Musician Glenn Frey – Part 2

In the final part of a two-night conversation, the six-time Grammy winner discusses how he’s changed over the years and his interest in writing a memoir about his work with the Eagles.

Best known as one of the founders of the Eagles—winners of six Grammys and one of the most successful bands of all time—Glenn Frey has also enjoyed solo success. With such soundtrack songs as "The Heat Is On" and "You Belong to the City," he's had 12 songs in the U.S. Top 100. He's also acted on TV, in films and commercials. Frey hails from Michigan and got into music early, before eventually heading to California, where he launched a serious music career. He's been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame and is out with his first solo album in almost 20 years, "After Hours."


Tavis: We’re back with night two of a conversation with Glenn Frey. This wasn’t supposed to happen this way, but the good stuff always goes down like this. You start a conversation that you think is going to be one night, and the conversation is so rich and so lively and so inspiring that you want to spend more time with a great guy like Glenn Frey.

His new project, out now, is called “After Hours.” It’s a wonderful collection of standards and classics, and you’ll want to hear the way Glenn Frey puts his own taste and spin on this classic stuff. So Glenn, thanks again for sticking around for another conversation.

I wanted you to stick around because we were in the middle of a story last night that I couldn’t stop. We were talking about “The Heat is On,” and you were telling me that Faltermeyer, they send you the record, and pick up the story from there.

Glenn Frey: Well, like I said, I never thought I’d get a song in “Beverly Hills Cop,” and two and a half months after I saw the screening they sent me this tape, and it sounded kind of like Huey Lewis, kind of like something I might do.

I said, “What the heck, it’s Christmas, they’ll pay me a little money.” So I went, I sang it one day and I played guitar and sang background vocals the next day, and I didn’t really think too much of it.

Then when the movie came out and the record came out, (laughter) and then not only that, but they’re playing “The Heat is On” for the Big East basketball tournament, it’s playing all over all these sporting events.

The record sells millions and millions of copies. It had all those great records on it, “Neutron Dance” and “Axle Steam,” and I was very lucky. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Tavis: You can’t imagine, you can’t imagine that movie, though, without that songs. Those opening scenes of that semi chase –

Frey: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: – it’s just unbelievable.

Frey: Oh, yeah, with him hanging on to the semi? I bet, yeah, yeah.

Tavis: All the cigarettes in the back of the truck.

Frey: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: But the movie is not the same without that song. Since you went there, how much of your career, or are there moments in your career beyond that, where it really was about – your gift is undeniable, but how much of your success has to do with timing? As you said, with being in the right place at the right – are there other examples of that, where things just happened for you because –

Frey: Well, yeah. I think it happens often, but I think it’s – you’ve also got to be there and you’ve also got to be ready, so that when the light shines you’re able to step up and do what you’ve got to do.

If I hadn’t met Jackson Browne I’d have never met David Geffen, and if I’d have never met David Geffen, I would have never had a place to bring the Eagles. It was interesting – I told you before, Bob Seger gave me a great bit of advice, which was you’ve got to write your own songs.

Now, Jackson Browne was very kind to JD Souther and I and a lot of the guys that were working the folk club circuit back in 1970, ’71, and he introduced JD and I to David Geffen. I went on the road with Linda Ronstadt and we had three days off, and he said, “What do you want to do? You want to go to Nashville or you want to go to Muscle Shoals?”

We all looked at each other and said, “Let’s go to Muscle Shoals.” So I called David Geffen up and I said, “Can I have $500 to do a demo? I want to do some of the songs that I’m going to be doing.” So we went in there and I spent $2,300. I was in there for two days. (Laughter)

I brought the stuff back to David Geffen. Not only was he mad that I spent extra money, but he wasn’t too impressed.

Tavis: Right.

Frey: He said to me, “Glenn, you should be in a band.” He said, “You’re not a solo artist.” He said, “You should get in a band. You can play to your strengths, you can hide your weaknesses, you can be around some guys that are good, and I think that’s the way you should go.”

