Ambitious Midwestern kid learns to play guitar, moves to California and strikes gold with a rock & roll band: In many ways, that was the basic tale of Glenn Frey, who died at 67 on January 18th of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. The band, of course, was the Eagles, which Frey co-founded with his longtime, on-and-off partner Don Henley 45 years ago, and that was Frey's lead voice, of course, on "Tequila Sunrise," "Take It Easy," "New Kid in Town," "Lyin' Eyes," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Already Gone" and other songs that have become a part of the band's — and rock & roll's — canon.
Yet his stormy tenure with the Eagles — and the way the cocky, surefooted Frey and the more analytical Henley worked together to write songs and steer the band — was only part of his saga. Frey's journey mirrored that of many members of his generation: a wild rock & roll lifestyle that led to a good-health makeover, settled-down family life, and reconciliation with his past and former partners. (And, in Frey's case, with stops in between for movie and TV acting roles and solo hits.) In their own words, Frey's friends, colleagues and business associates recall the Eagle's life and times.
Bob Seger (longtime friend who co-wrote "Heartache Tonight" with Henley, Frey and J.D. Souther): Glenn was like the kid brother I never had. We met around Detroit when he was 17 or 18 and I was 20 or 21. He had long hair, was really hippie-ied out. We were both dating girls who were in a band called the Mama Cats, and we were both in bands. He brought me home to his house in 1967, and we played Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced. At the end, we looked at each other and said, "Are we out of a job?" His mom caught us smoking pot together.
Glenn was in a band called the Mushrooms, and I produced and wrote their first single. One day, we were going to become a band of our own — he and I and a drummer practiced all day. Glenn was singing "Substitute" — he loved that Who song — and we were working out vocal harmonies. My manager Punch [Andrews] called me the next day and said, "You'll never make it — you're both too headstrong. It's better you're in separate bands."
I knew Glenn was going to be something. We recorded [Seger's first major hit] "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" — his voice on the first chorus, that says it all. He blurts out above everybody, just wailing. "Ramblin' man!" — it's louder than shit.
Glenn Frey (on moving from Michigan to California, Rolling Stone, 1975): Well, the truth was that I was gonna buy drugs in Mexico and see a girlfriend who'd moved out here with her sister. My parents told me that if I was going to California, they weren't gonna give me a goddamn dime. They would send me five or 10 bucks in every letter: "Buy yourself a nice breakfast and a pack of cigarettes."
The whole vibe of L.A. hit me right off. The first day I got to L.A., I saw David Crosby sitting on the steps of the Country Store in Laurel Canyon, wearing the same hat and green leather bat cape he had on for Turn! Turn! Turn! I immediately met J.D. Souther, and we really hit it off. It was definitely me and him against whatever else was going on.
J.D. Souther (friend and collaborator): Glenn and I met in late '68 or early '69. He came out from Detroit to visit his girlfriend. Our girlfriends were sisters. We were flat broke and moved in with our girlfriends, who were actually doing better than us. We started writing songs day and night. We talked about what we wanted to do and we said, "Let's write songs and play music, just the two of us."
We were just called "John David and Glenn." Doug Weston, who ran the Troubadour, was our manager, and he said, "You should change the band name." I liked the Penny Whistle and Glenn liked Longbranch, since he liked cowboys. Weston said, "Great — Longbranch Pennywhistle." Within hours, we had a little tiny ad in the Free Press and our first paying gig. We opened for Poco for a week and the second gig we opened for the Flying Burrito Brothers. Gram Parsons [leader of the Burritos at the time] really wanted to be Mick Jagger. But they didn't have the discipline Glenn knew a band like that needed. He paid attention. He was a real student of how that worked and how it didn't work. He studied their mistakes and Poco's and CSNY's.
Glenn and I knew everyone at the Troubadour that year. We knew all the waitresses. They fed us. The bartender gave us tequila and we saw every actor who came through. We were just mentally taking notes and nodding at each other. We saw so many great songwriters: Kristofferson, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Tim Hardin, Donny Hathaway, James Taylor. We went to see James and tried to run upstairs to the dressing room and tell him. He didn't give one flying shit. He didn't know who we were. Nobody knew who we were.
