Life In The Fast Lane: Remembering Glenn Frey 1948-2016
By Todd Stevens
The rock and roll community has lost another hero. Glenn Frey, 67, founding member of The Eagles died on January 18, 2016. Glenn was a songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and pianist for the super group The Eagles. Glenn Frey and Don Henley were the leaders and songwriters of the group since its origin in 1971. I was fortunate enough to see The Eagles perform at Comcast Center (in Mansfield, MA) in July of 2013. I did not know that would be my only chance to see him.
In my opinion, Glenn Frey lived a damn good life. He was dedicated to his passion of being a rock star. He talked about taking piano lessons when he was 5 in Detroit, and getting into fights after school because of it. He loved music and saw The Beatles with his aunt at the Olympia Auditorium in 1964. He said it was epic. Glenn started his music career when he sang “Satisfaction” with The Subterraneans at a high school dance in Michigan. Shortly after, he met rocker Bob Seger who took him under his wing. Seger instantly liked Glenn when they met because of his ambition and great sense of humor. He knew that Glenn wanted to be on the radio and helped get his foot into the door of the music business.
Seger became his mentor and invited Glenn to the studio to see how records were made. In 1968, Glenn sang background vocals and played acoustic guitar on Bob Seger’s first hit “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” This is exciting news for a kid straight out of high school but there’s a buzz kill. Glenn’s mom caught him smoking pot in the basement with his buddy and she thought Seger was a bad influence. She called his manager and put an end to it.
Glenn mentioned a conversation that he had with Seger:
“You know if you want to make it, you have to write your own songs”
“I said what if they’re bad?”
“Well they’re gonna be bad. He says just keep on writing and keep writing. And eventually you’ll write a good song.”
When Glenn was 20, he moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend and joined the group The Four of Us. The band was short lived but the move was a great opportunity to meet people that would change his life forever. Some of the first people he met in LA were young musicians Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther. J.D. and Glenn shared an apartment in Echo Park together and Jackson lived on the property. Glenn remembers Jackson writing “Doctor My Eyes.” Every morning at 9am, he would hear Jackson’s tea kettle and him pounding away on the piano trying to perfect his song. He learned that elbow grease, thought and persistence were the keys to building a quality song. It is cool to hear the makings of a classic song in your living room even if it takes months to do it.
Frey and Souther started a two-man band called Longbranch Pennywhistle and had a single with Amos Records. It wasn’t a big success but a milestone. They had gigs and hung out at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, one of the best clubs for rising stars in Southern California. Glenn met important people there that would help them further his career.
A bigger opportunity arose in 71’ when Souther’s girlfriend Linda Ronstadt needed a new touring band for her new solo album. He was offered $250 a week with $50 on the spot. Ronstadt’s manager John Boylan recruited Glenn Frey, drummer Don Henley, guitarist Bernie Leadon, and bassist Randy Meisner to be in the band. Linda and her new band harmonized beautifully and had a successful album. After the tour, she offered the band more work but she was turned down. Frey and Henley became great friends while playing together and wanted to start their own band. They asked her nicely if they could use Leadon and Meisner and she agreed. Linda didn’t know that her backing band was evolving into the super group The Eagles.
In 1971, Glenn Frey and Don Henley founded The Eagles. Together they became songwriting partners and dominated the 70’s country rock sound. The Eagles’ name was suggested by Bernie Leadon during the group’s trip to the Mojave Desert. They were using peyote and drinking tequila and he discussed the Hopi’s respect of the eagle. Glenn didn’t want to be The Eagles but preferred to be called just Eagles. After being active in the LA scene and playing with Ronstadt, they were credible enough to get a record deal with Asylum Records, a David Geffen label.
Geffen hired famous producer Glyn Johns to work on the 1st album. He was known for producing bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. The big rule with Johns was he didn’t allow drugs or alcohol in the studio. He was annoyed by the productivity issues of Keith Richards while he was on drugs. The Eagles were okay with it and recorded their self titled album at Island Studios in London. They figured there would be more work done, and it would be better work.
Henley and Frey started off with songs they wrote together and collaborated with their friends Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther. Their first single was “Take it Easy.” Jackson had most of the song written but got stuck on the first line. Glenn added “Such a fine sight to see – It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford” and Jackson added some more. Those two lines brought the song together and it hit #12 in the US Billboard charts. It led the band into stardom. “Witchy Woman” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” were also Top 40 hits on their debut album.
