Over the weekend, Showtime premiered History Of The Eagles: The Story Of An American Band. The three hour doc aired in two parts: part one covered the band’s history through their 1980 breakup, and part two covered the years since. The film included some surprisingly revealing moments about a band who has generally been secretive about their inner workings. Credit is due to them for allowing estranged associates — including bandmates (Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and particularly Don Felder), producers (Glyn Johns) and business associates (David Geffen) — to have their say on camera. It’s difficult to imagine Beyonce (whose self-produced documentary also debuted over the weekend on HBO) or Paul McCartney giving screen time to their adversaries in a documentary that they participated in.
That said, the film offers no doubt as to who runs The Eagles – it is essentially narrated by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who both look directly at the camera in their interview segments, while everyone else’s interviews (including Eagles Joe Walsh and Timothy B Schmit and friends including Bob Seger, Jackson Browne and Kenny Rogers) are looking at an off camera interviewer. The message: Don and Glenn are telling you their story. So here’s five takeaways from the doc: there’s more than that, though, so if you haven’t seen the film go to sho.com for future airings.
1 – Glenn Frey almost played bass for Bob Seger. Seger wanted Frey in his band, and it might have happened… had Frey’s mom not busted him smoking pot with a friend. At that point, she decided that she didn’t want him joining a rock band and kiboshed the deal. However, you can hear Frey singing on the studio version of one of Seger’s earliest classics, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.”
2 – Joe Walsh was a big influence on The Eagles… before he even joined the band. The Eagles were pegged as “country-rock” from early in their career, and the guy who produced their first two albums, Glyn Johns (who had previously worked with The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Faces and Humble Pie) saw them as more country than rock. They wanted someone who could get them more of a “rock” sound, so in the midst of recording album #3 (1974’s On The Border), they ditched Johns and hired Bill Szymczyk, based on his work on Walsh’s 1973 album The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get. Eventually, founding guitarist Leadon – more of a country musician – left and they replaced him with Walsh.
3 – Don Felder really wanted to sing “Victim Of Love”: Felder brought the band the music that ending up becoming “Hotel California,” and after that, “Victim Of Love.” He wanted to write and sing two songs on the Hotel California album, and he wanted to take the lead vocals on “Victim.” Felder maintains that he was “promised” that he could sing. Henley tells the camera: “I have no recollection of anybody being promised anything. ‘Victim Of Love’ was not brought to the band as a complete song. It was simply another chord progression that Don Felder brought in. It had no title, no lyrics and no melody.” Henley, Frey and J.D. Souther finished the song. “We did let Mr. Felder sing it: he sang it dozens of times over the span of a week. Over and over and over again. It simply didn’t come up to band standards.” Band manager Irving Azoff took Felder out to lunch while Henley cut the lead vocals for the song.
4 – Classic Rock Radio kept The Eagles on the airwaves: This one isn’t really news to anyone who listens to classic rock radio. But while some artists don’t acknowledge the role the format has had on their careers, Glenn Frey starts part two of the documentary by acknowledging that, at the time the band split in 1980, classic rock radio was launching on the FM dial. “When the band broke up, they kept playing our songs. All. The. Time. It was like we never went away. We were still on the radio.” So, even though Henley and Frey moved on to their solo careers, and no one was actively promoting the band’s legacy, The Eagles were still getting heavy airplay.
5 – Frey and Henley get paid more than the other Eagles: Azoff tried to get the band back together in the early ’90s, and Henley, Felder, Walsh and Schmit were on-board, but Frey wasn’t. A few years later, he agreed to rejoin the band, with a condition: “I said, ‘Irving, I’m not gonna do it unless Don [Henley] and I make more money than the other guys. We’re the only guys who have done anything, career-wise, in the last 14 years.’ So we came up with a deal that I was happy with, and Don was happy with, Timothy was happy with, Joe was happy with… and Don Felder was not happy with.” Frey’s conversation with Felder’s representative has to be heard to be believed, and we won’t give it away here: you’ll have to catch the doc to hear it (as well as an earlier epic Frey/Felder battle).
Meanwhile, The Eagles are about to kick off a string of Australian tour dates. Check their website for details.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com