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"WHEN WE'RE ON, THERE'S NOBODY BETTER": FREY & HENLEY, '75

Glenn Frey’s passing has brought on a flood of memories of L.A. in the 1970s, when I worked on the A&M lot at 1416 No. La Brea, went to shows at the Troubadour, the newly opened Roxy and the Santa Monica Civic, and moonlighted as a freelance reviewer/interviewer.

Many of these memories are rooted in a pair of West Hollywood hot spots: the Troubadour bar, where the Eagles and their posse held court, and 9120 Sunset. The latter, a ramshackle series of connected buildings ornamented in fanciful mock-Tudor style, was occupied over the years by Geffen-Roberts Management (Irving Azoff’s home base before he broke away to manage the Eagles, Dan Fogelberg and Joe Walsh), Elliot RobertsLookout Management (where expat Tony Dimitriades picked up the nuances of the L.A. rock business before forming East End Management with clients Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and later by Geffen Records. In those cozy, funky-chic confines, I interviewed Neil Young and Petty, but the first interview I can recall doing in the vicinity of 9120 Sunset was with Frey and Don Henley, just after the completion of One of These Nights, the Eagles’ fourth album, in the spring of 1975.

As it turned out, the Eagles were right on the cusp of becoming the biggest band in America, propelled by One of These Nights and its three classic hits, the chart-topping title track, the Frey-sung “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit,” bass player Randy Meisner’s crowning achievement as a vocalist. The band would cement that lofty status with LP #5, Hotel California, released in late 1976 and featuring new guitarist Joe Walsh, replacing original member Bernie Leadon.  But Frey and Henley could already sense the breakthrough coming; Glenn in particular was feeling his oats that day.                      Elliiot Roberts, Graham Nash, David Geffen and Neil Young at 9120

I folded quotes from that conversation into my review of One of These Nights in Phonograph Record. Here’s how it went.


One of These Nights is brimming with self-assurance, and for good reason: this fivesome is unrivalled in its mastery of a demanding rock & roll genre that emphasizes multiple-part singing, picturesque but bracing playing, and the theocratic interaction of sentiment and worldly cynicism. The Eagles aren’t yet in a class with the original Byrds, who invented the genre, but they have its stylistic bases down to unprecedented perfection…

No one could accuse The Eagles of being programmed, however. Their individuality constantly asserts itself in the form of internal squabbles. Don addressed the subject by saying, “Perspective’s a real hard thing to keep in this business. Some days you just feel like, well, the hell with all those guys. I don’t feel like doing this, I don’t feel like doing that, an’ they’re screwing me over anyway.

“But that’s what makes our group good. We are different. If everybody thought the same and played the same and everything was homogenous, it would all be dull and boring. The fact that we are different is the thing that makes us better. It’s a theory we’ve developed, the theory of Creative Tension.”

This theory accounts for the friction that exists as an inherent part of The Eagles’ makeup, a prickliness that is never far from the surface.

“Hell yes, we fight,” Glenn admits readily. “We fight with our manager. We fight with each other. Don and Bernie nearly had a fistfight the other day. We fight about everything: playing too loud, facial expressions, drinkin’ too much, stayin’ up too late, talking in a restaurant, not saying anything when you should’ve spoke up. The issue is not the important thing; the important thing is that it gets vented.

“When you’re in a band, when you’re working with a producer, with managers, with a whole lot of other people, it’s all a romantic relationship,” Glenn continues. “When the band don’t get off, the band fights. When a guy and his old lady don’t make good love in the space of a certain time, there’s gonna be a fight. It’s gonna get released some way. It’s Creative Tension. We’ve known each other now for a long time, but...it’s still a very frightening experience when you bare your soul to somebody. There’s very few people on this planet you ever do that to, and we’re doing that to each other constantly. Being in the Eagles is being married to four men. The music is our love life.”

There is an album lying on a table next to Don’s chair. He picks it up and looks at it. It’s the debut and farewell album by Shiloh, Don’s high-school group from Linden, Texas.

“You know,” Don says, gazing into the cover photograph, taken on the porch of his own grandmother’s cabin, “I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way. All these guys that I was in the band with, we grew up together. Grade school, junior high, high school. Now I don’t ever see them; they hardly talk to me. Because I made it and they didn’t. You have no idea the trauma and the guilt I went through. When I left this band, after eight years, it was like getting a divorce. But I learned a long time ago, some people can come with you and some people you gotta leave behind.

“The Eagles never expected to make more than two albums together, because we found out we didn’t get along. But things kept getting better in spite of ourselves. No matter what we did to mess it up, no matter how much we fought or hated each other—which we really don’t, by the way—but...

“On The Border’s been on the charts for a year, it’s platinum; the new album’s gonna ship gold. It’s like a miracle to me.

“Now we’ve all grown up, and decided we are good. People have accepted us, and this is our year. I mean, last night was our last night to do two shows in a small hall. It’s gonna be big halls from now on. We just stuck it out. There’s a hump you gotta get over. That’s what separates the men from the boys.”

Glenn brings us back to the present. “We’re gonna break wide open this year. We’re gonna go from 90 to 99, an’ that’s the toughest 10 yards. But I just know it. Inside the five with Csonka.” [He’s making a football analogy, referencing bullish Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka.]

“I mean, we got the songs, we got the best country guitarist in Bernie Leadon, the best rock & roll player in the world in [Don] Felder, the best high-singing bass player, and the best singing drummer—and I know I’m the grease and we are going. When we’re on, there’s nobody better. And that’s all I know.”

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