Legendary Rock Band Was Also Like Every Other

We got news last night that Eagles bassist and co-founder Randy Meisner had died, of COPD complications, at 77.

Starting with a deal with David Geffen’s new record company, Asylum, in 1971, the Eagles had a meteoric rise and instant success with the their first LP (“Eagles”, 1972) going platinum, reaching the top 20, and throwing off massive radio hits like “Take it Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman”. It’s always struck me as funny that this quintessential California-sounding band recorded their album in London.

That’s where producer Glyn Johns, who famously polished the Rolling Stones, the Who and many other, preferred to work. But before he produced them, he felt the band needed a smoother, more refined sound. Nowadays, “smooth and mellow” are synonymous with the whole vibe you get from the Eagles, but it wasn’t always so, apparently.

In fact, it was a Randy Meisner tune, “Take the Devil”, that Johns felt established the identity of the band, which was, in its infancy, veering between country and hard-rock tendencies. This group’s ticket to ride, Glyn Johns announced, would be their harmony of voices. He “heard” the Eagles, finally, on “Take the Devil”.

“There it was, the sound. Extraordinary blend of voices, wonderful harmony sound, just stunning.”

For the rest of his time with the Eagles, Meisner would contribute his higher, sweet vocals, as either lead or harmony.

Then, trouble.

During the 1977 tour in support of “Hotel California”, Meisner was ill with gastrointestinal issues, and becoming more shy about taking center stage to sing his signature song, “Take it To The Limit”. One night, feeling especially ill, he wouldn’t come out for an encore, so the story goes, and wound up fistfighting bandmate Glenn Frey offstage.

After that, he says everyone avoided him, and he could barely get through the remaining dates. He left the band, and except for occasional, momentary reunion appearances, never again was an Eagle.

I’ve always thought that story illustrated a point: bands are bands. Whether you play in the garage, or at the Garden, it’s the same drama, a mix of  of egos, personalities, and tension. In that moment, the extraordinary Eagles were commonplace. Oldest story in the book.

Ironically, the same musician who replaced Randy in his previous band, Poco, also replaced him in the Eagles line-up: Timothy B. Schmit.

Rest in peace, Randy Meisner.



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