Then I said, “Okay,” in my, I said okay, and so then I set out to put together a band. I knew I wanted to be with Don Henley and have, I wanted to have great singers as well as good players. Then we told Linda Ronstadt that we wanted to have our own band.

She was thinking about putting together a super-group to back her up, with all the best country rock musicians. We said to Linda, “Well, we want to have our own band.” Now, I guess she could have been miffed, but she wasn’t. She said, “I understand. I understand that, and you know who’d be really good with you is Bernie Leadon. When we play Disneyland I’m going to get Bernie to come out and jam with us.” (Laughter)

So she brought Bernie in and Don and I met her, and then we had another gig up in Los Altos at a restaurant performance place and she helped us to get Randy Meisner to come and replace the bass player for a weekend so we could meet him.

So Linda really helped us get the Eagles together. But that’s all a little serendipitous. The stars have got to line up.

Tavis: You’ve said a couple of things I want to go back and get and have you just kind of unpack for me. One, I think you’re right about the fact – and this is my phraseology of what you’ve just said – you’ve got to be open to constructive criticism, you’ve got to be open to critique. But not everybody is, particularly if you are hell-bent on the idea that this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it.

So when David Geffen – obviously, you have to respect his artistic genius and his style – but what is it, what was it about David Geffen, obviously your trust or something in him, that allowed you to accept so easily his critique of you, or are you just putting on and you really didn’t accept it that easily?

Frey: No, he was the golden boy. He was representing not only Joni – Laura Nero, Joni Mitchell, like I said, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil, Jackson. He was the songwriter’s agent and manager, so he was right. He was right.

At 22, 23 years old I wasn’t ready to make a solo album. I wasn’t even ready to write songs, really. I was just getting going in that direction. So he was right. Then I went out and like I said, we got Bernie to come in jam, and I pitched him about what we were going to do, and got Randy to come and jam at another show and I pitched him about what we were going to do.

Then I went back and I called up David Geffen. I said, “David, we’ve got to have a meeting. I just told Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner I know you, (laughter) and I’m not sure if they believe me, but can we get together?”

Tavis: Right.

Frey: So we walked into David’s office, and Bernie Leadon, who’s kind of – what’s the word I want to look for – he’s a little surly, (laughter) in kind of a good way, but no, we came into David’s office and he sat down, and Bernie kind of went, “Well, do you want us or not?” (Laughter)

As I recall, I think David was a little, like, didn’t really know what to say for a minute or two. Then he said, “Well, yes, yes, yes, and here’s what I want to do.” Then we started talking about producers and what to do.

They were real smart. The first thing they did when we got together was they sent us to Colorado to play in a ski bar for four weeks and get our act together and work out and get to know each other, so that was a big step. Then we came back to L.A. and played, and then got Glyn Johns, the British producer, to produce us.

I was just over in London. It’s so strange to imagine that “Take it Easy” and “Desperado” and all of these songs were recorded in London when they’re sort of California –

Tavis: California, yeah, yeah.

Frey: – country rock.

Tavis: So the other thing I want to go back to, so Geffen gives you his critique and says by being in a band you can play to your strengths and you can hide or mask your weaknesses. Great advice, but you have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are.

What were they? I assume by now you’ve probably moved past that, but what were you good at then and what were your weaknesses at that point, when you and the Eagles first got together? What did the band allow you to mask?

Frey: Well, I wasn’t the best guitar player in the band, so we needed a better guitar player. I couldn’t be the only guy.

Tavis: Okay. That’s an honest answer. Most people wouldn’t want to go anywhere near a question like this.

Frey: It was really sort of the songwriting thing, and I wasn’t really, I didn’t really even know how to write a song. I was living in Echo Park in a really small, $60 a month place. JD Souther and I both had it. Underneath, in an apartment that was probably illegal it was so small lives Jackson Browne.

We’d go out to the Troubadour every night and drink beers and come home late and try to meet girls, and 9:00 in the morning I hear the tea kettle going off in Jackson’s apartment underneath me, and then he’d go over to – you’d hear him playing the piano. He’d be working on “Rock Me on the Water” or he’d be working on these songs like this.

