Glenn Frey moved to California when he was 20. As a kid growing up outside of Detroit, Frey had already been in a couple of bands and gotten encouragement from fellow artist Bob Seger. Still, the heart of the songwriting process eluded him. In Los Angeles, Frey’s greatest teacher was his downstairs neighbor.
“Around nine in the morning. I’d hear Jackson Browne’s teapot going off with this whistle in the distance, and then I’d hear him playing piano,” Frey later recalled. “I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know exactly, did you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal? I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs, ‘cause Jackson would get up, and he’d play the first verse and first course, and he’d play it 20 times, until he had it just the way he wanted it. And then there’d be silence, and then I’d hear the teapot going off again, and it would be quiet for 20 minutes, and then I’d hear him start to play again … and I’m up there going, ‘So that’s how you do it?’ Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.”
Frey’s band, The Eagles, would release a slew of hits in the 1970s — one of the first being “Take It Easy,” a song Frey wrote with Browne — and define an era. Their songs were as laid back as their late-60s hippie forebears; their ambition as pointed as any 80s investment banker.
“The only difference between boring and laid back,” Frey told Rolling Stone in 1975, “is a million dollars.”
In their 45-year career, The Eagles have sold upwards of 120 million albums and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the year they were nominated. Glenn Frey wrote and sang many of The Eagles’ hits, songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town.”
Glenn Lewis Frey died Monday of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia, according to the band. He was 67. “Words can neither describe our sorrow, nor our love and respect for all that he has given us, his family, the music community & millions of fans worldwide,” said a statement on the band’s website.
Frey, along with drummer Don Henley, would write and sing most of The Eagles’ many hits.
“We were family,” Henley said on Monday, “and like most families, there was some dysfunction.”
At least initially, the two shared a clear-eyed vision. Although not the first group to blend country music and rock and roll — The Byrds’ Gram Parsons gets much of the credit for that — Frey and Henley would take the formula to its greatest success.
“We had it all planned,” Henley said. He and Frey had seen bands like Parsons’ The Flying Burrito Brothers flounder after early promise.
“We were determined not to make the same mistakes,” Henley said. “This was gonna be our best shot. Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good and write good. We wanted it all. Peer respect. AM and FM success. No. 1 singles and albums, great music and a lot of money.”
And so it came to pass. The Eagles scored five number one singles and six number one albums.
Despite their popular appeal, there is a darkness to the band’s catalog, especially with songs like “Hotel California”: The hooks are unassailable, the production an impenetrable gloss, but the lyric is shot through with existential dread. Frey often used his friendly tenor to sings songs about casual misogyny, not unusual for the time. “I found out a long time ago,” he sings on ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling,’ “what a woman can do to your soul.”
After The Eagles’ initial breakup, around 1980, Frey enjoyed continued success, writing “The Heat Is On” for the Eddie Murphy movie “Beverly Hills Cop.” He also contributed to the soundtracks of “Miami Vice,” “Ghostbusters II,” and “Thelma & Louise.”
The Eagles reunited in 1994 and released “Hell Freezes Over,” an album named after the time when the band used to say they would reunite. In 2007, they released “Long Road Out of Eden.” Glenn Frey’s last album was 2012’s “After Hours,” a collection of standards.