In April of 1973, Desperado was released as The Eagles second album. The band wanted to make a concept album about being an outlaw. In one way or another they all had some cowboy in them and lived outside the law. At the time, westerns were the rage so they made a cowboy record in London. It wasn’t a big deal, considering many Spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood were filmed in Italy. Unfortunately the album was a bomb, no one expected the Eagles to have “a fuckin cowboy record”.
Don Henley talking about Tequila Sunrise, a song he co-wrote with Glenn Frey:
“I believe that was a Glenn title. I think he was ambivalent about it because he thought that it was a bit too obvious or too much of a cliché because of the drink that was so popular then. I said, ‘No-Look at it from a different point of view. You’ve been drinking straight tequila all night and the sun is coming up!’ It turned out to be a really great song”
Glenn came up with the Roy Orbison/ Mexican guitar feel on his acoustic guitar and sang the vocals.
“Outlaw Man” and “Tequila Sunrise” and were the only two singles on the Desperado album and both had Frey’s vocal on them. “Desperado” was the title track and never became a single. Instead it became an Eagles’ masterpiece that is performed at nearly every live concert. Henley describes the song as the birth to their songwriting partnership. Glenn wanted to write a song about outlaws after looking through Jackson Browne’s book The Album Of Gunfighters. The book had stories and pictures about Jesse James, The Dalton Gang, John Wesley Harding and Billy The Kid. Don Henley had a piano riff since the late 60’s he was holding onto and shared it with Glenn. It worked out beautifully.
This would be the last album Glyn Johns would be making with The Eagles. The band wanted a heavier rock and roll sound, and Johns reminded them that you’re not The Who, you’re The Eagles. Glenn and Glyn butted heads. You can’t tell Glenn Frey that he can’t play rock n’ roll. He played with fuckin’ Bob Seger.
After The Eagles refused to work with Johns, they wanted to rock. Frey and Henley were both fans of guitarist Joe Walsh’s music and admired this band The James Gang growing up. Walsh’s new album The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get played a vital role in changing their style. They wanted his sound and thought it would be even better to get him. They just had to wait and see. In 74’ The Eagles brought in Walsh’s producer Bill Szymczyk and Leadon’s old friend Don Felder as a new guitarist. Felder had jammed with the band a few times before and they were excited about what he was bringing to the team. The new personnel helped bring the hard rock sound to the new album On the Border. “Already Gone,” “The Best of My Love,” and “James Dean” were three singles released.
“It was the 70’s. Drugs were everywhere!”
“90 percent of the time being in the Eagles was a fuckin’ blast” says Glenn Frey.
The Eagles had something they called the 3rd encore’. They had 2 encores at the end of their concerts. The 3rd encore was the after party, where the band members would invite girls back to the hotel to have sex and party. Before the concerts the guys gave special buttons to girls they wanted to do it with and that was their so-called VIP pass. The band made a rule that no weirdoes were invited just to keep it safe. Lines were on the mirror and the bathtub was filled with Budweiser after every show. Glenn snorted an eighth of a gram of coke every time he did it. The partying eventually paid its toll. Glenn destroyed the lining of his nose. He’s had it surgically repaired twice. Of course, it did not stop him from doing it again.
In 1975, tension was brewing in the band especially between Bernie Leadon and Glenn Frey. Leadon didn’t like the transition from country music to arena rock. He was previously a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons which had deep country and bluegrass roots. With those issues and the escalated drug use in the band it became a complicated mess. At the Orange Bowl, Bernie had an argument with Glenn and poured a beer over his head before the show. They were bickering back and forth on stage and led to Bernie smashing his acoustic guitar in a million pieces. He never came back.
Joe Walsh replaced Bernie Leadon in 1975 and gave The Eagles a fresh new sound. Glenn said “The vocals won’t be as good but boy we’re gonna kick some ass”. Coming from The James Gang and a solo career this rock and roll nut was an amazing guitar player. He could also play keyboards and sing. His hard rock hits at the time were “Funk 49,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Walk Away.” Joe had decent vocals but not as strong as the other band members. His party animal persona was equal to his ability to play guitar. He was always getting into trouble with Keith Moon trashing hotel rooms and raising havoc with John Belushi. One night he trashed a hotel room and cost the band $28,000 in damages. Another time he threw a TV off a 14 floor balcony into a hotel pool.
