We can thank Linda Ronstadt for helping form the Eagles. The seeds for the legendary band were first planted when Ronstadt recruited session musicians Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and Don Henley to back her on tour.
"We would all sit around motel rooms together, and they'd be working out harmonies," Ronstadt recalled in an interview. "They were so good. I knew the Eagles were going to make it."
Decades later it was Ronstadt again who inspired Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey to record his latest solo album, "After Hours."
AUTUMN de WILDE photo
The famous Eagle performs soulful hit tunes on the piano
JIM SHELDON photo
Benjy and Heather Wertheimer of the kirtan group Shantala will return to Maui at 7 p.m. on Sunday to perform “Sacred Chants,” the Sacred Music of India at Makawao Union Church.
Photo courtesy Shantala
"Linda made some records with Nelson Riddle (starting with the Grammy nominated 'What's New') and they were just beautiful records, immaculately assembled with not a note out of place," Frey explains. "I was very impressed. When I played with Linda she was basically a country rock singer. Once she attained some success, she went out and showed all of us that there's more to life than pop music. She did a lot of different things and put no limits on the journey she wanted to take. I was inspired by that. I wanted to make this kind of record for a long time and finally I made myself do it."
Many veteran artists from Rod Stewart to Paul McCartney have been drawn to covering classic songs. "Maybe we feel we have a unique appreciation for the material being songwriters," he notes. "We appreciate how well written and how great these songs are."
On his first solo album in 20 years, Frey covers classic love songs including standards like "Sentimental Reasons" and "My Buddy," alongside more recent tunes, like the Beach Boys' "Caroline, No" and Randy Newman's "Same Girl."
* For tickets: Glenn Frey and his band perform on Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's A&B Amphitheater. The gates will open at 5 p.m. and the show will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $55, $79 and $89, with a limited number of $129 premium tickets available (plus applicable fees). Call 242-7469.
Did he have any apprehension about taking on iconic material?
"You feel like you're sort of a caretaker and you don't want to mess anything up," he reports. "My approach was respect for the material and be true to the melody. I wasn't going to change very much in the way the songs are. My intention was to not goof anything up."
Heading to Maui to perform his only public concert in Hawaii on Saturday, Frey promises: "My show has a little bit of everything. I play a lot of stuff from my Eagles' days and stuff from my solo career, which I concentrated on in the '80s, and some 'After Hours' stuff. It makes for a very nice evening with a lot of rich music and a bit of rocking. It's going to be a great night at the MACC."
One of America's most popular bands, the Eagles helped define the Southern California music sound of the 1970s. As Rolling Stone noted, they "specialized in broadly appealing, masterfully crafted tunes."
Selling more than 100 million albums, Eagles' anthems like "Hotel California," "Take It Easy," "Life in the Fast Lane," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Desperado" and "The Long Run" are still routinely played on classic rock radio stations across the nation. Their "Greatest Hits (1971-1975)" album was ranked the best selling record of the 20th century and still today flip-flops between the No. 1 and No. 2 position with Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as the greatest selling album ever.
A new documentary, "History of the Eagles," released on DVD this week, traces the evolution of the band from its formative days to mass chart success, their demise in 1980, and triumphant reformation in 1994.
Frey says the musicians felt it was finally time to shed light on the checkered path of the group.
"The clock is ticking. We had it in mind for quite a while that we were going to do this. Once we put the band back together in 1994, we started having a guerrilla film crew around and we were trying to keep a visual record. We decided about three years ago that we were going to do it, and the most important thing was to hire the right people to help us make the film. So we hired Alex Gibney to produce it for us."
Unlike some sanitized biographies, "History" is definitely not sugar coated, as it illuminates both the highs and lows of the band's career.
"Alex won an Academy Award for Best Documentary for 'Taxi to the Dark Side' about Guantanamo,"continues Frey. "And he was also nominated for a documentary about Enron. People in my office sent me reels on some music bio stuff and I didn't like any of it enough. So I started looking at people who won Academy Awards for documentaries. Alex Gibney is a great storyteller and that's what we wanted. I had a meeting with him and said, 'let's tell the story, warts and all. Talk to everyone including people who maybe don't feel so much affection for everybody. He did that, he presented the whole picture. I'm very happy with the project."
The documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later screened on the Showtime channel, provides many fascinating insights into the band. "There's much speculation about the Eagles because we didn't really say a lot about what we were doing, we didn't explain everything," he says. "So this was an opportunity to shed some light on the band. Another thing I took away from the film was how much fun it was. Some people think the Eagles were this sort of intense, dark, boiling cauldron of personalities. It may well have been, but one thing I remember now was how much fun it was."
