The long run is not over for Eagles’ Frey

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Sam JonesJoe Walsh and Glenn Frey, both members of the Eagles, perform together tonight at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival.

ASPEN -It’s hard to imagine the Eagles having taken flight without Southern California. The band’s first hits – “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – come directly from an idealized version of blissful, sun-soaked early ’70s SoCal. The band’s sound wasn’t just their own, but part of the movement that made Los Angeles the epicenter of country-rock, thanks to Jackson Browne (who co-wrote “Take It Easy”), Linda Ronstadt (whose debut album featured the four musicians who would soon become the Eagles), Poco (which featured several future Eagles) and the Gram Parsons-era Byrds. (The Eagles paid tribute to Parsons in the 1974 song, “My Man.”) And when they turned fully from breezy sentiments to darker and deeper statements, the Eagles focused on their adopted home state with the 1976 album “Hotel California,” which ranked No. 37 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums of all time.”None of us was from California,” Glenn Frey, a founding member of the band, who performs with fellow Eagle Joe Walsh tonight at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival, said from his home in West Los Angeles. “I think arriving in California, it gave us a different perspective than people who were from there. It was an interesting time, and even now there’s a lot of speculating about what life is like in California.”While Southern California was the geographical touchstone, it is possible the Eagles might not have soared like they have without Aspen. When the original quartet of Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and Frey formed, their manager sent them out of L.A., and into Colorado. A small club at the base of Aspen Mountain had begun to make a name for itself as an out-of-the-way hotspot for rootsy rock; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, another L.A. country-rock act, had begun playing weeks-long engagements in Aspen. The Eagles, with exactly one date under their belts, at California’s Westlake School for Girls, thus landed at the Gallery for their first extended appearances in front of an audience.”I remember the first night, there were 40 people for the first set, then 80 people for the second set. By the fourth show of the night, it was packed. The word spread pretty quickly,” Frey said, adding that the Eagles played several weeks of gigs at the Gallery in October 1971, then returned a month later for another round of dates. “We played a lot of shows, a lot of sets.”Beyond the pay (the whole band split $500 for a week of gigs) and the memories (driving out in a Jeep and a van; hanging out with such local musicians as Bobby Mason), the Aspen runs were an ideal way to coalesce as a band.”It was a good way to get started, out from under the Hollywood microscope,” the 61-year-old Frey said. “We were able to play a bunch of songs over and over, get to know each other. It was a total experience, something I’ll always look at fondly.” A decade later, for his 1982 solo album “No Fun Aloud,” Frey would use those memories in the song, “Partytown.” “There’s a little bit of Aspen in ‘Partytown,'” he said.Oddly, the path to country-rock stardom started in Detroit. Frey’s hometown wasn’t home to many twangy sounds or steel guitars; it was filled with more muscular rock (including that of Bob Seger, whose 1968 debut album Frey contributed to). But Frey was an oddball, playing in the only band in suburban Detroit that focused on the harmonic sounds that were coming out of Southern California.”Everyone wanted to be Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels or the Stones. But I got in a band with some guys who played Beatles and Beach Boys songs, songs that required backing vocals and harmonies,” Frey said. By 1967, he was making regular visits to California, and in 1969 he formed Longbranch Pennywhistle, a duo with J.D. Souther, who would remain a songwriting partner of Frey’s.Half a year after the Aspen gigs, the Eagles took off. Their debut album, “Eagles,” released in June of 1972 (and recorded well outside of L.A., in London), yielded three top 40 singles, with Frey singing lead vocals on two of them, “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” The hits kept coming, and the Eagles became one of the biggest bands ever. (Their greatest hits collection, released in 1976, is among the 10 best-selling albums.) In 1975, Frey bought a house in Aspen, and he continues to spend time here, usually a week apiece in summer and winter.The Eagles broke up in 1980, amid in-fighting that was spectacular even by the standards of upper-tier rock bands. Reports have it that one show in 1980, in Long Beach, Calif., wound down with Frey and guitarist Don Felder exchanging promises of post-show beatings. But as the title of their 1979 album indicated, it was a long run, and in 1994, Frey’s show at Aspen’s Double Diamond, a benefit for a local nonprofit, turned into an Eagles reunion. It was a test run for a 1994 tour, which spawned the live album “Hell Freezes Over.” The band – led by original members Frey and Henley, and featuring guitarist-singer Joe Walsh and singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit, both of whom joined in the mid-’70s – has toured occasionally since then.Relations seem to be reasonably amicable of late. In 2007, the Eagles released “Long Road Out of Eden,” their first album of all new songs in nearly three decades. They have become increasingly active on the road: they spent this past summer touring, on a bill that included the Dixie Chicks, and Frey says the Eagles are slated to spend five months on the road next year.The duo of Frey and Walsh seems to be particularly cozy. When the Eagles have been sidelined, they have typically played 10 dates a year together, mostly private appearances. Even when the Eagles are busy, they manage three or four shows a year. Frey said that, for him, a particular attraction is the chance to play Walsh’s songs, which often are a world removed from Eagles material. Walsh’s tunes include “Ordinary Average Guy” and “Rocky Mountain Way.”Frey seems to agree with the sentiment of another Walsh hit, “Life’s Been Good,” that being a successful rock star shouldn’t leave room for complaints. “There are so many bands that started the same time the Eagles did. Some don’t play any more; some play state fairs; some play small clubs,” Frey said. “We’re able to play the same venues we played in the ’70s. I’m keenly aware, people still want to see us play and sing. I think I could give the Lou Gehrig speech, about being the happiest guy in the world.”Much of Frey’s professional life outside the Eagles has revolved around TV and film. He wrote hit songs for “Beverly Hills Cop” (“The Heat Is On”) and “Miami Vice” (“Smuggler’s Blues”), and appeared on TV in “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges.”Frey has also figured in two memorable movies. In “Jerry Maguire,” he played the penny-pinching boss who inspired the “Show me the money!” scene. And Frey was a key inspiration for the character Russell Hammond, the star guitarist in Cameron Crowe’s rock drama, “Almost Famous.” As legend has it, it was Frey who uttered the true-life line, to the young reporter Crowe, “Just make us look good.””I’m sure it was me,” Frey said of the line. “I was young.”