A generation of rock ‘n roll fans mourned again this week upon the death of Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey. The leader of arguably the most popular American rock band of the 1970s died in New York from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. He was 67.
Statements came in from many parts of the entertainment world, but none likely expressed the heartfelt sentiment than did the words from another Eagles co-founder, drummer Don Henley:
“He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry—and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. I will be grateful every day that he was in my life.”
The Eagles were said to have captured the “sound of Southern California,” although most of the members past and present did not grow up locally. In fact, Frey, a Detroit native, told the audience at the Fabulous Forum in 2014 that although the Beach Boys were “founders” of the Southern California sound,” the Eagles would become the “settlers.” Along the way, the group moved from early bookings at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and became one of the most successful franchises in rock history. The list of musicians who have played with the Eagles includes J.D. Souther, Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Jack Tempchin, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. Back then, it was Souther who encouraged Linda Ronstadt to hire Frey , Henley, Meisner and Leadon to serve as her backing band on a 1971 tour and shortly afterwards the Eagles were hatched.
The group’s 1972 self-titled debut album featured one of their most popular songs, “Take It Easy,” which was co-written by Jackson Browne, as well as the hit “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” They released “Tequila Sunrise” in 1973, a track featuring a beautiful string arrangement set to what might be considered “cowboy poetry” with its melodic visualization of the old west.
A string of hits soon followed such as “James Dean,” “Witchy Woman” “Already Gone” and “Best of My Love.” In 1975, Frey departed from the “country-rock” genre and helped pen “One of These Nights” and “Take It to the Limit;” both songs relying heavily on R&B arrangements. The next year the group released “Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975,” a compilation of their biggest hits which today stands behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the second biggest-selling album of all time.
In 1976, Joe Walsh replaced Leadon on lead guitar and the group released its landmark album “Hotel California” which offered a follow-up to “Tequila Sunrise” in “New Kid in Town” as well as “Life in the Fast Lane” and popular title track. Frey said the album represented the excesses of Hollywood and also the rigors of being a rock star amid personal and professional demands. “The Long Run” from 1979 would be the last album released (featuring “Heartache Tonight,” “I Can’t Tell You Why,” “In the City”); the band disbanded for 14 years with Frey and Henley reportedly telling one another that they’d reunite “when hell freezes over.” They resumed performing as a quartet (they were previous a quintet) (Frey, Henley, Walsh and Schmit) in 1993 and picked up where they left off by filling concert halls around the world.
“He was kind of like the James Dean of the band, the coolest guy,” said Felder. He and Frey often clashed on the band’s musical content, one time almost coming to blows after a 1980 concert in Long Beach. “I had always hoped somewhere along the line, he and I would have dinner together, talking about old times and letting it go with a handshake and a hug.” After finding out Frey was dead, Felder said he received a call from Randy Meisner—who has had health problems for several years—and said: “Randy was in tears.”
During their heyday, the Eagles were part of a growing list of American bands with “hot guitars,” including The Allman Brothers Band, the Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd among others which would categorize them among the southern rock genre. None of these groups, however, sold as many records or reached the popularity among teenagers as did the Eagles.
It has been a difficult start of the new year for a generation of music fans with the deaths of Natalie Cole, Lemmie Kilmister (Motorhead), David Bowie and now Glenn Frey. The memories of these artists remain etched in the hearts of teenagers of all colors who delighted back then in visiting the local record store and spinning the great albums of the day.