Bernie Leadon (Eagles guitarist 1971–5): Glenn was like James Dean. He had this habit of throwing a cigarette up in the air and trying to catch it with his mouth. Eighty percent of the time he'd miss [laughs], but then he'd catch it. He had the pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt. We called him the Teen King or Roach.
Souther: Glenn had two things in spades. He had an incredible sense of humor — a wild, almost infantile love of a really great joke. And he had this Motor City groove. He knew every note Motown ever released. He brought the beat. When Jackson [Browne] and I were trying to get David [Geffen] to sign Glenn, we both said, "He's going to make you a lot more money than we ever will." I remember clearly saying that. We both knew Glenn and it turned out to be true.
Frey (RS, 1975, on meeting Henley at the Troubadour, after both of their bands had broken up): We were both at impasses. So he joined Linda's group too. The first night of our tour, we decided to start a band.
Souther: Linda [Ronstadt] moved in with me. I wanted to stay and write songs and be with her as much as possible. She didn't have a real firm regular band then. Glenn and Don were looking for a way to make some money while they rehearsed their band. We were all eating one night at a health food place on Melrose. Glenn and Don came in while Linda and I were eating and I said, "I think this is the perfect solution. Back up Linda, and you'll get some money to work your bands out." My girl is going to have a backup band and I'll get to stay home and play my brand new piano and try to get better at songwriting. It turned out to be a great solution for everybody.
Leadon: Glenn and Don were putting together a band and I was invited to a rehearsal. We didn't have any songs so we were mostly jamming on things like Chuck Berry songs. Then at the end, Glenn sat down with his guitar and sang a song he'd just written called "Most of Us Are Sad." On the album, Randy [Meisner] ended up singing it. I thought, "Well, that's a really interesting song." It really does express something truthful — that a lot of people probably are sad but don't express it.
Souther: They didn't have a place to rehearse, so Linda and I would go to the movies for four or five hours and let them use our house in the afternoon, a little bungalow behind the Hollywood Bowl. I remember coming back and they were working on a Jack Tempchin song. It sounded great. "Wow, you guys are smooth."
They had not firmed up the name yet. They were up in the desert and they saw some eagles flying the sky. There were various accounts of the moment when Glenn yelled out, "Eagles!" Everybody's story varies slightly, except for one thing: Glenn thought of it at the time. He thought it was great because it sounded like a street gang. And he was insistent about it not being the Eagles, just Eagles. "Why put the 'the' in front of it? We are Eagles."
Irving Azoff (Eagles manager): I'd been to some Eagles shows, but the first time I met Glenn Frey was on the telephone. Leslie Morris, who was Elliot Roberts' assistant at the time, walked into my office and said, "Elliot's not here, Glenn Frey of the Eagles is on the phone, he wants a limousine. They're going to England to record and we can't approve the limousine." So I picked up the phone and told him who I was and I'd just started working in the office and it was my pleasure to approve his limousine and we chatted for a while. The next call I get from him is, "We need some spending money by Christmas, we'll be done with this album by Thanksgiving, can you book a tour for us? " I booked this tour, put Dan Fogelberg as opener, and I went out on the first date somewhere in Missouri.
Seger: After Glenn moved to L.A., I didn't hear from him for about two or three years. He was pursuing his own course out there. Then 1972 came along and I heard "Take It Easy." And I said, "Oh, my God, what a great-sounding record! He did it!"
Souther: There had been some concept albums before Desperado. We were all fans of that long form of music, where you had to pay attention to the whole 45 or 50 minutes. We saw the picture of the Dalton gang and the day they tried to rob two banks in Missouri on the same day. We were all guys in our twenties. It just seemed romantic and appealing and no one else was doing it. If you recall, all the reviews were not very kind to the Eagles: "It was soft, it was Southern California, it was hedonistic, it was easygoing, not enough edge." Glenn in particular wanted to make a statement: "Hey, look, we're a serious band."
Gary Burden (art director on Eagles albums): I don't know a lot about Glenn as a boy. I reckon he probably was a bad boy and had the outlaw spirit in his heart and soul. Glenn, or Glenn and Don, drew the parallel between young gunslingers of the 1860s and 1870s and rock & roll guitarists of the Sixties. which was a fitting parallel. Glenn maybe more than anybody really got into the spirit. In the course of presenting the record to the label — and this is a story Glenn used to tell with great emphasis — they showed it to the label and the label went, "Oh, my God — they made a fucking cowboy record! Where's 'Take It Easy'?" They were fuckin' beside themselves. Turned out it didn't sell much initially but it would sell eventually, because it's great music.
