The Sad Passing of Glenn Frey: The Beatles Inspired Him to Be a Rock Musician

Yesterday the world received the sad news that Glenn Frey, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist of The Eagles and a co-founder of the band, passed away at age 67 at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Many times over the course of his high-profile career Glenn Frey credited The Beatles with inspiring him to pursue a career as a rock musician.

A teenage Frey was in the audience at Detroit’s Olympia Hall where, on September 6, 1964, he saw two performances by The Beatles, both lasting about 30 minutes each. The 1995 book The Story of The Eagles: The Long Run by Marc Shapiro quotes Frey as saying, “My aunt got tickets to see The Beatles and it was just an amazing experience,’ he recalled not too long ago. ‘You barely heard the beginnings of each song and then it was just these waves of people screaming. The girl in the chair in front of me fell into my arms. She was screaming ‘Paul!, Paul!. I thought ‘Wow! Man! This is really cool!”

Shapiro’s book continues with a passage on how the concert forced the 14 year-old Detroit kid who had been taking piano lessons since age five to switch to guitar:

“In later life he would remember the impact those shows had on his career choice. ‘I had this dream of holding the spotlight as a rock star. That’s when I decided to take up the guitar.’”

Immediately after the experience of two Beatles concerts in one day, he sought out guitar lessons and practiced incessantly.

Needless to say, Frey must have been eternally grateful to his aunt for scoring those tickets to the two Beatles concerts in the same day.

In the 1998 book To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, author Marc Eliot describes how the appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show impacted future members of the band.

Eliot also wrote a tribute to Glenn Frey on the occasion of his passing entitled “Why Glenn Frey’s Death Shakes Us” that appeared on the CNN website a day after his death. In the article, Eliot mentions three times the influence of The Beatles. The first paragraph reads, “…… for many of us it also signals something more personal: the passing of a time when the Eagles’ Hotel California was the anthem for the youth of America in the ‘70s – the way Beatles music was for the children of the ‘60’s.”

Eliot’s article continues with an observation about the first year of The Eagles playing together, “A few years later in Los Angeles, where the Eagles first played together, they were mostly a derivative band, using material from Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Jack Tempchin, and Tom Waits to help them find their way. (Like the Beatles, Henley and Frey relied on the music of others to learn how to make their own.)”

Another passage in Eliot’s article on Frey’s death states, “But it was Hotel California, released in 1976, that made them a worldwide sensation. The album’s opening track of the same name, co-written by Frey, was the clarion call for the Eagles the way Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had been for the Beatles: it described both the band’s self-destruction by excesses, its awareness of that self-destruction and its inability to stop it (‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….’)”.

Randy Meisner, bassist and founding member of The Eagles, told this blogmaster a few years ago that The Eagles met Paul McCartney in 1974 in London at a party at Ron Wood’s house while the band was recording their third album, On the Border, in England. Meisner related that the band was in awe of meeting McCartney and found him to be pleasant and totally unassuming. The band was uplifted when McCartney was familiar with their first two albums and gave them praise. At the time, Ronnie Wood was a member of Faces and the following year would become a member of The Rolling Stones following the break-up of Faces.

As is well known, The Eagles broke up in the autumn of 1980. They did not reunite until 1994 with a major world concert tour and live album, Hell Freezes Over, which included four new songs. However, a Beatle may have played a role in reuniting The Eagles. In the summer of 1992, Ringo Starr went on the road with a new configuration of his All-Star Band, which included ex-Eagles Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. Schmit had joined The Eagles for The Long Run, the band’s sixth studio album, after original bassist Randy Meisner had left the band in 1977 after the world tour for the multi-platinum Hotel California album. Guitarist Joe Walsh had joined The Eagles in 1976 immediately before the recording of Hotel California after original lead guitarist Bernie Leadon left the band before the international leg of their tour for the One of These Nights album.

Having two ex-Eagles onstage together for a concert tour certainly was a positive step in getting The Eagles back together less than two years later.

The inclusion of Timothy B. Schmit into the 1992 tour of Ringo’s All-Starr Band reflects a most unusual irony. Eagles’ co-founder Randy Meisner was the bass player for Poco; when he left Poco in 1970, he was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit. When Mesiner left The Eagles in 1977, coincidentally his replacement was none other than Timothy B. Schmit. What the music world does not know is that Randy Meisner was actually a member of Buffalo Springfield, too. He was hired as the bass player, but a month or so later the band broke up. The original Eagles bassist practiced with Buffalo Springfield during that time, but the band broke up in 1968 before Randy Meisner could appear on an album or in concert. Believe it or not, a very young Timothy B. Schmit also auditioned for the position with Buffalo Springfield that ultimately went to Meisner right before the famed group disbanded.

