RIP Glenn Frey - Finally Checked Out Of Hotel California! 20/1/16


Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67 from stomach problems, was a founding member, singer, guitarist and driving force of the 1970's Californian country-rock band the Eagles, co-writing most of their biggest hits and taking part in a journey which saw a group of smiling young troubadours morph into drug-addled superstar burn-outs, before reuniting in later life as seasoned old pros. The Eagles were founded in Los Angeles in 1971 by Frey and his songwriting partner, the drummer and singer Don Henley. Over the next decade they became the most popular group in the world, Frey and Henley turning out hits, often with Frey as lead singer, including 'Tequila Sunrise', 'Lyin’ Eyes', 'Heartache Tonight' and of course 'Hotel California'.

Their 'Greatest Hits' became the biggest-selling album of all time (29 million units in its original 1975 form plus 11 million when it was repackaged in 1982 to include later hits), above even Michael Jackson’s 'Thriller'. Altogether the Eagles sold more than 120 million albums worldwide while Frey won six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards. The band’s success was built on recording techniques which smoothed out any grit, producing a sort of shiny, all-American homogeneity. Even their darkest material was full of easy-on-the-ear harmonies, leading critics to accuse them of killing Rock and Roll with synthetic kitsch and creating a template for singer-songwriters such as Elton John.

Behind the scenes, however, the Eagles conformed to a more traditional Rock and Roll stereotype. The title track of their classic 1976 album, 'Hotel California', evoked a musty, claustrophobic decadence: “Last thing I remember I was running for the door / I had to find the passage back to the place I was before / 'Relax’, said the night man, 'We are programmed to receive / You can check out any time you like but you can never leave’. ” Frey once described their career in the 1970's as “got crazy, got drunk, got high, had girls, played music and made money’’. He might have added “fought like cats and dogs”. “The Eagles talked about breaking up from the day I met them,” as their manager, Irving Azoff, recalled. Of their original four-man line-up, guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner departed, in 1975 and 1977 respectively, after disagreements with Frey, Leadon famously announcing his departure by pouring a can of beer over Frey’s head.

Relations among the replacement line up of Frey and Henley, with Don Felder, Timothy Schmit and Joe Walsh, deteriorated during the making of their 1979 album, 'The Long Run', which took 18 months to produce. In 1978 Walsh caused $20,000 worth of damage to a Chicago hotel room with a chain saw. The following year Henley was arrested after a naked 16-year-old prostitute suffered a drug overdose during a party at his home in Los Angeles. Police seized cocaine, marijuana and quaaludes and Henley was subsequently charged for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, fined and put on probation. The last straw came at their final concert, a Democratic Party fundraiser in July 1980 at the Long Beach Arena. During an evening later referred to as “Long Night at Wrong Beach”, the Eagles broke up in drug-fuelled rancour, with band members threatening to beat each other up.

Although Frey played his part in the hellraising, he was always the most businesslike of the group. After the break-up, he went on to forge a successful solo career, his debut solo album, 'No Fun Aloud' (1982, in part a collaboration with the songwriter Jack Tempchin), going gold and spawning several hit singles, including 'The One You Love'. His single 'The Heat Is On' went and reached No. 2 in the Billboard charts (No. 12 in Britain) after it featured as a soundtrack in the 1984 film Beverly Hills Cop. Frey also embarked on a career as an actor, becoming the first rock star to appear (as a drug dealer) on Miami Vice (for which he wrote and performed the song 'You Belong to the City', which reached No. 2 in the US charts), doing a Pepsi commercial, starring with Robert Duvall and Gary Busey in the film Let’s Get Harry (1986) and taking a small role in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire.

In the mid-1980's he embarked on a self-administered “detox” programme, which was so successful that in 1989 the Health and Tennis Corporation of America signed him up as a spokesman. After the Eagles’ break-up Frey ruled out the possibility of reuniting “for a Lost Youth and Greed tour”, while Don Henley claimed that the group would only get back together again “when hell freezes over”!! Fourteen years later, however, in 1994 they came together for a massively successful “Hell Freezes Over” tour, and they continued to perform together until last year, drawing big crowds and earning big bucks, and releasing five compilation albums, a live album and, in 2007, 'Long Road Out of Eden', the first Eagles album of new material since 'The Long Run' in 1979. The following year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Mrs. WTS and myself saw the Eagles for the only time at the 02 Arena in London in June 2014 and for me, few bands were better at distilling the vibe of Los Angeles in the 1970's than the Eagles, and as its singer and guitarist, Glenn Frey served as a sort of mellow ambassador of LA. Just as Liverpool is forever associated with the Beatles, Seattle claims Nirvana and Bruce Springsteen owns New Jersey, the Eagles embodied the bell-bottomed, feather-haired flair of Southern California. Frey may be gone, but those sun-baked, Southern California ballads, many sung with exquisite tenderness, will endure forever... He is a fallen Eagle whose legacy will last for the long run...

Wrinkly the Silver