The Eagles now have an even wilder side. Don Henley says, “ Joe is an interesting bunch of guys.”
The Eagles began working on Hotel California; their 1st album with new guitarist Joe Walsh. Glenn and Don wrote the majority of the album’s songs. Glenn wanted to write songs about the Los Angeles lifestyle for the album. Everyone in the band came from different parts of the US, but all made a pilgrimage to LA to further their careers in music. LA was their Mecca so it was important that they wrote about their experiences. The Beverly Hills Hotel was on the cover of the epic album.
Joe was warming up in the studio one day and Glenn heard a new riff and asked Joe to play it again. This riff would become the tune for “Life In The Fast Lane.” Frey didn’t have lyrics for it yet until he went for a wild ride down an LA freeway.
“I was riding shotgun in a Corvette with my drug dealer on a way to a poker game.
And the next thing I knew, we were going 90 miles an hour, holding big time.
I said “ Hey man, what are you doing?”
You know what he says to me?
“Life In the Fast Lane”
And I thought immediately.
Now there’s a song title,” explains Glenn Frye.
The song “Hotel California” was Glenn Frey’s idea. He wanted to create a new song that was like a Twilight Zone episode, a strange tale with weird characters based in LA. He basically created the cinematic scenario about the nameless protagonist looking for a hotel room after a long drive through the desert. Don Henley wrote the majority of the lyrics based on Glenn’s idea and Don Felder worked on the instrumentals. Henley said the song was about “a journey from innocence to experience, that’s all.” “They stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast” lyric was in tribute to Steely Dan. “New Kid In Town” was the only lead vocal that Glenn had on the Hotel California album. Glenn and other members of the band sang less and less throughout the history of the band. The reason was intentional because Don Henley was the strongest vocalist in the group. This became a problem with Don Felder because he wanted to sing more. He was upset because he didn’t have vocals on “Victim Of Love,” a song that he wrote. The band was reaching new heights but was on the verge of a breakup.
“I get nuts sometimes and I’m sorry,” Glenn once told Joe Walsh.
The Long Run was the hardest album that the band faced together. Those days were filled with cocaine and raging tempers and big egos. Cocaine was their friend until it became a chemical dependence for all the members. Glenn and Don were the 2 founders, songwriters, and leaders of the band. The other members thought they were being dictators controlling every aspect of the band.
“You can’t have 5 leaders in a band” says Frey. It was often that Joe Walsh and Don Felder vs. Glenn Frey and Don Henley fighting over band issues. Towards the end even Glenn and Don were having their differences. It took the band 3 years to produce The Long Run.
“This half of the hour is brought to you by Cocaine, the maker of hits!”
Glenn was having friction with Randy Meisner because Randy didn’t want to sing “Take Tt To The Limit” anymore. He was a great vocalist and but hated the high note at the end of it. Glenn communicated that the hits must be played at the concerts because the fans come to hear it. You don’t want to disappoint a fan that came for that one song. Randy quit the band in September of 1977 and was replaced by bass player Timothy B. Schmit from Poco. He actually replaced Randy in Poco when he joined the Eagles because they sounded so much alike. Schmit had the lead vocals on “I Cant Tell You Why.” With all the problems they faced The Eagles produced these legendary hits: “The Long Run,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Those Shoes,” “I Can’t Tell You Why,” and “In the City.”
The Eagles last live performance was on July 31, 1980 in Long Beach California. Frey and Felder were ready to brawl on stage during a charity concert after Felder showed no respect to it’s host California Senator Alan Cranston. Don Henley described the band’s breakup it as a ‘horrible relief’.
After the breakup, Glenn stayed busy in music and on television. He decided to go off on his own and do things unrelated to The Eagles. He had a successful solo career with five studio albums and one live album. His two biggest solo hits were “The Heat is On,” and “You Belong To The City” which were on the soundtracks of Beverly Hills Cop and Miami Vice. His albums No Fun Allowed and The Allnighter went gold in the early eighties. Glenn had some acting roles working with Don Johnson on Miami Vice as well. He also worked with Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire in 1996.
Glenn married his first wife Janie Beggs in 1983 and divorced in 1988. His second wife, choreographer Cindy Millican, married him in 1990 and they had 3 children together. He dated Playboy centerfold Lynn Shiller back in 75’. Glenn tried to balance his music career and his family life once he finally got his own.