Souther: As soon as they saw that "Witchy Woman" worked as well as it did, they thought they could play a little bit harder, funkier stuff. Glenn was always up for playing stuff with some tempo. As it went on, they wanted to play rock & roll.
Don Felder (Eagles guitarist 1974-2001): Glenn was the person in the band who asked me to join. The main reason is because they wanted to shift from the country music approach to more of a rock & roll approach to writing and records and being on the AM radio. That's exactly what Glenn and I tried to do. We shared guitar solos and played off each other and did guitar runs together on "One of These Nights" and had a great time working together.
Seger: One night in 1975, he called me up and said, "Bob, what do you do when you don't like your guitar player's solo?" And I said, "Here's what I do — you look him in the eye and say, 'Hey, I wrote the song. Go home and write a solo.'" He loved that.
Danny Kortchmar (session guitarist and collaborator on solo Henley and Frey albums): Glenn always spoke highly of Don [Henley]. He called him "the secret weapon" because of his vocals. I remember going to see Glenn at the Record Plant and he played me "One of These Nights," and I said, "Oh, my God, that's amazing." I couldn't believe my ears. Other guys could play faster or louder, but he had great taste.
Felder: We called him "The Lone Arranger." During Hotel California, I still remember Glenn sitting in the chair [in the studio] when we were trying to do guitar and bass parts and overdubbing. He really helped produce and make those records a lot of what they became. He had a kind of massaging hand as we went through the process.
Randy Newman (who recruited some of the Eagles to sing on Good Old Boys and Little Criminals): They were the best background singers I could get, so I got them. They would go way past the point where I wanted. I'd say, "That's good, isn't it?" They say, "No, no, no." They'd hear out of tune, where I didn't necessarily. They were very, very fastidious about what they did and never satisfied. They could go back over their stuff or my stuff and find a million things they didn't like about it.
They didn't settle. They worked on their stuff, words, music, in particular. If they had a guitar solo, it was going to be a good one, a memorable one. When I got to know them better, I teased them about the cowboy stuff. They were a long way from being cowboys.
Leadon: As the saying goes, Henley could sing the phone book and make it sound interesting, but Glenn was a great storyteller. Just listen to the way he sang "Lyin' Eyes."
Felder: When I first joined the band, I thought I was joining a band that was constantly breaking up. I never had a band with so much arguing and discontent and struggling. It's because there wasn't one designated leader. Glenn said, "We've all been signed. Nobody in this band is a sideman. We're all going to be singers and present ourselves as a band of individual guys." It changed later, when all the hits came out and wound up being from Don and Glenn, their writing and the vocals, and rightly so. They were both gifted singers and writers, the Lennon and McCartney of the Seventies and Eighties.
Souther: Glenn, Don, Jackson and I were so competitive with each other, but cooperative at the same time. It wasn't really a squishy mutual-admiration society. Writing with those guys was work. Every time you came up with a line or a groove or a chord change, it was, "God help me." I had the chorus written for "New Kid in Town" about a year before Glenn and Don heard it. It came time to make Hotel California and we convened as we always did. Often at Glenn's house, around a big picnic table, legal tablets out, piano nearby, guitars in hand. I played them that and everyone looked at me: "Man, that's a hit. Where's that been?" Don knew what else to do with it. We finished it together with some of the other songs on that album. No one every said anything like, "Wow, that's great, that's wonderful." The nicest thing anyone would ever say, if they came up with an idea or a line that really worked, was, "I think we can say that." That was the top level of compliments! Or Glenn would sometimes say, "Those kids are going to love this!" He wasn't being that cynical. It's something he heard Seger say and it just cracked us up every time.
Frey (RS, 1975): You know that adage, "For every dream come true, there's a curse"? One of those curses is just a lifestyle … It's going on all the time. When I take a look at the last year, between On the Border and this album [One of These Nights], what have I done? Worked my ass off. You know, we went on the road, got crazy, got drunk, got high, had girls, played music and made money. If you don't watch it, that can become your whole life.
