Mojo Nixon, in his scathingly sarcastic 1989 psychobilly tune “Don Henley Must Die” followed the title lyric with the line “Don’t let him get back together with Glenn Frey”. As the axiom states, be careful what you wish for, because you may well get it. The Grim Reaper in a 3 week period has eradicated the ranks of legendary rockers by taking Lemmy, David Bowie, Dale “Buffin” Griffin of Mott the Hoople and now Glenn Frey of the Eagles, guaranteeing he will never get back together with Don Henley and their band.
Glenn Lewis Frey was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 6th, 1948. Professionally, he landed on the musical map in 1970, playing rhythm guitar with fellow Michigander Bob Seger in the Bob Seger System before splitting for Los Angeles and subsequently co-authoring a vital chapter in the History of Rock N’ Roll.
Although chronologically following Buffalo Springfield, the Stone Poneys and Poco, no other band was ever more intrinsically identified with the laid-back, Southern California country/rock hybrid genre than the Eagles. This in itself seems oddly ironic when it’s understood that none of the Eagles founding members were actually from California.
Holding court regularly at LA’s legendary Troubadour club along with the likes of Carole King. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Steve Martin, and Randy Newman, the Eagles were formed in 1971 by producer J.D. Souther as a backing band for Linda Ronstadt, with Frey, drummer Henley, guitarist Bernie Leadon , and bass player Randy Meisner. Making their debut at Disneyland, they rapidly concluded as a quartet they were destined for bigger things.
Their self-titled debut album bowed in 1972, featuring their signature song “Take It Easy”, a Frey/Browne collaboration that would initiate a string of multi-platinum albums and chart-topping singles that would only be a segment in a career spanning more than 40 years.”Desperado” followed in 1973, followed by 1974’s “On the Border” and the addition of guitarist Don Felder. “One of These Nights” in 1975 signaled the departure of Leadon, who was replaced by Joe Walsh.
Harshly criticized by the press but seemingly unstoppable with the presentation of their “Greatest Hits” LP, 1976 saw the release of the ubiquitous “Hotel California”, the title track a musical metaphor for life in Hell. At this point, Frey and his band mates were writing and playing from experience. The burdens of wealth and fame and the tedium of constant touring were relieved through hedonistic drug and alcohol abuse and sexual indulgence with young female groupies.
By the conclusion of the 70s, the final personal change occurred when Timothy B. Schmit replaced Meisner and after nearly 3 years of touring, writing and recording, they released “The Long Run”, whose title contradicted the remaining lifespan of the band. Splitting in 1980, Frey emerged with a solo career second only to Henley’s and a surprising second vocation as an actor.
Frey provided “You’re A Part Of Me” to the soundtrack of Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise”, “You Belong To The City” to NBC’s “Miami Vice” as well as the Jack Tempchin collaboration “Smuggler’s Blues”, which (held back from his Eagles heyday) would provide the template for an episode of the crime drama, casting Frey in a role that would escalate his acting endeavors, for both better and worse. Noteworthy turns were made on TV with roles in “Wiseguy” and in movies with “Jerry Maguire”. To balance a zenith with a nadir, Frey has the distinction of acting in the film “Let’s Get Harry” (credited to director Alan Smithee, the Director’s Guild pseudonym for when a director wants their name removed from an embarrassing picture) and “South of Sunset”, which lands on the list of TV series cancelled after a single broadcast.
The Eagles inevitable reunions prompted the ejection of old skeletons from forgotten closets. Starting in 1994 and ending only sometime in 2014, Frey and company set out on another odyssey which included tours that appeared as mercenary cash grabs, not one but two tell-all books and a defaming documentary, made with the permission and cooperation of Frey and Henley. Marc Eliot’s 1998 tome “To the Limit” asserts that Frey’s cocaine indulgence required surgical reconstruction of his nasal septum. Fired from the Eagles in 2001, Don Felder’s 2009 autobiography “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)” states that Frey and Henley were paid double the amount he and fellow Eagles Walsh and Schmit received for the 1994 “Hell Freezes Over” tour. Alison Ellwood’s 2013 documentary “History of the Eagles” contains an onscreen tantrum with Frey calling Felder a “fucking asshole” for not agreeing to the 1994 pay cut.
It was never a complete secret to their audience that the Eagles did not always get along and that Frey and Henley succumbed to textbook megalomania. Unprecedented success cannot come without a downside. A conspicuous upside was that relationships with the Eagles fast-tracked the careers of both David Geffen and Irving Azoff from band managers to record label presidents to entertainment industry titans. Frey’s story is not for the faint of heart nor the judgmental.
After having long since cleaned up his substance abuse habits, suffering diverticulitis, and battling rheumatoid arthritis and acute ulcerative colitis, Glenn Frey lost his life to pneumonia on January 18th, 2016 at the age of 67. However flawed and imperfect he was, and regardless of his unparalleled success, he was a brilliant musician, gifted songwriter and storyteller, and a talented live performer who provided the soundtrack to the 70s. The Detroit Eagle after a very long run can finally take it easy.