by Julian Spivey
“There’s gonna be a heartache tonight/a heartache tonight/I know”
Eagles fans everywhere must be suffering through heartache tonight after the news came on Monday, Jan. 18 that founding member Glenn Frey had died at age 67 from complications of pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis and acute ulcerative colitis.
The Eagles were arguably the most popular American band in the history of rock music, with album sales ranking them as one of the biggest bands in the history of popular music. Frey, along with co-founder Don Henley, was the heart and soul of the Eagles – this means that we haven’t just lost a legendary singer-songwriter, but also effectively one of the greatest musical groups of all-time.
I couldn’t imagine the Eagles without Frey and I hope they can’t either and surviving members Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit don’t try to keep the group going without him. I sincerely doubt Henley would ever allow it.
It turns out that I was lucky enough to see Frey and the Eagles at the very end – having no way of knowing it would turn out that way. Their “History of the Eagles” tour stopped off in Little Rock, Ark. in late July of last year – their second-to-last show on the tour, which effectively made it their second-to-last show ever. I was in the nose bleeds as far up as I possibly could be at Verizon Arena, but am so thankful I had the opportunity. I was entranced by the group – particularly Frey and Henley – from start to finish. Had I passed that one up I never could have forgiven myself.
Frey sometimes gets lost in the shuffle in a group that includes Henley and Walsh – who’ve had exemplary and famous solo careers outside of the Eagles. Frey had some solo hits too, but not to the same level as his bandmates. But, Frey shouldn’t ever be a forgotten member of the Eagles as one of the two founders of one of the most successful bands of all-time. I don’t know that I have a favorite Eagle – because Frey and Henley both have so many incredible songs through their respective tenures taking lead on certain songs – but if I were to rank my favorite Eagles songs Frey would probably have more in the top 10 than his bandmates, possibly even combined.
Frey was from Detroit Rock City, but he had this Western flare to his vocals – probably something he adapted to living out west in California during an era of Gram Parsons and the Byrds, playing in a backing band for Linda Ronstadt and teaming with Texan Don Henley.
As a fan of both rock and country music this mixture – perfected in the vocal stylings of Frey – really spoke to me as a music lover from an early age. Frey’s voice, mixed with the group’s musicianship on tunes like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Take It Easy,” “Tequila Sunrise” and “Lyin’ Eyes” not only made for one of the most unique combinations of musical genres in the history of popular music, but inspired many future singer-songwriters in both rock and country – as the Eagles tribute album Common Thread, which won the CMA (Country Music Association) Album of the Year award in 1994 and featured some of the era’s biggest country superstars could attest.
Frey – along with Henley – is one of the most important artists when it comes to today’s music because their combination of country-rock essentially gave birth to the Americana genre – a genre mixing together sounds from a multitude of American roots genres. Many of my favorite and this country’s brightest artists come from this mixture of genres and without Frey and the Eagles paving the way it’s likely none of them might exist.
I would say that of the Eagles’ co-founders that Henley had the smoother vocals, but it was the sheer Americana aspect of Frey’s voice on songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Tequila Sunrise” that will forever mean “Eagles” to me.