Souther (on the Eagles' fabled backstage parties): No comment. There's no film and that's no accident.
Felder: Glenn was a very strong personality. He was the leader of the pack. He had that vibe, that charisma about him, that was really indisputable. He was very compelled to be extremely successful at what he was doing.
Azoff: Glenn regularly described the Eagles as a successful sports franchise, and he especially liked to use a football metaphor. It was like not everybody can be the quarterback, and certain people have to do certain things, and he and Henley understood that. Glenn was kind of the quarterback and Henley was kind of the star running back.
Newman: I played basketball with Glenn a few times; one of the recording studios, Amigo, had a small indoor court. What he had as a basketball player was a lot of spring. He must have had a 40-inch vertical leap. He kept soaring up. I wouldn't be surprised if he could almost dunk and he wasn't but five feet 11. He had that in his personality. He had a lot of bounce to him.
Azoff: Glenn could be very businesslike. Someone had to be. The Eagles was such a high-functioning machine because it was a sports team, and somebody had to be the enforcer. Not that Glenn relished that role, but he was vocally expressing what he and Henley were thinking. Glenn now gets the highest grades in terms of integrity and heart. If you want to say, "Oh, but he didn't always deliver it in the nicest way," OK, but that's part of life. And that was part of his passion.
Seger: They were working on The Long Run and I didn't see them for a while. I was working on Against the Wind and I said to Glenn, "Come on over and hear this." Glenn walks in and the first thing I asked him was, "Are you done with the album?" And he said, "Bob, I think the album is done with us." It was a tough one. I remember they were playing me "Those Shoes." At the end, I said, "Goddamn, that's great." And Glenn said, "I think so too!" And Henley said, "Well, I liked it at first…" [Laughs] It was kind of like that.
Joe Smith (former president of Elektra/Asylum): It was always tough for those guys writing songs. They clashed a lot because their styles were a little different. I'd liken them to Lennon and McCartney. Henley was a little heavier and a little more mystical and Glenn was a little lighter.
I needed a couple of new cuts for the album [The Long Run]. Irving said, "We have a problem; we're not getting along, Don and Glenn." I'm seeing $50 million in billing disappearing for that album. They were [recording] in Miami and I'm sending them rhyming dictionaries: "Try June, moon, spoon." Give me the fucking album!
Felder: At the end of The Long Run, Glenn wanted to go out and work by himself. He wanted to be free of that Eagles pressure cooker. It was an enormous amount of stress and it wasn't sitting well with him. He needed to go out and have fun and make his records, and even though it was a shock to us when he said he was leaving the band, I got it. That's what he wanted and needed to do.
Seger: One thing he said to me that stuck with me forever was, "Your career is a harsh mistress." It takes away so much of your life. When he left the Eagles, he needed to get back to that life a little bit.
Souther: Don and I are both very exacting professional critical kind of guys who will stop in the moment to correct something. Glenn is more likely to blaze through it with feeling. That's why that team worked so well together. I think it also served as an irritant. That's why Glenn's first solo album  was called No Fun Aloud. He thought that some of the fun had gone out of the Eagles, because they were trying to be such perfectionists.
Azoff: Glenn didn't leave the band. And I've been quoted in Rolling Stone saying this. The band broke up at the end of every tour. He was just the guy that didn't call up saying, "Hey, did we get back together yet?" And by the way, Henley wasn't taking that call either.
Michael Mann (executive producer, Miami Vice): I heard "Smuggler's Blues"  and it just knocked me out. I played it incessantly. It's a very sharp and astute but intuitive and intellectual analysis of the political economy of the drug trade. All those things people said, like Nancy Reagan and "Just Say No" — it was just a bunch of naive crap and Glenn and I talked about it quite a bit. Most DEA agents will tell you we're not going to eradicate anything; all we can do is generate chaos. He rendered it poetic in song. I thought Glenn could act and I asked him to be in that episode. An actor submerges himself in a role and makes emotional projections, and musicians have the ability to do that too.
We arranged for Glenn to meet with DEA agents and smugglers, and [in the episode] he looks like a guy who's doing all those things. He has all the same attitudes. He and I went out a couple of times on the set in Miami. If we worked until two or three in the morning, we'd fall into some of the discos during that period in Miami. They'd reserve seating in case we dropped in. You could definitely cut loose a bit. If he was down because of the breakup of the band, I didn't see it. We never discussed it.
