Linchpin of the huge success of the Eagles

Glenn Frey: November 6th, 1948 - January 18th, 2016

Glenn Frey:  the guitarist and singer was  co-writer of some of the Eagles’  most memorable songs. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Glenn Frey: the guitarist and singer was co-writer of some of the Eagles’ most memorable songs. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

 

Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67, had success as an actor and solo performer, but leaves a huge legacy above all in his earlier body of work with the Eagles.

One of the most successful bands of all time, they defined a particular strain of melodic, sophisticated American rock in the 1970s. “Glenn was the man who started it all,” wrote the band’s drummer and vocalist Don Henley, whose partnership with Frey was at the core of the band’s success. “He was the spark plug, the man with the plan.”

As the Eagles developed from the country-rock sound of their 1972 debut album, Eagles, through a stream of bestsellers that included One of These Nights (1975), Hotel California (1976) and The Long Run (1979), Frey was prominent as guitarist and vocalist, and as co-writer on their most memorable songs.

Their first single and breakthrough hit, Take It Easy, was co-written by Frey and Jackson Browne, and he subsequently contributed to the US No 1 hits Best of My Love , One of These Nights , New Kid in Town , Hotel California and Heartache Tonight. The songs Tequila Sunrise, Desperado, Lyin’ Eyes and The Long Run also carried the Frey writing imprint.

In sales terms, the Eagles set benchmarks that will almost certainly never be matched. The 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is said to have been the bestselling album of the 20th century, with more than 40 million copies sold.

Piano lessons

He played with such local bands as the Subterraneans and the Four of Us, and in 1967 formed the Mushrooms.

Frey had become obsessed with a local Detroit hero, Bob Seger, and by dint of hanging around recording studios persuaded Seger to listen to him play. “I liked him right away because he was so funny. He had a great sense of humour,” Seger recalled. He let Frey perform acoustic guitar and sing backing vocals on his single Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, and recommended him to his managers.

Seger advised Frey that the key to a successful career was to write your own songs, and he took it to heart. He graduated from high school in June 1968 and headed for Los Angeles. He and JD Souther, another aspiring songwriter, shared a flat above a basement which housed another songwriter, Jackson Browne.

Frey recounted how listening to Browne painstakingly writing and reworking his songs at the piano downstairs drummed into him the importance of discipline and persistence. “I’m up there going ‘so that’s how you do it - elbow grease, time, thought, persistence’.”

In 1971 he and Don Henley were hired as part of a backing group for Linda Ronstadt. It was then that they met Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon and this quartet subsequently became the first incarnation of the Eagles.

Frey and Henley were becoming the dominant forces and songwriters in the band, and at their instigation the album On the Border (1974) had a harder rock edge, thanks to a new guitarist, Don Felder, and a new producer, Bill Szymczyk. Their first No 1 single, Best of My Love, confirmed that they were on the right track.

Further evolution was evident on One of These Nights (1975), with the title track a sleek exercise in soulful funkiness and Take It to the Limit, a tearjerking heart-on-the-sleeve ballad. It was their first No 1 album, and laid the foundation for the crowning glory of Hotel California.

Strains

The Long Run

It was Frey who enjoyed the most immediate post-Eagles solo success. He scored a string of 1980s hits, including The Heat Is On and You Belong to the City and did some TV and film work, including a part in the Cameron Crowe film Jerry Maguire.

In 1994 the band returned with the album Hell Freezes Over. They found audiences hungry to receive them, and toured for nearly six years.

Delays in the schedule were sometimes occasioned by Frey having to be treated for rheumatoid arthritis. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and won six Grammy awards between 1975 and 2009. In 2007, the Eagles, minus Felder, released Long Road Out of Eden, the band’s first album of new material since The Long Run.

Next Frey released the solo album After Hours, a collection of vintage pop standards. He is survived by his widow, Cindy, and children Taylor, Deacon and Otis.