"I Know My Life Would Look Alright if I Could See it on the Silver Screen": A Biography of Glenn Frey (1948-2016)
Glenn Frey, the multi-talented mastermind behind the Eagles and gifted solo artist in his own right, came into the world on November 6, 1948 in the Motor City - Detroit, Michigan. Growing up in Royal Oak, Michigan kept Glenn on his toes. As he stated, "I grew up running in Detroit! I went to school with the sons and daughters of automobile factory workers [who] would beat on me!" However, they didn't beat up on him for long. Glenn got involved in sports, including a stint on the wrestling team, and held his own. He wasn't just a jock, though; his sharp mind landed him in a class for the gifted early on in school. Outgoing, energetic, and handsome, he was popular with the guys and had a way with the girls. Overall, he considered his early days "pretty normal": "My father was a machinist," he recounted. "My parents weren't drinkers. I always had clothes. I always went to camp for a week in the summer.”
Yet Glenn's interests did not lay on a "pretty normal" path. Detroit was a happenin' place musically in the mid-60s, and Glenn was getting in on the action. He'd taken piano lessons - the bane of a boy's existence, but it worked out for Glenn - and was teaching himself how to play the guitar, inspired in part by a Beatles concert to aim for the top of the rock heap. Like a lot of young guys, he started up a band while in high school (in his case, Dondero High School). His very first band was called the Disciples. Glenn called it just "three guys with acoustic guitars" and it didn't last long. Next he formed the Hideouts, named after a local club (they later changed their name to The Subterraneans.) When Glenn decided to move the band away from the British covers they had been doing to a more Who-like sound, he made some personnel changes, and the result was The Mushrooms. It was this band which was the most successful around Detroit. They cut a single entitled "Such a Lovely Child" in 1966 with the B-side "Burned." He wasn't even old enough to legally drink, but he already had something on vinyl thanks to the local club's label. In addition, the group appeared on a television show called Swinging Time. Rock musician Bob Seger, who produced and co-wrote the band's single, was able to spot Glenn's talent early on. In 1968, Glenn sung backup as well as added guitar to Seger's album Ramblin' Gamblin' Man.
Meanwhile, the Mushrooms had split. Glenn hopped from band to band, all the while making a half-hearted attempt at college. He had gotten into "the hippie thing," as he called it, and joined a folk group called The Four of Us, but that didn't last for long. He quit that and formed the Heavy Metal Kids with fellow Four of Us member and guitarist, Jeff Alborell. Still, Glenn was dissatisfied, and began looking to the West for a variety of reasons. Glenn joked that "the Life magazine articles about free love and free dope in California" made it look pretty appealing, and it didn't hurt that a change of address would enable him to put off the draft notice he received in Michigan. He went west with Jeff as well as another member of the Heavy Metal Kids, guitarist Larry Welker, high on dreams of success and then a couple days later, high on some drugs he got in Mexico on the way.
A girlfriend of Glenn's had preceded him to L.A., and when he showed up in the city of angels, he had a nice warm bed waiting for him. His girlfriend's sister happened to be dating John David Souther, and the two became fast friends. Soon they formed Longbranch Pennywhistle. They released a self-titled album together in 1969, which did not meet with much success (to put it mildly), but would be the beginning of a songwriting partnership that would be highly productive and successful in the coming years. Glenn also met Jackson Browne at this time, another man who would turn out to be a collaborator and friend. He and JD rented a house in Echo Park with Jackson (where Glenn would overhear the beginnings of Take It Easy). The guys started hanging out at the Troubadour, a club that was the favorite of a lot of up-and-coming rockers (and a lot of down-and-out wannabes, too). One of the more successful patrons, Linda Ronstadt, took a liking to Glenn and invited him to be a part of her touring band in 1971.
It was also at the Troubadour that Glenn hooked up with Don Henley. Glenn invited Don to be a part of Linda's touring band as well. Glenn wasn't just picking Don to back up Linda, though. He had another agenda - forming his own band - and he had Don pegged as the guy he wanted to start it up with. At this point, Longbranch Pennywhistle was history. David Geffen had signed JD and Glenn to his record company, but not as a duo. He had split them up, made JD a solo act, and told Glenn he needed a band to be marketable. Meanwhile, Don's group Shiloh was failing so badly that he was ready to give up and go back to Texas. It was at this low point when salvation arrived for Don in the form of Glenn Frey. Glenn approached him, befriended him, and let him in on his master plan, winning Don over completely. With the help of Ronstadt and her manager John Boylan, Glenn also was able to enlist Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, two other well-established, respected, and talented members of her backup band. Glenn showed up at Geffen's door with his new group, soon to be dubbed the Eagles, and the rock'n'roll scene would never be the same.
The Eagles became one of the biggest bands of the decade and one of the best-selling bands of all time. Beginning with their first self-titled album, they were putting out hits. It was recorded in England in two weeks with producer Glyn Johns. While Glenn clashed somewhat with his producer's strict paternalistic approach which included a no-drugs policy and little regard for band member input, Johns certainly forced them to use their time efficiently.
Their second album, Desperado, was not as commercially successful as their debut. However, its sophisticated "concept" approach showed how Glenn's musical ideas, along with Don's, were evolving. Eventually, it received deserved recognition as a high quality piece of work.
With their third album On the Border, they cemented their status as household names with the smash Frey/Henley/Souther hit "Best of My Love." Glenn was well on his way to the stardom he'd dreamed of. In fact, this was a heady time for the Eagles in more ways than one. As the popularity of the band soared, so did the egos. Glenn and Don had by now firmly established themselves as the power brokers of the band, and when they decided to take the Eagles in a more rock-oriented direction, they added Don Felder and relegated Bernie to a minor role. Disgusted, he left in 1975 after the band completed its fourth album, One of These Nights, and was replaced by Joe Walsh. Glenn considered One of These Nights to be a "watershed" album in terms of his songwriting with Don Henley. At the time they were living together and very in sync. They'd hang out, have some beers, jam and talk and talk and jam, and out of it would come great music again and again.
The Eagles reached their commercial peak with the tremendous success of Hotel California, another concept album, this time presenting the disillusionment that results when one has seen the darker side of fame. Additional pressures to sell more and more with the next album exacerbated tensions within the band. Randy was the next to quit in 1977, leaving Glenn and Don as the only remaining original members. He was replaced by fellow Poco alumnus Timothy B. Schmit.
In the midst of all this success, the excesses had grown in tandem with the egos. As the seventies plowed on, the Eagles' lifestyles became more and more dissolute. Glenn called their road entourage a "traveling party" complete with bathtubs of booze, groupies galore, and controlled substances out the wazoo - and the party didn't stop once the tour ended. Whenever they wanted, the guys enjoyed all the women they had the stamina for and all the intoxicants they could get into their system before losing consciousness. At first, it seemed a bacchanalian fantasy come to life in a world that surpassed every Life magazine-fueled expectation, but it began to wear on the guys. The truth was that Glenn's drug use had been escalating to alarming degrees (he finally got off of drugs for good in the mid-80s). It was time to start slowing down and making some changes.
One of these changes occurred in 1978, when Glenn decided he wanted to settle down with Texas debutante Janie Beggs. As a result, he swore off the ferris wheel of women he had been riding all decade. With Janie's privileged background and refined artistic tastes, it seemed like a case of opposites attracting. (They eventually married in 1983, but by 1986, opposites repelled and they wound up in divorce court. For many years, Glenn referred to her jokingly in concert as "Plaintiff" when introducing "Lyin' Eyes".)
There were also changes occurring in his professional life. While the band had always had conflicts, things were coming to a head during the making of The Long Run. Tempers became shorter and shorter. People became more and more tired of each other. Power struggles became more and more pronounced. While these power struggles took place among all the members, not just Glenn and Don, the largely united front the two used to present was crumbling. Now, when they got together to write songs, it wasn't about hanging out and having fun. It was about each one trying to prove something; it was about competition; it was about besting themselves and each other. Glenn later said that neither wanted to suggest anything for fear it wouldn't be considered "brilliant," and that it had become all business.
Meanwhile, Felder was upset because his music wasn't getting on the albums and he felt like nothing more than a glorified session player, underappreciated by Glenn and Don Henley. This discontent manifested itself not only in the studio but in such petty things as insuring he got as big a hotel room as everyone else on tour. Unhappiness with Glenn and Don Henley even spread to Joe; as early as 1977, he discussed forming a new band with Randy and Felder (when Randy quit, he found out that this plan was nothing more than talk, to his bitter disappointment). Only late arrival Timothy Schmit seemed outside it all, expressing that he felt only sadness at all the conflict he was plunged into when he replaced Randy.
Glenn tried to keep it together for a time. He was the ultimate decision-maker, and as such had an additional responsibility to keep things running smoothly. Indeed, Glenn talked of "subordinating" himself to help soothe egos and facilitate productivity, all to no avail. It became too much. As Glenn expressed it, "I'd just start getting up in the morning and it was just like school. I didn't want to get up, dreading to go." As the angst-ridden recording sessions for The Long Run dragged on and on, what had once been rewarding and fulfilling was becoming a painful drudgery done mostly out of a sense of obligation. He began to wonder if this was really how he wanted to spend all of his energy and creativity. The Eagles could go on for years and years, but did he want years and years of looking at his work like a tiresome chore? How long could it be before all the joy was sucked out of it completely? A solo career was starting to look very tempting, to say the least.
Glenn had already half-way decided to leave the Eagles, but it was a difficult benefit gig for California Senator Alan Cranston on July 31, 1980 that finally pushed him over the edge. The hostility that had lately been seething below the surface and behind the scenes reared its ugly head for all to see when Felder publicly expressed disinterest in Cranston at a press conference for the show. Furious, Glenn confronted Felder before the band took the stage, and the two spent the entire concert exchanging threats. As Glenn tells it, "So now we're on stage, and Felder looks back at me and says, 'Only three more songs 'til I kick your ass, pal.' And I'm saying, 'Great. I can't wait.' We're out there singing 'Best of My Love,' but inside both of us are thinking, 'As soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill him.'" Sure enough, it erupted into a physical confrontation between Glenn and Don Felder afterwards, and it was then Glenn decided that he "had to get out." A short while later, he called up Don Henley and told him that he needed to go his own way. While Don was devastated - he hadn't expected it to end so unceremoniously and abruptly with nothing more than a polite phone call - he had no wish to continue the band without its co-founder and leader. While Glenn never actually came out and said so on the phone that day, it was understood that the Eagles were kaput.
Once Glenn went out on his own, he began working closely with Jack Tempchin, co-writer of the Eagles hits "Already Gone" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling." Glenn soon released his first solo album, No Fun Aloud, in 1982, and it was evident that the joy in his work had returned. The hits "The One You Love" and "I Found Somebody" established him as a solo artist, and his star rose further with "Smuggler's Blues" in 1984. That song attracted the attention of the writers for the hot series Miami Vice, who enlisted Glenn to play a role as a pilot for smugglers on their series. It was at this point Glenn became much more visible in the public eye as a solo name. His two most recognizable and popular songs, "The Heat Is On" and "You Belong to the City," were released around this time.
Movie and television producers recognized that Glenn had a natural aptitude for acting and began approaching him to appear in their projects. He had a starring role in Let's Get Harry and he appeared in an extended story arc on Wiseguy. He even starred in his own TV show called South of Sunset in 1993. Unfortunately, that show never got off the ground, and Glenn lost interest in acting, although he would continue to pop up every few years or so in supporting roles. Instead, he concentrated on his first love, music, which in truth he had never left. He'd released Soul Searchin' in 1988 which produced the top 40 hit "True Love", although he did not tour for it due to health problems (with the exception of some guest appearances with the Little River Band in Australia). Additionally, he put out Strange Weather and an accompanying video and live album in the early 90s. Widely considered Glenn's most sophisticated album and incontrovertibly his most topical, Strange Weather's strong material was nevertheless buried underneath the flannel of then-trendy grunge groups. Unlike many of those groups, however, the quality of Glenn's album still holds up today.
The late 80s and early 90s saw some major life changes for Glenn. One of these was Glenn's new dedication to fitness. In 1986, Glenn was struck down with diverticulitis to such a degree that he had to be hospitalized. It scared the crap out of him, literally. He decided to clean up his act - he swore off drugs and started working out. The drastic change showed and when it came time to promote Soul Searchin', he had a firm body and muscle definition to boot. Due to this and his song Livin' Right, he was even approached by a gym to do ads.
Livin' Right also garnered him something far more valuable, though. While filming the video, he met a dancer named Cindy. After a two-year courtship, they married in 1990 and had their first child, a daughter named Taylor, in 1991. Within a couple of years they had a son, Deacon, as well. About ten years later, Glenn became a daddy a third time with a second son named Otis. His new family gave Glenn a new outlook on life.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that these life changes accompanied other changes in attitude. While initially adamant that the Eagles were through for good in 1980, by 1990, Glenn was starting to soften towards the idea of a reunion. He told his manager, Irving Azoff, that "anything was possible" in the nineties. However, he was still skittish about it. An initial attempt in 1990 was called off after Glenn became impatient with all the scheduling issues and personal problems amongst his bandmates, deciding it wasn't worth the grief. He was happy in domestic life and felt no urgent need to get back into that grind. Still, that wasn't the end of the reunion rumblings. When Glenn and Joe Walsh went on the road together in 1993 as the Party of Two, speculation continued, but the tour ended without any reunion in sight.
It wasn't until 1994 that Glenn finally agreed to "resume" the Eagles with Hell Freezes Over. His change of heart occurred after he had a positive experience with the band when they got together to appear in Travis Tritt's video for his cover of Take It Easy. As the group jammed together, joking around and having a good time, Glenn realized that the rewards from a reunion could be more than monetary. Maybe it could actually be FUN. As a result, he gave the project the green light. Glenn never imagined what a commercial phenomenon Hell Freezes Over would become, however. The massive success of that album, TV special, video, and tour showed everyone that the Eagles still held incredible appeal and hadn't lost their edge over the 14 year "break." In fact, they sounded better than ever, more sober and focused than they were in the seventies. While the tour had to be stopped temporarily due to Glenn being afflicted once again by diverticulitis and having to get part of his intestine removed, he got back in the game like a trooper as soon as he recuperated and finished the job.
After that tour ended in 1996, Glenn put his solo work on the backburner for a while even though there were no immediate plans to continue with the Eagles. He didn't disappear, though. He did a bit more acting, appearing as Arizona Cardinal owner Dennis Wilburn in Jerry Maguire later that year and on Nash Bridges in 1997. In 1998, he became involved in the business end of the music scene. With the late Peter Lopez, an attorney, he formed the record company Mission Records. He participated in benefits such as Tiger Woods' charity concert "Tiger Jam" in 1998 with the Eagles, and then as a solo act for the next two years. The late 90s also saw the Eagles get inducted into the Hall of Fame (1998) and be named the Artists of the Century by the Recording Association of America (1999). Their album Greatest Hits: 1971-1975 was documented as being the best-selling album in music history. Not too shabby.
The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction was a rewarding experience that featured the first and only time all seven current and former members of the Eagles played onstage together. Those landmark performances of Take It Easy and Hotel California were not to be the last that was heard from the Eagles, though. A little over a year later, Glenn once again joined the then-current Eagles (Don Felder, Joe Walsh, Timothy Schmit, and Don Henley) onstage for concerts to celebrate the millennium in Los Angeles.
The Eagles line-up was to change once more not long after those performances; Don Felder got the boot. Glenn and Don Henley thought Felder was destructive to the band rather than an asset to it, and they were tired of his constant negativity. His firing led to an acrimonious lawsuit. In 2006, a settlement was agreed to, although a few bumps in the road still remained. Glenn decided not to hire a replacement, choosing to use a backup musician (Steuart Smith) to fill out the sound in concert and recording with the band as a foursome in the studio.
As that foursome, the Eagles continued to tour all over the world as part of a "Millennium Tour" in 2000-2001. Then, after a couple of years off, they began the "Farewell I" tour in 2003, which also produced a DVD. That tour morphed into the "California tour" of 2005 where they amazingly continued to sell out show after show in the golden state area, able to rake in the money without traveling further than Las Vegas (besides a brief jaunt to Hawaii for a few concerts and some fun in the sun, no doubt). For a time, it seemed that might be the end, as Glenn spoke of the appropriateness of finishing out in California where they started.
However, Eagles fans the world over were relieved to hear that the final curtain had not yet fallen on their favorite band. After a short break in early 2006, the Eagles continued touring. Glenn also did several solo shows in July 2006 despite the fact that throughout the rest of that year and into 2007, he and the Eagles continued working on completing their first new studio album in over 25 years: Long Road Out of Eden. A double album, it certainly gave the fans their money's worth. The album debuted at #1 and showed the Eagles were still at the top of the game. Critics also recognized its worth when they awarded the instrumental Glenn penned entitled "I Dreamed There Was No War" the accolade of "Best Pop Instrumental Performance." The Eagles toured behind the album, off and on, for several years.
In the midst of this, Glenn still managed to put together his first solo album since the nineties entitled After Hours (2011). In addition to the original title track, it contained covers of several songs from past years. Glenn stated it was for his parents, as many of the songs on it were favorites of theirs and from an earlier era. His brief tour behind the album included stops not only in the United States but also Australia.
Not standing idle for long, the Eagles released a biography of the band entitled the History of the Eagles in 2013. They mounted a mammoth worldwide tour to promote it, even including Bernie Leadon in the shows. The band chemistry seemed better than ever. The tour finally ended in the summer of 2015. That same year, the Eagles received the highly prestigious honor of the Kennedy Center Awards.
But Glenn wasn't the kind of guy who was just about his career. He was dedicated to his family. In his words, "My first commitment is to them." He'd also developed quite a fondness for golf, a game at which he excelled. He even golfed in celebrity and pro-am tournaments for several years. Additionally, he participated in benefit tournaments to raise money for causes such as leukemia research and treatment, as well as the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Other charitable interests include the Aspen Youth Experience, which gives inner-city youths a chance to get out in the mountains, and the Children's Christian Fund. Glenn was always drawn the most towards children's charities. He didn't make a big show about giving to causes, but he was generous and caring.
In November of 2015, Glenn once again underwent surgery for the intestinal problems that had plagued him since the eighties. This time, however,his recovery was complicated by the medications he took to fight his rheumatoid arthirtis. They weakened his ability to fight off the pneumonia that occurred as a side effect. On top of his acute ulceritive colitis, it was just too much for his body to take.
He passed away on January 18, 2016.
He left behind him a legacy that will never be forgotten, and he will live on in the many hearts he has touched.
God bless you, Glenn Frey. You made the world a better place. Thank you.
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P.S. Feel free to send in corrections if there are any inaccuracies in the above.