He’d work on a verse and he’d play it six or seven times, and I’d roll over in bed, “Ugh.” (Laughter) Then there’d be silence, and then I’d fall back to sleep. Then I’d hear the teapot go off again and then he’d come back to the piano and he’d have the second verse.

Then he played the first verse, of course, and the second verse over and over and over again until he was really happy with it. I’m laying up there going, “So that’s how you do it – it’s elbow grease. It’s persistence, it’s repetition, it’s revision. You don’t just sit down and light up and then the muse smiles on you and you write some great song.”

So I took that to heart. He wasn’t even trying to show me how to write songs, but he really was showing me how to write songs. It’s a lot of work. Hoagy Carmichael once said, they asked him about writing songs, and he said, “Well, first of all, you’d better really want to.”

Because it’s not easy. It’s a challenge, but it’s one I welcome. It’s why I still write songs, because I never know how it’s going to turn out.

Tavis: Why, though, to Hoagy’s admonition, why, though, have you and do you still want to?

Frey: Well, it’s what I’m good at. I’m good at writing songs and I’m good at making records, and so I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the self-exploration. I remember when the Eagles got back together in 1994 and I hadn’t really – I’d seen Don off and on, always pleasant, always sending each other our best wishes, but we hadn’t written a song together in 14 years.

Then I remember when we wrote “Get Over It,” we looked at each other and said, “We can still do it, man. We still got it.” So that started us again on another cycle of writing songs. But I think the songwriting thing is the key piece.

Tavis: That was the “When Hell Freezes Over” tour.

Frey: That’s right. (Laughter) That’s right, because they used to ask –

Tavis: Aptly named.

Frey: – when are the Eagles getting back together, and that’s what we would all say, so we thought it was (laughter) a pretty good way to start.

Tavis: It was pretty good, yeah. Aptly titled. You referenced in this conversation last night when we were talking about “The Heat is On” initially on this program last evening, you referenced going to a screening, and you looked over one shoulder and you saw Quincy Jones, over another shoulder, you saw Stevie Wonder and a few other great songwriters.

What kind of songwriters – you mentioned Hoagy Carmichael a couple of times in this conversation – who would intimidate you as a songwriter? I don’t mean intimidate in terms of frightening you to the point of scaring the gift out of you, but people you just look at and say, “That is a songwriter.”

Frey: Brian Wilson.

Tavis: Yeah?

Frey: Bacharach and David, Holland Dozier and Holland, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, James Taylor, just for starters. (Laughter) Don Henley. Don Henley.

Tavis: Just for starters, yeah. Have you figured out yet – I always ask this question, as the audience knows. I always ask this question because I’m curious of every great songwriter what their definition is of a good song or a great song. What makes a great song for you after all these years?

Frey: Well, nothing’s out of place, first of all. It seems like everything that happens in the song is natural and you never go, “Oh, why’d he go to that chord,” or “Why did they put a bridge there, it didn’t need,” so it always has a natural flow to it.

Then it’s a sort of a combination after that of the chord changes, the melody and the lyrics, and how it all flows together. Then the other thing is it’s visceral. It gets you. It gets you in some sort of place that’s mind, spirit, body, cosmic place. That something that happens when you listen to music.

Like these songs on “After Hours,” just to get back to that for a minute, I’ve been playing some shows with the orchestra and people are in the audience, and of course I open up with a few Eagles songs so everybody relaxes and know I’m not going to indulge myself in whatever I want.

Then I start playing songs from this record, and I’ll start out and play “Sentimental Reasons,” and I’ll look out at the audience and I’ll see some guy leaning forward, “I like that song. Do you like that song?” “Yeah, I like that song.” Then they’re watching like this.

Then after that I’ll go into “Shadow of Your Smile,” and all of a sudden the hands are touching and he’s going, “I like that song too.” (Laughter) Just something happens to people, this romantic music, and that’s what music does. It gets us in a place that language alone can’t go.

Tavis: I have always, since being a kid, I’ve always loved strings. Strings do it for me. But do you have to, to this new project, “After Hours,” do you have to be, or when you achieve a certain age, can you appreciate this stuff better?

Frey: I think so. I think so. I don’t think these songs are easy to write. I don’t think any songs are easy to write. But the orchestra is just another thing. We use synthesizers to do mockups for strings, and some stuff we do has got electric guitars.

We might just put a pad there. But there is nothing like the real players, being in a room with them, watching the bows, having all that happen. It’s like you’re on a magic carpet ride. You’re surrounded in this big, wonderful, warm place. It’s hard not to sing well and with feeling when you’re surrounded with all of these orchestrations.

Tavis: You use an iPod?

Frey: No.

Tavis: You don’t.

Frey: No.

Tavis: You don’t use one?

Frey: I’m kind of technophobic.

Tavis: Wow.

Frey: Write songs, write letters by hand. I text. That’s about as far as I’ve gone. (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s cool, actually. Nobody – I’m glad you said that. I was in a conversation the other day about the fact that nobody writes letters anymore. Nobody writes letters anymore, and I actually like that. Over the course of my life and career I guess I started out as a packrat, but at some point I really started to appreciate my packrat nature, because I have this wonderful collection of anything ever sent to me by anybody who mattered to me that I’ve kept.

I’ve kept every letter I think my mother ever wrote me, and from presidents and kings and personalities. I just have a huge basement, very – I know this because I had a lady come to my house last year and archive all this stuff for me.

But it was so cool to sit in the middle of the floor and to just go through all these handwritten letters that I’ve received from all kinds of people. Many famous, some not so famous, but the richness of being able to put your hands on this as opposed to looking at it on an iPhone – nothing against the iPhone – with a text, it just did something for me.

So to hear you say that you still write letters and you still write stuff down is pretty cool.

Frey: I just, it feels good. It feels comfortable for me. It’s the way I’ve always done it. I think there’s something about looking at the words on paper that’s different than looking at the words on the screen, so like I said, I’m just kind of old-fashioned that way.

I remember I was writing an outline for a book, I wanted to write a book about my life in the Eagles. I still do, and I hope to get to it in the not-too-distant future. But I remember when I was writing the outline a friend of mine who was helping with it said, “Well, go on computer. Go on computer and do this. It’s going to be a lot easier.”

I barely got the title page centered and I was already struggling and stuff. I said, “I can’t do this.” I said, “I’m going to write on a legal pad, then I’m going to have somebody type it out triple-spaced. Then I’m going to take a look at it and make my changes, and then we’re going to print it up again.” But that’s the way I’ve got to do it.

Now, my best friend and road manager, a guy named Tommy Nixon, his father-in-law was Ray Bradbury.

Tavis: Oh, wow. (Laughter)

Frey: When I was getting all frustrated about how these computers, I can’t really do this, just give me a legal pad. Tommy goes, “Glenn, it’s okay. Ray writes on a legal pad and an old typewriter that he goes like this.” He says, “So don’t worry; you don’t have to be computer proficient to write.” So kind of like I said, I haven’t really totally embraced that yet.

Tavis: I’m still writing on legal pads myself. I can’t help it. Since you went there, this, as I mentioned last night and again tonight, is the 40th anniversary – 40 years since the Eagles got together.

I suspect that there are a lot of stories over that four decades, and I also suspect that now that you’ve told the world you want to write a book about your life with the Eagles, you’re going to get 25 million publishers calling you tomorrow trying to close that deal and offering you a ghost writer who will type, write, however you want it done.

But what is it – and I don’t want to get too far inside the book, obviously, because you haven’t written it as yet, but are there things or are there themes that you want us to know about this four-decade journey that we think we know and really don’t?

Frey: I think that there’s certainly things that probably need to be explained a little better. The Eagles, we weren’t very much of a media band. We didn’t do a lot of interviews, we didn’t expose that way. This year at Christmas or just after Christmas we have a two-DVD history of the Eagles that’s going to come out, so I’ve been kind of digging through the past.