Raised in Detroit, Frey found a mentor in rocker Bob Seger, who co-wrote a single recorded by a local group Frey played with, and in 1968, he was invited to sing backing vocals and play guitar on Seger's album, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man."
After moving to Los Angeles, Frey was asked to tour with Ronstadt and he suggested a new friend, Don Henley, as drummer.
At the time, bands such as the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds were creating what was dubbed the "L.A. Sound," mixing folk, country and rock.
The Eagles would take that sound and soar higher than any predecessor.
Their first single from their debut album, "Take it Easy," written by Frey and Jackson Browne, entered the Top 10, and two other songs, "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Witchy Woman," were also hits.
As a follow-up, the band hit on a old Western-themed concept album "Desperado," which, while it's now viewed as one of their masterpieces, was derided (as revealed in the documentary) by one of their label's executives as a bunch of cowboy music.
"We were really helped by Ronstadt recording that song," says Frey. "It was a big boost for the song again and restimulated the album. It was one of the first songs that Henley and I wrote together. It's just a treasure in our catalogue."
So how does he approach composing with Henley?
"Don Henley is one of the most well-read people that I know and I used to jokingly sit down with him and say, Don, what's pissing you off?" says Frey. They (songs) usually come out of conversations. Sometimes he will have song ideas or titles and I will have song ideas or chords. We just start talking and stirring the pot a bit and usually something happens."
The Eagles released an album every year from 1972 to 1976, culminating with "Hotel California," which has sold more than 32 million copies worldwide.
The album's epic final track, "The Last Resort," vividly evoked the colonialist destruction of native cultures. And as any Eagles fan in Hawaii is well aware, the song referenced the missionary impact in the islands.
"You can leave it all behind, and sail to Lahaina," Henley sang. "Just like the missionaries did, so many years ago. They even brought a neon sign: 'Jesus is coming,' Brought the white man's burden down, brought the white man's reign."
"We had been to Maui a few years before we wrote the 'Last Resort,' " Frey explains. "Don and I were on Maui I think in 1974 or '75, maybe the first time we went outside of Honolulu. You gather these experiences and sometimes they end up in songs. That song is a journey, it's quite an opus."
One wonders, does Frey have a fondness for any particular songs?
"They all happened at certain times in my life, so they mean something as chapters in my book," he says. "The thing that happens early in your career is that everything is a first, your first record deal, your first hit, your first big hall concert, your first number one, your first gold album, and it's very exciting and you never forget those starting with songs like 'Take it Easy' and going on and on through those six albums we made in the '70s."
After releasing one more album, "In the Long Run," the band broke up in 1980. Subsequently, each of the members pursued solo careers. Frey charted with "The One You Love" and "Sexy Girl," and then "The Heat Is On," featured in the movie, "Beverly Hills Cop," earned him a top hit in 1985.
Since the Eagles famously reported they wouldn't reform, "until hell freezes over," their reunion in 1994, was called the "Hell Freezes Over Tour." They followed with the album, "Hell Freezes Over," which has sold more than 10-million copies.
The Eagles continued to tour throughout the 1990s and 2000s, perennially ranking among the nation's most successful tours. They returned to the studio once again in 2007, for "Long Road out of Eden."
After 40 years of crafting Eagles' music, Frey says he still feels pretty amazed that their music is so loved.
"Every time I walk on stage I'm reminded of that. It's just a very good feeling to know that I'm still able to go out and perform either by myself or with my friends. It feels good."
Acclaimed kirtan musicians Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, known as Shantala return to Maui to perform an evening of the "Sacred Music of India/ Sacred Chants" at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Makawao Union Church.
Shantala has performed and recorded internationally with such sacred music luminaries as Krishna Das, Deva Premal and Miten, and Jai Uttal. Yoga Journal lauded their album, "Sri" as, "an intoxicating mix of Eastern and Western a sense of playfulness, devotion and authenticity shines through in each track."
A brilliant multi-instrumentalist, Benjy has also studied Indian classical music for more than 25 years with some of the greatest masters of that tradition including Alla Rakha, Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan.
Their latest recording, "Jaya!," is a sublime collection of chants highlighted by exemplary world fusion musicianship. The concert will also feature guest multi-instrumentalist Sean Frenette, whose influences range from Segovia and Bach to Jimi Hendrix.
Advance tickets are $15 and now on sale at Maui Kombucha in Haiku or Monsoon India Restaurant in Kihei. Entrance at the door is $20 cash only.