Randy Meisner was not in any way connected to the 1992 Ringo Starr tour, but a most ironic situation should be mentioned. Former Chicago lead singer/bassist Peter Cetera signed on to the 1992 Ringo tour but had to cancel out right before the tour started. Joe Walsh, who had previously toured with Ringo in 1989, recommended his former bandmate Schmit to take the spot left vacant by Peter Cetera. Though a phenomenally successful band of the 1970’s and 1980’s, it took Chicago seven years of Billboard chart entries before they scored their first number one hit in 1976, “If You Leave Me Now”, which featured Peter Cetera on lead vocals. Ironically, after leaving Chicago in 1986, that year saw Cetera immediately top the charts with his first two solo singles, the ballads “Glory of Love” and “The Next Time I Fall”.

Peter Cetera’s brother, Tim Cetera, was also an accomplished bass player. In 1971, Randy Mesiner was the bass player for Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band and left to pursue other interests. Meisner ended up as part of the four man touring band backing Linda Ronstadt’s 1971 tour, along with drummer Don Henley, guitarist Glenn Frey, and lead guitarist Bernie Leadon; early into this tour, the four made the decision that they would stay together after the tour and form their own band, which they eventually called The Eagles.

When Randy Meisner left Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band on great terms with his friend Nelson, he was replaced by Tim Cetera. Tim Cetera, who also would do extensive studio work as well as touring with his brother’s band Chicago, was Nelson’s bass player at the famous Madison Square Garden oldies concert that would inspire Rick Nelson’s 1972 hit “Garden Party”, which reached # 6 on the charts and represented Nelson’s only entry into the Top 40 that the former teen idol penned himself. Nelson’s 1972 hit has a place in Beatles lore in that while during Beatlemania there were many songs about The Fab Four, “Garden Party” is the only hit song that mentions an ex-Beatle with the lyrics “Yoko brought her walrus/There was magic in the air”, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in attendance at the now infamous concert. The fact that the Cetera brothers played into the Randy Mesiner/Timothy B. Schmit equation is interesting to say the least.

Rick Nelson would become a part of Eagles history when he allowed the newly formed and struggling band to practice in the garage of his Malibu home in 1971. Randy Meisner absolutely was in awe of Rick Nelson’s house. When the Eagles scored their first successes, coincidentally Nelson’s house was up for sale and the Eagles’ bass player wasted no time in purchasing it.

Of course, Randy Meisner’s signature song with the Eagles is “Take It to The Limit”, which he wrote and on which he performed lead vocals. This Eagles classic off of One of These Nights reached the number four position on The Billboard Hot 100 in early 1976. Randy had written the song and held onto it for a year. Glenn Frey and Don Henley added the finishing touches and the trio ended up sharing the writing credits. Unfortunately, several great songs that Randy composed himself for The Eagles and on which he sang lead vocals do not receive the airplay they deserve on FM Classic Rock stations, such as “Certain Kind of Fool”, “Is It True” and “Try and Love Again”.

As is well-known, after two tours of duty with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Eagles’ lead guitarist Joe Walsh became part of the Beatles family when he married Ringo’s sister-in-law Marjorie Bach in 2008. Marjorie Bach is the younger sister of Ringo’s wife, American actress Barbara Bach, the “Bond girl”who is famous for her role as Soviet spy Anya Amasova in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. When you happen to see Walsh performing with Paul McCartney at awards shows, you need not think twice about his connection to the ex-Beatle.

Glenn Frey was the leader of The Eagles, and was the catalyst for the music that was and is a soundtrack to a generation. He had the most success on the Billboard charts than any of the other solo Eagles. It is amazing that despite The Eagles scoring five number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1975 and 1979, no member of the band ever scored a number one hit as a solo artist. However, Glenn Frey hit the # 2 position twice in 1985. The five number one hits by The Eagles are “Best of My Love” (1975), “One of These Nights” (1975)”, “New Kid in Town” (1977), “Hotel California” (1977) and “Heartache Tonight” (1979). Frey co-wrote every one of these five number one hits.

In 1985, Frey hit number two on the charts with “The Heat Is On”, the theme song to the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop. Later in the year, Frey co-wrote “You Belong To the City” for the Miami Vice soundtrack, which as the top-selling album of 1985 topped the Billboard album charts. “You Belong to the City” stayed in the number two position for two weeks and looked like it was going to make the jump to the top slot, but was beat out by Starship’s “We Built This City”, which topped the charts for two weeks beginning on November 16, 1985. “We Built This City”, co-written by longtime Elton John writing partner and famed lyricist Bernie Taupin, was named by Rolling Stone magazine in 2011 as “the absolute worst song of the 1980’s”.

With the exception of “The Heat Is On”, every Glenn Frey solo hit was co-written with singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin. This list includes many Top 40 entries, including the hits “The One You Love”, “Sexy Girl”, “Smuggler’s Blues”, and “True Love”. Jack Tempchin wrote the worldwide staple Eagles hit song “Peaceful Easy Feeling” on the 1972 debut album The Eagles as well as co-wrote the FM classic “Already Gone” from On the Border. In addition, Jack Tempchin co-wrote with Frey the Easy Listening hit “The Girl From Yesterday”, one of four original songs from the 1994 Hell Freezes Over live album. In addition, he helped The Eagles with their 2007 two disc CD Long Road Out of Eden, their first studio album in 28 years since 1979’s The Long Run, by co-writing “It’s Your World Now” with Glenn and co-writing “Somebody” with John Brannen. Apart from his 44 year association with The Eagles and Glenn Frey, Jack Tempchin has written many other songs for other artists, most notably the beautiful “Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)”, which Johnny Rivers took to # 10 on The Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1977.

Strangely enough, the closest a solo Eagle ever came to a number one hit was when Joe Walsh played lead guitar on Andy Gibb’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water”, which ruled the top position on the charts for two weeks in March 1978.

For the Eagles’ last number one hit, “Heartache Tonight” in November 1979, Detroit native Frey conspired with two other Detroit natives, J.D. Souther and Bob Seger, to pen the song. This unique Detroit trio wrote the number one hit with Texan Don Henley.

While countless Eagles songs featuring Frey are in regular rotation on radio stations of various formats, two brilliant Eagles songs surprisingly are not in regular rotation on Classic Rock stations. “Outlaw Man”, a song written by David Blue that appears on the band’s second album Desperado, and “Ol’ 55”, a Tom Waits composition from the third album On The Border, amazingly do not get the same airplay as other Eagles classics featuring Glenn Frey. These overlooked gems as are good as the well-known standards.

The worldwide music industry has lost a giant with the sad passing of Glenn Frey. To say that The Eagles provided the soundtrack to a generation is an understatement. The tributes to the departed Eagle given on websites and social media by his fellow Eagles and friends in the entertainment world reflect a person from humble Detroit origins who at age 19 not only moved to L.A., but moved L.A. and the music industry in a compelling direction. Numerous well-known music people are indebted to Frey, but what is more compelling is that countless music fans feel a sense of great loss with the departure of someone who was a major part of their lives.

Despite being from Detroit where the Detroit Red Wings were a force in the NHL during Glenn’s youth, he regularly wore hockey jerseys of the Chicago Blackhawks, both home and away versions, in concerts in the 1970’s. There is little doubt that Glenn has already donned a Chicago Blackhawks jersey to entertain people in his new world. It is with profound sadness that he has passed on to another world, but we feel fortunate to have been the recipients of his immense talents. The world will be a bit of an empty place without him, but it will not affect his songs constantly being played on the radio, which will underscore that Glenn Frey will never leave us.

Thank God his aunt took him to the two Beatles concerts on that same day in September 1964, the day in which he made the irrevocable decision to pursue a career as a rock performer.

“Watching The Wheels” invoked by boxing great Gerry Cooney

“Watching The Wheels” was John Lennon’s answer to the critics of his taking more than five years off from being a rock star. The song has also been invoked by some famous people who have been asked about a transitional or rest period in their careers. Former heavyweight champion boxing contender Gerry Cooney is the most famous example of a celebrity who has publicly identified with the song.

In the spring of 1981, most people were sure that the song “Watching The Wheels” would be John Lennon’s last entry into the Top 40 section of The Billboard Hot 100. It was the la st single released from the Double Fantasy album. However, three years later the song “Nobody Told Me” spent eleven weeks in the Top 40 in early 1984. “Nobody Told Me” appeared on the 1984 album Milk and Honey, which was made up of songs not used for Double Fantasy and songs immediately recorded after the songs for the 1980 album were recorded. The posthumous hit “Nobody Told Me” trumped 1981’s “Watching The Wheels” for the distinction of being the last John Lennon song on the U.S. charts.

