The Eagles’ Greatest Hit is a long, and very funny, article Bill Simmons, talking about the excellent documentary about the Eagles that aired on Showtime a few months ago.
I had the doc on my DVR for months before I finally watched it. It really is great, and there really is a lot to learn from the Eagles saga – both the ascent and the disintegration. A few choice excerpts to whet your appetite:
When an artist’s career takes off, they invariably battle three separate questions …
“Do I really deserve this?”
“Why isn’t this more fun?”
Of the kajillion times someone has ever been interviewed for a documentary over the past 50 years, has any story ever been a bigger in-the-moment lock to make the final cut than Frey’s “How I came up with ‘Life in the Fast Lane'” story? It’s incredible. I was riding shotgun in a Corvette with a drug dealer on the way to a poker game … WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?
[Joe] Walsh brought an unpredictable edge that the Eagles desperately needed, a willing guitar foil for “Fingers” Felder (their “duels” were a highlight of every Eagles concert) and an addictive personality that made other Eagles say, “I know I’m drinking too much and doing too many bumps of coke, but at least I’m not as bad as Joe.”
And that led me to go into my files for the transcript of my June 14, 1981 interview with Joe Walsh, which led to a cover story in BAM (which recently reincarnated as an online publication).
Here are a few choice bits from that conversation:
How’d you happen to join up with the Eagles?
Well, the guys in the Eagles were getting stereotyped as ‘Jeans and T-shirts, Sons of the Desert,’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Tequila Sunrise,” tunes like that. Bernie [Leadon] was great, but he’s kind of a purist of flat-pickin’, acoustic guitar-mandolin, that kind of stuff. He was kind of fighting the direction the Eagles were going in. Those guys really wanted to rock out a little more, be able to play a little harder music. They wanted to play rock and roll because the ballads are real nice, but you kind of get killed in a live situation, sticking to acoustic guitars and mandolins and stuff. They were frustrated, kind of, playing live, and Bernie just was adamant about the way he wanted the Eagles to go, and unhappy with playing loud electric. They just got into a situation where Bernie didn’t want to do that; he just decided he’d rather not be a part of it.
They were looking for somebody who would give them the ability to rock out a little bit more on stage. I had put out a couple of solo albums and had been touring, and I was just kind of burnt on a solo career. It’s hard–it can wear you down. There’s a lot of non-musical things being the leader–hiring and firing, decisions, the crew, stuff in the office and keeping on top of it. It’s also kind of lonely, because you’re not one of the guys, you’re the boss.
Even when it’s personal friends like Joe Vitale?
Yeah. I’d done it for three or four years, touring heavily, and I felt kinda stagnant artistically because I was singing all the songs and I was writing everything and I was showing these guys the parts. I wanted to get into a group situation. I wanted to get in a situation where I was one of the guys, where I was in a band and I could sing harmony and maybe take some orders and have less to do with the non-musical things. So it just worked out perfect–I replaced Bernie. I remember everybody saying, “Oh God, that’s stupid. Walsh is gonna join the Eagles.” Why would I want to do that, and that’d never work because I didn’t fit in.
But we knew each other, we’d played some concerts together. We knew it’d work, so we just ran away and hid in a basement and out of that came “Hotel California,” which turned out to be a really special record for us and for everybody, yeah, world-wide. So we went out, and then we could do songs like “Life’s Been Good” and “Walk Away” and “In the City,” “Rocky Mountain Way.” It really helped the Eagles’ live show. And I was in a band!
I got great vocal coaching from Henley and Frey over a period of years, and I watched how they structured songwriting. They’re really gifted guys. I just kinda sat back. I just love playing guitar when Don Henley’s singing. It’s a privilege–the guy’s got an amazing voice. And I didn’t have to sing every song. I just enjoyed it–it’s artistically very rewarding. I didn’t do it for the money at all–that’s nice, but…
Felder and I got into double leads, stuff that I’d never been able to do because rhythm guitar players that I’d played with would move over. It was just without saying that in my band I was going to play lead.
Felder was strong enough to be co-equal with you?
Right. Felder wasn’t afraid of me at all. He can get right up there–he wasn’t intimidated, or nothing.
I’m kind of a specialist in that band. It’s their band– I joined their band, so there’s no ego thing about being the leader or me wanting to be the leader. I just enjoy being in it, but I kind of feel like a specialist. In the studio, I’ll play keyboards, like on “New Kid in Town.” I played all the keyboards on that–I didn’t play any guitar at all. On Timmy’s song, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” I played all the keyboards on that.
[Joe] Vitale’s kind of the pivot guy–he can come around and play double keyboard, flute–he and I have been together for like 15 years. We were in rival bands in college. He was in the greaser band, doing like Four Tops songs, and I was in the hippie bands doing the Byrds and Beatles songs. We didn’t like each other. I didn’t like any drummers particularly, and he didn’t like guitar players. We decided to get together because he hated me less than any other guitar players, and I hated him less than any other drummers. We just kinda called a truce and got together, and we’ve been friends for a long, long time.
One of the reasons my songs have satire content, are kinda jokey, is that I am really freaked. I can’t believe that we’re fuckin’ up this planet like we are. Like Love Canal–the toxic stuff that’s left over from technology. We’re gonna screw up the life-support system. We’re not doing anything about it, and I can’t understand why mankind would let that happen. It’s almost to the point that technology is one of our worst enemies. Hell, I don’t know what to do about it.
I suppose I should get real active, but if I did that I’d probably be in a lot of trouble.
I’m not a fatalist, you know, and I’m not saying the world’s gonna come to an end. It’s really too late to do all that stuff. You can’t go up against Westinghouse.
Make good music, that’s my job.