It is with deep, almost unfathomable, sadness that I announce the death of Glenn Frey.
Frey died today (1/18) in New York of pneumonia following surgery in November for ulcerative colitis. He had suffered for decades with intestinal problems, including surgery in the early 90's to remove a significant part of his colon.
Glenn Lewis Frey was born November 6, 1948 in that country music mecca, Detroit. He grew up loving R&B music and playing it in local bands. In 1968 he got his first "break," when he sang backup on Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man."
When Frey moved to Los Angeles in 1969 he found a different kind of music was popular: country-rock. Spearheaded by Gram Parsons' groundbreaking work with the Byrds on Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Poco's Pickin' Up the Pieces album celebrating "a little bit of magic in the country music we're singing," the country-rock movement was gaining significant momentum. Frey found a kindred spirit in another Detroit native, John David Souther. The two formed a duet called Longbranch/Pennywhistle and released one album on Amos Records.
The album went nowhere, but Frey soon met another person who'd had a country-rock album released on Amos records. That man was Don Henley, the drummer for Shiloh. The two met at the Troubadour nightclub in L.A. and talked about their dreams. Soon Linda Ronstadt picked them and a few other musicians for her backing band.
Henley and Frey soon took a couple of the musicians who'd played with Ronstadt -- bassist Randy Meisner, who had played on the first Poco album, and former Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon -- and formed the Eagles.
With the exception of the Beatles, no other band has had as big an impact on American popular music as the Eagles. Their 1975 greatest hits album is the biggest-selling album in history. And that impact was in country as well as rock. Their 1975 hit "Lyin' Eyes" made the country top ten as well as reaching #2 on the pop charts -- in the age of disco! That song won them a Grammy, as did another one of their country-flavored singles, 1977's "New Kid in Town."
When the Eagles disbanded in 1980 the individual members moved far away from country music, with Henley taking a modern sound approach and Frey returning to his Detroit roots. He also was featured on a number of soundtracks ("The Heat is On" on Beverly Hills Cop and "Part of Me, Part of You" on Thelma and Louise) and dabbled in acting, appearing in an episode of Miami Vice and an extremely short-lived (as in, cancelled after one episode) series, South of Sunset.
In 2007 the Eagles' final album, Long Road Out of Eden, was released. The single "How Long" (a J.D. Souther tune from 1972) won them another country Grammy award.
In addition to their commercial success, the Eagles were notorious for their excessive lifestyle. Frey blamed those days for his longstanding intestinal problems. Although he took the healthy route in the 80's, the problems continued to dog him.
The Eagles were to receive a Kenndy Center Honors award in December, but Frey's surgery postponed their participation. Now, sadly, he won't get to see it.
When I started listening to rock and roll, it was difficult to jump from Buck Owens to Alice Cooper. The Eagles were there, with their country-rock, helping that transition. They were my first rock concert, in 1978. (I got to see them as a band twice.) Additionally, I got to meet Glenn Frey in 1982, when he started his post-Eagles solo tour in Philadelphia.
The music of the Eagles is, as that Thelma & Louise song said, "part of me." And that song, written by Frey and Jack Tempchin, is a fitting tribute:
I can feel it when I hear that lonesome highway
So many miles to go before I die
We can never know about tomorrow
Still we have to choose which way to go
Glenn Frey was 67.