HISTORY OF THE EAGLES
The quintessential “California Country Rock” band — featuring lead members Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit — came to Denver last night as part of their “History of The Eagles” tour. The Showtime television channel produced a two part 3-hour documentary called History of the Eagles recounting the story of this highly successful American band starting back in 1971. Their Greatest Hits album released in 1976 was the best selling album of the 1970s having sold 42 million copies worldwide, trailing only Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best selling album of the 20th Century. The Eagles have sold 150 million albums worldwide making them the best selling American band in history.
Back in May of 2010, when I saw them at their previous visit here, they came to Denver after 10 days of canceled concerts elsewhere in their tour, due to an illness on the part of singer/guitar player Timothy B. Schmit that left him hospitalized for minor abdominal surgery. He made up for it and more back then in Denver as he opened the show, with 4 other guitarists across the stage with their first song in their Long Road Out of Eden tour which had started two years earlier.
Last night’s concert opened with the two founding members Glenn Frey and Don Henley walking on to the stage with their guitars. Frey, originally from Detroit, and Henley from Gilmer, Texas had come to Los Angeles back in the early ’70s to pursue music careers. I’ll intersperse their history throughout the playlist they did below. This was not so much one of their standard concerts — though they did their usual favorites — than it was a retrospective of their career.
- Saturday Night
There’s a real “country” feel to this song, more explicit and overtly country than most of their other music. In my recollection though, the Eagles was a band that had its first hit when I was a student at Berkeley, and their popularity came from their country-flavored rock, not from rock-flavored country. A southern California band, they were effective for their good-time rock, much like the northern California Huey Lewis and the News, though less jazzy.
Henley tells the story:
“It was late summer of ’71 in San Fernando Valley, west of L.A. It cost $6/hr to rehearse at Bud’s studio. Back in August we were touring with Linda Ronstadt.”
They wanted to form their own band rather than continue touring with Ronstadt.
“Bernie Leadon was recommended by Linda as guitarist and banjo player. He’d been with the Flying Burrito Brothers.”
Bernie joined the band as a founding member back in 1971 and was with them until the mid ’70s. He’s back with the band for this tour and sang:
- Train Leaves Here This Morning
Glenn Frey recounts:
“I was living on Coldwater Canyon [in LA]. I received a song that I liked, it sounded like our favorite country rock band Poco.”
Former Poco bassist Timothy B Schmit joins them on stage for:
- Peaceful Easy Feeling
Don Henley and Bernie Leadon wrote the following song on their 1st album. As it’s being introduced former James Gang band member Joe Walsh joins them to play a wicked guitar intro on his Gibson guitar to:
- Witchy Woman (new arrangement)
“In ’72 Jackson Browne [who co-wrote the following song] got a leather-bound book on The [Old ] West. Glenn said ‘Let’s write some songs about the gunfighters’. 40 years later we’re still writing songs.”
This was followed by
- Tequila Sunrise
The band then then went into a reprise of:
A banjo and slide guitar intro to:
…as a new shorter arrangement.
“We’d recorded our first two albums in London, but for our third we switched producers. We said to our new producer Bill Szymczyk: ‘We needed to rock a little harder.’ He was OK with that.”
- Already Gone
- The Best of My Love
This soft rock hit was played by a band I was in back in the early ’80s, a testament to their popularity even after they broke up. Henley recounts:
“The following is our first #1 single. We were in LA working on another album. We wrote this in two nights. Everything is fast when you’re 26.”
The next song only hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1975, but #8 on the US Country chart:
- Lyin’ Eyes
Their second #1 hit was also released in 1975:
- One Of These Nights
Frey tells the story for the next song:
“Don and I wrote this song for our original base player Randy Meisner. He was under the weather but doing better.”
The rest of the story that Frey did not relate is more acrimonious. Meisner was known for this song which he co-wrote with Frey/Henley, and he did the signature high notes. But while touring with the band when they were promoting their Hotel California album, he was ill and had difficulty hitting the notes. Frey insisted that Meisner sing this crowd pleaser during the tour. A fight between Frey and Meisner resulted in Meisner leaving the group in 1977.
For last night’s show, Glenn Frey sang the song, but he couldn’t do the high notes. Indeed, of the four main vocalists, Frey had the hardest time hitting his old notes.
- Take it to the Limit
Following this song, the band took a break, with Frey saying:
“At our age we need to take a break. We have to go to the bathroom.”
Following the break, the band returned with Joe Walsh singing the hit he co-wrote for the Hotel California album, demonstrating that he is a gifted guitarist:
- Pretty Maids All In A Row
Timothy B Schmit co-wrote the following song, and proved that he can still send it. It is his signature song from their 1979 album The Long Run.
- I Can’t Tell You Why
This was followed by Glenn Frey singing the #1 Grammy winning hit from the 1976 Hotel California album:
- New Kid In Town
Timothy B Schmit introduced the following song:
“This place is packed. I love it. In 1978 did my first show as an Eagle. Lasted for 3 years. It took 14 years to consider it might be a good idea to get back together. We recorded Hell Freezes Over. This is one of the songs.”
- Love Will Keep Us Alive
Frey, after several slow songs said:
“I think it’s time to move. I have a plan.”
He changed the tempo with:
- Heartache Tonight
This Grammy winning song, the chorus of which was written by Bob Seger, began with an a cappella intro.
From their 6th album, The Long Run, came the following song:
- Those Shoes
The next song had a long intro by Joe Walsh on a vocoder. You’ve heard Stevie Wonder use this music analysis/synthesis system, and Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way showcases it.
The following song, originally co-written and recorded by Joe Walsh for the movie The Warriors was later recorded by the Eagles on their album The Long Run.
- In The City
Joe Walsh continued his run of hits, being introduced by Frey as:
“The master blaster on the Stratocaster”
- Life’s Been Good
While he didn’t hit all of the lyrics on point, no one cared, as this is his biggest solo hit. It describes satirically the life of excess that many rock stars lived, including himself, until he got clean in 1994 and subsequently joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
The next song was introduced:
“This was the title from 1978 which we recorded in Florida as the last studio album before we broke up. How would we know we’d be singing it to you so many years later.”
- Long Run
This was followed by:
- Funk #49
…where the stage backdrop was an animated pinball machine.
- Life in the Fast Lane
…ended the main part of the show as the band left the stage. The crowd went wild and lit up their cellphone flashes.
The crowd knew they band could not end the concert without including staples like:
- Hotel California
Steuart Smith, who has been co-lead guitarist — along with Joe Walsh — since 2001 played a custom EBMM double-necked guitar that is one of only two of a kind. The band left the stage again, followed by:
“And here’s how it all started”
…as Glenn Frey has said on the Hell Freezes Over album about their first hit which he co-wrote with Jackson Browne when they lived in the same building in LA. Browne had written the line “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” but could not finish it. Frey finished it with “It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.”
I was once in Winslow, Arizona and posted on Facebook “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona…” and friends from college immediately replied finishing the lyric.
- Take it Easy
But this time, the band sang:
“Standing on a corner in Denver, Colorado…”
Joe Walsh, who once lived in Boulder, Colorado sang:
- Rocky Mountain Way
Their last song, from the album of the same, did not chart as a huge hit for them, though it is a favorite of mine. However, it gained prominence as a cover. Linda Ronstadt released a popular version of it, and it was a staple of contemporary Christian singer Randy Stonehill.
- Desperado (reprise)
And that closed it out, a three and a half hour concert, the best of the season.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian