Glenn Frey was an all-American rock star determined to make it and certain he knew how.
“He was the first guy to say, ‘If you don’t get the business right and the music right, you’re screwed,'” said Eagles manager Irving Azoff, clearly shaken by the death of his longtime friend on Monday. “Early on he was running around with a T-shirt that said ‘Song Power’ and was saying the Eagles were a team and not everybody can be the running back or the quarterback. He was the quarterback.”
Frey, who died at age 67 after battling a variety of health problems, helped form one of history’s biggest bands and most successful songwriting teams. With Don Henley he co-wrote such popular standards as Desperado, The Best of My Love and Hotel California, giving them song power to the highest degree and making a supposed ’70s band an all-time act.
“I’m not sure I believe in fate,” Henley said, “but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet.”
When Cameron Crowe interviewed the Eagles for Rolling Stone in the ’70s, Frey had one request: “Just make us look cool,” a line that would end up in Crowe’s autobiographical movie Almost Famous.
Guitarist Frey and drummer Henley formed the Eagles in Los Angeles in the early ’70s, along with guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner. They embodied for many listeners the melodic Los Angeles sound despite having no native Californians in the group. Their blend of mellow ballads and macho rockers, and of pop and folk and country, gave them worldwide appeal.
Eagles, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and Hotel California, both released in the 1970s, have sold more than 20 million copies each. The band’s total album sales top 100 million copies, and in 1999 the Recording Industry Association of America certified the greatest-hits record as the 20th century’s best-seller in the United States.
The impulsive Frey and the more cerebral Henley shared songwriting and singing duties, with Frey’s drawling tenor featured on Heartache Tonight, Already Gone and the group’s breakthrough hit, Take it Easy. One Frey rocker, James Dean, was a tribute to the fallen movie idol that seemed especially close to the Detroit native’s rowdy and rebellious heart.
The Eagles’ popularity outlasted their 1980 breakup and the 14-year hiatus that followed. Their records remained consistent sellers, and they were a top touring act over the last 20 years even though Frey and Henley were the only remaining original members. They were joined on stage by guitarist Joe Walsh, who replaced Leadon in the mid-1970s, and bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who stepped in after Meisner quit in 1977. Guitarist Don Felder was added in 1974 but was fired in 2001 amid disputes over money.
The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Its six Grammys include Record of the Year for Hotel California and best country performance by a vocal duo or group for How Long, from the 2007 album Long Road Out Of Eden, another No. 1 seller.
“I don’t think it was a bad thing for the band to break up for 14 years,” Frey said in 2012. “It might have been a good thing. It gave people a chance to miss us.”
Frey had occasional success as a solo artist, with songs including The One You Love and You Belong to the City, and careers in movies and television. He appeared on episodes of Miami Vice and Nash Bridges, both featuring his friend Don Johnson, and appeared as a football owner in Crowe’s film Jerry McGuire. Frey’s The Heat Is On was a hit from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, and his Smuggler’s Blues inspired a Miami Vice episode of the same name.
Frey, known for his muscular jaw, big grin and wavy dark hair, loved music, girls and the rock ‘n’ roll life. He was playing in bands as a teenager, with fellow Detroit musician Bob Seger among his early friends, and would meet up with Henley, Meisner and Leadon while all were trying to catch on in the Los Angeles music scene. For a time the four backed Linda Ronstadt, and other musicians they came to know were Jackson Browne, who wrote most of Take it Easy, and J.D. Souther, who collaborated on New Kid in Town and other songs.
The bandmates harmonized memorably on stage and on record but fought often otherwise. Frey and Henley became estranged for years, their breach a key reason the band stayed apart in the 1980s. Henley had vowed the Eagles would reunite only when “hell freezes over,” which became the name of the 1994 album they had never imagined making.
“The bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved,” Henley said Monday. “Glenn was the one who started it all. 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.
“Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some.”
AP with contributions from RockShot Magazine.