I wanted to repeat the experience and asked him to write another couple of songs, and he wrote "You Belong to the City" for the first episode of the second season. He played me a down-and-dirty version of it in my office at Universal and he just nailed it. It felt like Manhattan, which is where that episode took place. It became his biggest-selling single.
Seger: He became super-healthy after the Eagles. He had colon problems his whole life. He kept them at bay with a workout regimen. He was serious about it, being sober and healthy.
Souther (on Frey's fitness ads in the late Eighties): I remember seeing that first newspaper ad with the picture of him from the Eagles. He's got his hair real long and he's smoking a cigarette, and on the left side of the page, it says "Hard Rock." On the right side of the page, he's in the gym with his hair short and he's buff, and it says, "Rock Hard." It was an odd time. We all went through a lot of changes and some of those changes were easy for the others in the group to take and some weren't. Glenn was just smart enough to do it with money attached to it. I thought it was brilliant, actually. I looked at it and thought, "That's a smart move."
Kortchmar: Glenn was very prescient. Now everyone goes to the gym and works out, but back then it was rare, especially among us musicians. None of us did anything but party. And here comes Glenn. When I saw those pictures, I felt ashamed because I was in such bad shape.
Smith: Glenn was such a pleasure to be with once he straightened himself and dumped all the bad stuff. We sat two seats away from each other at Lakers games. We used to play baseball trivia. Once I needed an album and he would make it if I could name the four 20-game winners for the Baltimore Orioles.
Felder (on Frey declining to participate in the Eagles' ill-fated attempt at a reunion album in 1990): I think Glenn felt he should have been in control of saying when and where and how it was going to happen. I think that really upset him a lot that we were in the studio recording without him. It was only done that way because we were being told Glenn was coming in a couple of days and we were led to believe that was OK and Glenn knew what was going on. We finally got some letter or phone call saying, "If you don't stop, you know, he's going to take legal action," or something like that. We were like, "Wow, OK. Let's stop. We're not going to do this without Glenn." We did. We stopped without him.
Seger: He'd been through the wars and it had worn him down. He was happy with his life. He wasn't sure if he wanted to go back to that. Then about two years before the Hell Freezes Over tour , Glenn was selected for the Detroit Music Awards and he called and asked if I would induct him. I got up in front of a room full of people and said, "There's only one person in this room who, if he decides to do an album of new material, will automatically sell 5 million records and fill stadiums around the world." I don't know if it helped, but I was just speaking the truth. I wasn't trying to shine him on. I left the ball in his court, and thank goodness he was talked into coming back [into the Eagles]. He was really glad he did. I saw him on that tour and he said, "Oh, my gosh, Bob, I'm so grateful." He was genuinely grateful for his success.
Felder: After he had some success with his solo recordings, I think it gave him his self-confidence back. He could come back in the band as an equal with Don and we did a lot of Glenn solo material on the Hell Freezes Over tour.
Glenn had had that same procedure [intestinal surgery] back during the [Hell Freezes Over] tour. We actually postponed a tour and flew back to L.A. and he had a surgery. He bounced back a month to six weeks later, it seems like. We had meetings and were ready to go back out. It wasn't life-threatening or it didn't seem to be at the time. He regained complete faculties and was up and around and ready to play music again.
Frey (RS, 2008): Don and I joke all the time now that the Eagles are recreation. Our real job is being husbands and fathers [three kids apiece], and that's the job that's most demanding and most rewarding. I said to the guys a couple of weeks ago, "I used to really loathe rehearsing. I just wanted to be elsewhere. But now elsewhere is so tough sometimes that coming to rehearsal is a joy. I'm so glad to see you guys. How about a Diet Coke? Is life great or what? I think I'll buy a new guitar today." So here we are. Still the same. And completely different.
