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Glenn Frey: Where Eagles Dare

He was the Troubadour club’s “poor guy with no money or prospects“, who went on to fine-tune country rock and rule the world with the Eagles.

I dug the Eagles from the day I first heard Take It Easy as a 12-year-old schoolboy, the song transporting me from South London to an imagined California in just a few mellow minutes. I’m aware I should loathe them for all the reasons the London/New York/Detroit rock-critic cabal reviled them back in the day: for their arrogance and self-satisfaction, their apolitical hedonism, the wanton detachment from reality they shared with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and other stadium behemoths.

“They’re about as exciting as watching paint dry,” sneered their Asylum label-mate Tom Waits, biting the hand that fed him after they put cash in his coffers by covering his song Ol’ 55. (Later, rather more grown-up and grateful, he apologised to Don Henley.)

I should also despise the Eagles for smoothing down the torn-and-frayed country soul of Gram Parsons, whom they never properly acknowledged as a primary influence, and for estranging founder member Bernie Leadon and then bolting on their very own Ronnie Wood – Midwestern jester Joe Walsh – in Leadon’s place. And yet I confess I love the Eagles’ clean country-rock pop and their heavenly group harmonies. I love the gliding sweetness of Peaceful Easy Feeling, the soaring choruses of Already Gone, the sultry funk of On The Border, the pining pathos of Hollywood Waltz, the Spanish-tinged country-pop perfection of New Kid In Town. Oh, and Hotel California wasn’t a bad song either.

I even admire the way the Eagles nixed their relationship with Brit producer-to-the-gods Glyn Johns, beefed up their sound with the help of producer Bill Szymczyk – who’d helmed hit albums by the James Gang and by that Midwestern band’s departed star Walsh – and became a bona fide rock band.

Glenn Lewis Frey, who died on January 18, had much to do with said beefing-up. “Already Gone, that’s me being happier,” he said of the Poco-on-steroids track that opens the Eagles’ 1974 album On The Border. “That’s me being free.” 

It was Frey who fronted and drove the band that rose from being skinny wastrels at West Hollywood’s fabled Troubadour club to being superstars who championed the fast-lane life and sold out America’s vast stadiums. “In the beginning, Glenn had very long hair and would always come sidling up and coming on to you,” remembered local scenester-photographer Nurit Wilde. “But he didn’t talk very much about what he was doing. He seemed to be kind of poor, a guy with no money and no prospects, and yet he was always at the Troub.” 

Born in Detroit on November 6, 1948, Frey took the urban grit of his hometown – where he played in local garage bands such as the Mushrooms and backed the scene’s greatest white hope Bob Seger on 1968’s Top 20 hit Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – and injected it into the balmy Canyon milieu of laid-back Los Angeles. “Glenn adds the grease,” Don Henley told Crawdaddy! in July 1974. “He’s all action and he moves more than any of us trying to get people off. [He’s] got a real positive ego and he’s not afraid to do things, even though sometimes he does them wrong. He pulls us all through because he’s the catalyst.” Manager Irving Azoff would later refer to Frey as the Eagles’ “quarterback”.

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