Saturday 1 October 2016

Obituary: Glenn Frey - The Eagles frontman

Born: November 6, 1948; died: January 18, 2016

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Perfectionist: The Eagles' Glenn Frey.
Perfectionist: The Eagles' Glenn Frey.

Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67, was a founding member, singer, guitarist and driving force of the 1970s 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.

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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 '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'n'roll with synthetic kitsch and creating a template for singer-songwriters such as Elton John. "Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them," wrote the rock critic Robert Christgau in 1972.

Another reason was Frey's obsessive perfectionism. "Glenn, I think, took three days in the studio on the word 'city' at the beginning of 'Lyin' Eyes'," the guitarist Don Felder, who joined the band in the mid-1970s, recalled. "It would either be a little early, or a little late, or the "T" would be too sharp. It literally took a long time to get that word-perfect - maybe to an extreme."

Behind the scenes, however, the Eagles conformed to a more traditional rock'n'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 1970s 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 chainsaw. 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.

"As the night progressed, we … grew angrier and began hissing at each other," Don Felder recalled in his book Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (2008). "The sound technicians feared the audience might hear our outbursts, so they lowered Glenn's microphone until he had to sing. He approached me after every song to rant, rave, curse - and let me know how many songs remained before our fight."

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' reached No 2 in the Billboard charts (No 6 in Ireland) 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-1980s 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 the massively successful Hell Freezes Over tour, and they continued to perform together until last year, 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.

Glenn Lewis Frey was born in Detroit on November 6, 1948 to parents who worked in the car industry, and grew up in the suburb of Royal Oak. He took piano lessons from the age of five but switched to acoustic guitar after seeing the Beatles perform live in Detroit.

While still at Dondero High School, he began playing with bands in and around Detroit, before moving to Southern California where he met the country-folk rocker Jackson Browne (with whom he wrote what would become the Eagles' first hit, 'Take It Easy') and Don Henley.

The original line-up of the band came together in the late 1960s when the producer John Boylan assembled them as Linda Ronstadt's backing group. After backing her 1970 album Silk Purse, they launched themselves as the Eagles, recording their eponymous first album with the producer Glyn Johns in England.

Frey had a long history of intestinal problems, which he blamed on his earlier use of drugs and alcohol. He died from complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia.

In 1990 he married Cindy Millican, a dance choreographer, who survives him with their daughter and two sons

© Daily Telegraph

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