“Watching The Wheels” was released on April 11, 1981, reaching number ten in the U.S. and staying in the Top 40 for ten weeks. It only reached number 30 on the UK charts. It was the third and final single released off of the 1980 album Double Fantasty; the first single from the album was “(Just Like) Starting Over” and the second was “Woman”. The album was released on November 1, 1980, exactly five weeks before Lennon’s murder on December 8. On December 27, “(Just Like) Starting Over” topped the charts and stayed in the number one position for five consecutive weeks. It was only the second number one hit for the ex-Beatle. Believe it or not, John Lennon only had one number one hit in his lifetime with “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”, which hit number one for one week on November 16, 1974. The famous Lennon song “Imagine” only hit number three on The Billboard Hot 100 despite being by far the biggest selling single of Lennon’s solo career.

“Watching The Wheels” addressed the criticism from critics and questions from friends and people in the music industry about Lennon taking a break of over five years from the music business to help raise his son Sean. Before 1980’s Double Fantasy, Lennon’s last album was the Walls and Bridges LP released in 1974. Lennon’s self-proclaimed “househusband” years were from 1975-1980 during which for all intents and purposes he retired from the music industry. The song successfully conveyed that Lennon did not care what other people thought and he was totally happy outside of the music world in the domestic life.

The song “Watching The Wheels” has been invoked by countless people in the last 35 years as a means to explain their periods of personal or professional rest. John Lennon wrote the song to diss critics and people who had questioned the fact that a period of six years had elapsed between the releases of his albums. The opening lines of “People think I’m crazy/Doing what I’m doing/Well they give me all kinds of warning to save me from ruin/When I say that I’m okay, they look at me kinda strange/Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game” speak for themselves.

One celebrity who routinely invoked the song “Watching The Wheels” in interviews with major newspapers and magazines was boxer Gerry Cooney. In 1981, Cooney defeated former world heavyweight champion Ken Norton by knockout 54 seconds into the first round. In 1982, Cooney fought heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and lost in 13 rounds. Prior to the fight for the title against Holmes, Gerry Cooney was seen by many as an underdog in the mold of “Rocky Balboa” from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies. Unfortunately, too many people recklessly added a racial component to the Holmes vs. Cooney fight, and Cooney was not at all pleased to be unfairly labeled “The Great White Hope”.

Four months after the title fight against Holmes, a November 1, 1982 article in the New York Times entitled “The Sting Eased, The Ring Pulls Cooney Back” invoked how the boxer was identifying with the song from the previous year by the late John Lennon. Published a week after Cooney resumed training after a four month layoff, the article quotes Conney’s manager Dennis Rappaport as saying, “There were periods of time when I didn’t know what he would eventually do. I told him he had to do what he felt was best for him. He told me about the John Lennon song ‘Watching The Wheels Go Round’. He said that was what he was doing, watching the wheels.”

The September 24, 1982 New York Times article “Cooney Is Planning to Train Again” has Cooney himself invoking his favorite John Lennon song.

Five months later, “Starting Up the Long Road Back” by William Nack, an article in the March 28, 1983 issue of Sports Illustrated, also detailed how Gerry Cooney was identifying with the song. After naming some movies that the boxer was watching over and over while identifying with characters, it stated:

“And he was John Lennon singing. Ever since WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in the 13th round of their title fight in Las Vegas last June 11, Cooney had listened endlessly to Watching the Wheels, Lennon’s song about his dropout from the entertainment world. It sustained Cooney through his dropout from boxing. “Listen to this,” he said one day, springing to his feet. “This was just like me the last nine months right down to the end.” He sang along:

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round I really love to watch them roll No longer riding on the merry-go-round I just had to let it go”

Another New York Times article, “Sports of the Times; Wheels Go Round”, was published on August 14, 1985. The article clearly states where Cooney was at that stage in his life and career, and how “Watching The Wheels” continued to be a part of the equation. The aforementioned articles are only a sampling of the articles on Gerry Cooney from that time period in which the 1981 Top Ten Lennon hit was invoked.

While “Watching The Wheels” is obviously not as famous or as big a hit other John Lennon songs, it has resonated with so many people over the years. When the song was in the top ten of the Top 40 in the spring of 1981, John Lennon unfortunately was not around to explain the song in interviews. A year and a half later, though, heavyweight boxing contender Gerry Cooney did a great job of explaining to people through media interviews what the song was all about. Cooney did an excellent job expounding on John Lennon’s sentiments that sometimes people have to step back and do what they want for a bit ……. and not pay any attention to the comments or criticisms of other people.