Alison Ellwood (director, History of the Eagles documentary): Glenn was the leader of the band in getting stuff done. He was the doer. He understood when we agreed to do [the film] it had to be honest. He's like, "I don't want a fluff piece." His willingness to be completely honest, warts and all, made a huge difference in the film and set a precedent for the others in the interviewing. Joe Walsh, after seeing a first cut of the film, asked to be re-interviewed, because he realized how open Glenn was being. When we interviewed engineer Bill Szymczyk, he said, "You're not going to believe what I have for you." He played [the tape of the onstage argument between Frey and Felder on their Long Run tour] and we were like, "Holy shit, this is great." We told Glenn we had it, and he said, "Go for it, man."
Frey (RS, 2012): I've been pretty busy. You know, obviously, busy with the Eagles. I have a family, so I'm raising a family. I still have a nine-year-old son, I have two kids that have just now gone off to college. So those are big responsibilities. So that takes away from it. And I've been pretty busy with the Eagles, especially the last five or six years. There's more to life than making records.
Seger: The last time I saw him was July 24th [at the Eagles show in Detroit]. It had been a two-year tour, and he was worn out. Months earlier, he came to see my show at Madison Square Garden. He was with Robert Wuhl and they were working on a Broadway play together. I don't know if it was going to be a musical — he didn't say. But he wanted to call it Hotel California. He was going to do it here in Ann Arbor, work it up with the theater company here. He said, "I'll see you in the fall."
Leadon (on the final show of the History of the Eagles tour in Louisiana last July; Leadon had rejoined the band for the first time since 1975): As Glenn and I prepared to go back onstage for the last three encores — "Take It Easy," "Rocky Mountain Way" and "Desperado" — he gave me a big hug, told me it had been great to have me out there with them for the History tour, and [said], "This isn't the end." Then he gave me another hug, and we went out and did the encores and then took our bows together. His statement I took to mean he was leaving it open that I might participate in some Eagles-related event in the future, which I appreciated, and remained open to.
Souther: I was going to see them in Nashville and I was in the studio. It's such a zoo [backstage]. Everybody wants to talk to him and get to him and they were only here for a night. I said, "No, I'll catch up to him." And it never happened. I'm sorry I didn't now.
Leadon: I kind of knew this was coming. I'd heard through the grapevine that he wasn't doing too well.
Seger: I knew about it last November. I went to New York with my family and Don [Henley] happened to be in the same hotel and I ran into his wife in the lobby. She said, "Don needs to talk to you." He came up to my room and told me Glenn was really struggling and they were hoping and hoping the specialists would help. I said, "I have to go see him," and he said, "No, he's in an induced coma." Glenn had rheumatoid arthritis, and then he caught pneumonia. He got better but then he caught a virulent strain.
Don and I texted back and forth the whole time until Glenn passed and he would give me updates. I was coming out of a supermarket down in Florida a couple of months ago and I texted Don and said, "I just heard 'Take It Easy.'" And he texted back, "I know what you mean — it's gonna be a tough Christmas." Make no mistake — Glenn loved Don.
Felder (who'd been fired from the band in 2001): If Glenn and I would have been able to go out and have a beer and talk about whatever was the problem, it would have been fine. He was a very kind, generous, open guy. I regret not actually being able to speak directly to Glenn about what was bothering him and what was going on and try to resolve it without letting it build up to some point where it actually did. I was really shocked when I got the phone call that I was out of the band. I was broadsided by it.
I always held in the back of my mind that somewhere, some time, at some golf tournament, I'd run into Glenn, give him a hug, shake hands and leave it with a "let it be" feeling and just let it go. When I got the information of his passing, I realized I'll never have the opportunity to resolve those things.
Souther (on the future of the Eagles): They're done. They're not going to go back out without Glenn, absolutely not. I think it would be sacrilegious. I can't think of a way to do that that would be all right.
Newman: I hate it when movies [like The Big Lebowski] will make fun of the Eagles, for what they would call "slick" or something. It's such horseshit. If you're good, you're good, and they are really good. It's not easy to do what they make sound easy.
Frey (RS, 2012): I don't get up every morning and say, "Goddang! Eagles' Greatest Hits is now past 30 million! It's unbelievable!" But it boggles the mind somewhat. You have to adjust when things like this happen. You just have to keep perspective. As long as I keep taking out the garbage and cleaning up after the dogs and taking the kids to school, I'll have perspective. I don't get to bask in the afterglow much. … It's very gratifying to think that we've found this place and that we are where we are.
Additional reporting by Steve Knopper.