to bands who consistently demonstrated emotional maturity, spiritual wisdom, good ethical judgment, etc. I wouldn't have much to listen to. By those standards I couldn't even listen to myself.

  2. I was at the Yale Bowl show in 1980 -- the biggest party I've ever seen! It felt like all of Connecticut was there. Been a DIE-HARD fan ever since! Gonna miss Glenn bigtime. I remember they opened with Hotel California and Joe Walsh sang a bunch of his songs. Had a great time but I don't remember much else. LOL

    1. I don't recall much about that show either, Patty, except for the humongous crowd. I think my date's name was Karen. But I don't remember her last name or whether I ever saw her again after that weekend. I was never good with last names. Or first names. Or faces.

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