In 1994, The Eagles got back together after 14 years of being apart. Glenn and Don started talking about starting a new project. The new live album was called Hell Freezes Over for obvious reasons and was an MTV special. The reunion united band members were Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmidt. Glenn and Don wanted to have Joe Walsh back in the band but he was suffering from his alcoholism at the time. They offered Joe a good deal, if you sober up you can play with us. With support from the band, Walsh went to rehab and has been sober since 1994. The new consensus was no drugs or alchohol while working on band activities. It worked out well for everyone and no one fought. They played some old songs and brought in some new ones. “Get Over It” was a new song that Henley and Frey wrote along with “Love Will Keep Us Alive” sung by Schmidt. The Hell Freezes Over Tour lasted from 1994-1996. After the reunion the band never broke up.
The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998. Glen Frey said, “ We got along just fine, we just disagreed a lot. Tell me one worthwhile relationship that has not had peaks and valleys…You can not play music with people very long if you don’t generally like them.”
The Long Road Out Of Eden was recorded between 2001-2007. The Eagles Recording Company II released the double album at Walmart for $12. The band was sick of the record companies taking advantage so they created their own. The album was a collection of songs written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley among other songwriters. They had a hit with “How Long,” a JD Souther tune and Frey/Henley’s “Busy Being Fabulous.” This would be their 1st and last studio recording together since 1980’s The Long Run. Their tour went from 2008-2011.
In 2013, The Eagles, produced the rockumentary called History Of The Eagles. All of the band members, friends, and people in the music industry share their stories of their time together. Old photos, home video, footage from the studio and concerts, interviews., music videos, drug references, and foul language are shared. Glenn has a lot to say about his experiences and shows a lot of his personality in front of the camera. It’s a great documentary and a must see for all Eagle fans. Along with the film, the Eagles had a tour from 2013-2015 in the US, Europe and Oceania.
I was lucky enough to see The History of The Eagles Tour on July 19, 2013 at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. It was an interesting night. The traffic was horrendous from the highway exit to the venue and we got there an hour late. The Comcast box office was sold out and we had to scalp tickets. After we got heavily searched by security because my friend and I (apparently) look like drug dealers, we get inside the gates, and then the magic happens. We get to see one of the best concerts of our lives. These guys worked hard to be there and showed superior showmanship. Everyone looked so happy and the vocals were dead on. The concert was fairly chronological, so we missed the 1st two albums during the 1st set. We walked in during On The Border album, then onto Hotel California. They played almost the whole album and moved on to The Long Run. The double encores were “Hotel California,” “Take it Easy,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Desperado.” I wasn’t invited to the 3rd Encore. To see these guys in action was one of the joys of my life. I just didn’t know it would be my only chance to see them.
Glenn Frey had some great achievements in his life. A singer songwriter, guitarist, wild child, actor, lover, fighter, and friend. He won 6 Grammy Awards when he was an Eagle, and 5 American Music Awards. He was the leader of one of the most influential rock bands of the 20th Century, and has sold over 150 million records worldwide. He has 24 Top 40 singles in his music career on the Billboard Hot 100. Hotel California sold a million records a month for 18 months. It was the best selling album of the 20th century. Not bad for a band ready to kill each other. Thanks for the timeless rock classics Glenn!
Glenn Frey had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis since 2000. His medications have given him complications with colitis and pneumonia. In November of 2015, he had major surgery on his intestines and was expecting a long recovery. He was placed in a induced coma shortly after the surgery at Columbia Medical Center. The Eagles canceled their appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors. His health issues have affected Eagles concerts in recent years.
Glenn Frey died on Monday January 18, 2016 in New York City. He was 67. He died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia while recovering from his last surgery. It’s sad to let an Eagle go, but its better to see him free than to suffer.
After his passing, he has been honored by myself and many others. Don Henley, Randy Meisner, J.D Souther, Irving Azoff, Bob Seger, Don Felder, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt have all said kind words about their friend and band mate. Bruce Springsteen covered “Take It Easy” on the second night of the 2016 River Tour. 100.7 WZLX Boston’s classic rock radio station played an A-Z Eagles music marathon on Thursday as a last goodbye.
“Glenn was the one who started it all,” Henley continued. “He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.” – Don Henley