We hired a great director to do this project for us. His name is Alex Gibney. He won the Academy Award –

Tavis: I know Alex.

Frey: – for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Enron.” I’d seen a bunch of videos of guys that have done music biography type stuff, and I said, “Hold it, just send me a reel of the guys that got nominated for best director of a documentary.”

So I looked through this and I chose Alex, and I said, “Can we have a meeting?” So I met with him in New York, and I remember before I met him I went back to my outline to look at especially 1971 through 1980, and when I sat down with him I said, “Alex, every year, the Eagles had huge obstacles that had to be overcome.”

We had to change producers, record companies, managers, personnel, business managers, all these changes. Every time there was something that really had to overcome. Looking back on it, when I was young, I’m just pushing the boulder up the mountain, and I felt like there was nothing going to stop me. Come on, let’s go, we’ve got to fix this.

But as I looked back on it, I noticed that there were really things that we had to overcome. Then the other thing that I noticed was we really had a lot of fun. The Eagles, we’re intense, we’re serious guys, we’re volatile, we all care about what we’re doing. We don’t always agree, but it’s because we’re passionate.

But I think – and maybe one of the biggest misnomers is people think that the Eagles argue a lot. We don’t. But we don’t always agree, either. I feel like the Eagles is a very worthwhile relationship. We’ve had peaks and valleys and we’ve sustained, like a good marriage.

Basically, I think one of the reasons why we’ve managed to survive this long is because we really care about each other, but I think the one thing that I think that people might not think is that we didn’t have as much fun as maybe we really did. We had a lot of fun.

Tavis: I don’t find that hard to believe, you get a band together. (Laughter) There’s going to be some fun had somewhere. I’m going to close this conversation where we began last night. I was thanking you for being so kind to me, not that it should have mattered that I was a nobody, and for that matter, I still may be a nobody, but you spent time with me at that underground club that Helena opened up and talked to me like I really mattered, and I’ve never forgotten that 20 years ago.

But you weren’t married then, and since then you’ve gotten married and got a few kids. That’s what happens when you –

Frey: If you stick around.

Tavis: If you stick around, yeah, life goes on. (Laughter) You’re not hanging out in clubs anymore, meeting chicks. So how has that changed Glenn Frey over the years, the wife and the babies?

Frey: It’s nice to have someone to share your ups and downs with. It means a lot more when you can come home and talk about it. Great wife, great kids. I have a rule, which is never brag about your marriage. Just make sure everything’s going good.

But I’m very lucky. Marriage, children, that’s the real world. The Eagles is a vacation. The Eagles is – I used to say I only go on the road with the Eagles because that’s where people do what I tell them. (Laughter)

I just played the Wiltern with the orchestra. It was a crowning night, wonderful performance, Santa Monica High School orchestra, everything’s great. We’re at the after party, and all of a sudden it’s 1:30 and they’re getting ready to close the place.

I said, “I think I’m going to stay for another half-hour.” (Laughter) Because I know what’s waiting. Garbage, dishwasher, dog doo. But that’s the real world, and that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest reward.

Tavis: Well, I’m glad I live in the real world and I’m glad you are a part of this real world. You have –

Frey: We were in the real world together, and we didn’t know it. But that makes me feel real good, that I met you and we had this conversation, because that’s the way I am and that’s the way you were, and now here we are, able to enjoy this moment and look back.

Tavis: You have infinitely enhanced my life with your gift, your artistry, and I learned that night your humanity as well. It’s a blessing to have you on this program.

The new project from Glenn Frey is called “After Hours.” It’s all the good stuff, with his own song stylings placed on it. You will want to add this to your collection, trust me.

We look forward later this year to that two-DVD collection about the life and times of the Eagles. Glenn, honor to have you here, man.

Frey: Thanks Tavis.

Tavis: I’ve enjoyed this immensely.

Frey: Me too.

Tavis: Thank you, sir.

Frey: You bet.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, keep the faith.

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Last modified: July 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm