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A founding member of the California country-rock group The Eagles, Glenn Frey was arguably one of the most successful figures in the history of popular music, having composed or collaborated on most of the group's vastly successful catalog of songs, which sold over 120 million records over the course of four decades. A veteran of the Detroit music scene as a teenager, Frey moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, where he teamed with Don Henley to back Linda Ronstadt during her first tour. The duo decided to forge their own group, and the Eagles soon emerged as one of the most popular rock acts of the 1970s, with a string of hits including "Take It Easy," "Best of My Love," "Life in the Fast Lane," "One of These Nights," and their epochal signature tune, "Hotel California." The pressures of fame led to their dissolution in 1980, after which Frey enjoyed a solid run as a solo performer with hits including "Smuggler's Blues," "You Belong to the City" and "The Heat Is On," as well as a minor second career as an actor. The Eagles' reunion in 1994 dominated Frey's talents for the next two decades, which was comprised of countless "farewell" tours and a long-gestating album, Long Road Out of Eden (2008). The enduring popularity of the Eagles was due largely in part to Frey's talents as a songwriter and singer, and their unparalleled good fortunes made him one of the most accomplished figures in rock-n-roll. His death at the age of 67 on January 18, 2016 was mourned by fans and friends across the world as rock lost one of its most familiar voices.
Born Glenn Lewis Frey in Detroit, MI on Nov. 6, 1948, he was raised in the artsy suburb of Royal Oak, where he flirted with any number of interests in his early years, from literature and sports to film. Eventually, music became his primary passion; he had studied piano from the age of five, but latched onto rock-n-roll thanks to Bill Haley and the Comet's seminal single "Rock Around the Clock." The ascent of Elvis and The Beatles sealed his fate as a would-be rocker, resulting in the teenager forming his own bands. One of these outfits, The Mushrooms, became a modest hit on the Detroit club scene and cut a single, "Such a Lovely Child," for producer Bob Seger. The Mushrooms called it quits soon after, causing Frey to flit in and out of other groups while going through the motions of a college education. More significant to his development was his contribution of guitar and backing vocals to Seger's early hit "Ramblin' Gamblin Man" in 1968.
Frey left Detroit for Southern California in the late '60s, where he teamed up with fellow Motor City veteran J. D. Souther in a country-rock group called Longbranch Pennywhistle. Their self-titled 1969 debut album featured such heavyweights as guitarist Ry Cooder and Cajun fiddle player Doug Kershaw, but its label, Amos Records, lacked the advertising funds to properly promote the release. Frey and Souther were soon staples of the Los Angeles folk club circuit, where they fell in with ex-Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member and songwriter Jackson Browne. The trio shared a house as well as vocals on Browne's demo for "Jamaica Say You Will," which was later featured on his smash 1972 debut album. Frey and Souther were forced to disband Longbranch Pennywhistle to escape their contract with Amos Records, but soon found work playing guitar behind Linda Ronstadt on a 1971 tour to support her debut album, Silk Purse (1970).
Playing alongside Frey on the tour was Don Henley, whose previous band, Shiloh, had also tanked after recording for Amos Records, as well as studio veteran Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon of the country-rock pioneers the Flying Burrito Brothers. At the conclusion of the Ronstadt tour, the quartet decided to remain together as a band, and after an audition for Geffen, was signed to his label, Asylum Records. The group dubbed themselves The Eagles, and set to work on their eponymous debut, which was released in 1972. Frey and Henley soon established themselves as the primary architects of the Eagles' sound, which blended elements of traditional country music with the easy-going, harmony-driven Southern California pop rock; his first hit as a songwriter for the group was the breezy Top 20 single "Take It Easy," which he co-wrote with Jackson Browne.
After a poor showing for their sophomore album, the Old West concept record Desperado (1973), Frey and Henley decided to drop the country elements from their sound and focus on straight-forward rock. The result was 1974's On the Border, which scored a No. 1 hit on the Billboard singles chart with the Frey-Henley ballad "Best of My Love" and Top 20 placement on the albums charts. The shift in direction forced out Leadon and Meisner, who were soon replaced by the more rock-oriented guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh of the James Gang. By 1975, they were consistently landing songs at the top of the charts, like the title track from One of These Nights (1975) and the Grammy-winning "Lyin' Eyes." A massive world tour to support the album firmly established them within the top echelon of American rock acts; the release of Their Greatest Hits in 1976 cemented them as the most successful Stateside band of the decade, with 29 million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
Frey was co-author of the Eagles' signature song, the semi-mythological "Hotel California," which topped the charts in 1977. Though it and the album of the same name on which it was featured, proved to be their most enduring music, the band had begun to collapse under the weight of its own success. The proliferation of drugs and other vices, which Frey described as a "traveling party," had exacerbated matters, and tensions between band members had escalated to critical levels. At a 1980 benefit concert for Senator Alan Cranston, Frey and Felder spent the entire show leveling threats at each other between songs, which erupted into a physical altercation after the show. Soon after, Frey informed Henley that he was leaving the band, which resulted in bad blood between the group founders as well. After releasing Eagles Live (1980), the group called it quits for the next two decades.
In the years that followed, Frey enjoyed a successful career as a solo artist, beginning in 1982 with No Fun Aloud, which featured a pair of Top 40 singles with the soulful "I Found Somebody" and "The One You Love." Its follow-up, The All-Nighter, scored even higher, reaching the Top 20 on the album charts and scoring two Top 20 hits with "Sexy Girl" and "Smuggler's Blues." The latter tune and its MTV Award-winning video, which featured Frey as its roguish anti-hero, led to a surprisingly effective turn as a smuggler in an episode of "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89). That same year, he landed a No. 2 single on the Billboard charts with "The Heat Is On," his contribution to the massively successful "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984) soundtrack. The following year, he repeated the feat with "You Belong to the City" (1985), which appeared on the equally popular Miami Vice Soundtrack. Both Frey and the show's star, Don Johnson, plugged the tune in a tie-in commercial for Pepsi-Cola.
Frey made his feature film debut in "Let's Get Harry" (1986), a little-seen action film about a group of American salesmen who travel to South America to rescue a kidnapped friend (Mark Harmon). The film suffered from extensive re-edits prior to release and failed upon release. More successful was a season-long stint on "Wiseguy" (CBS, 1987-1990) as a failed music producer who teamed with Ken Wahl's undercover cop to relaunch his career. Frey returned to his own solo music career in 1988 with Soul Searchin', which reached the Top 40 but yielded only one hit single with its title track. A debilitating case of diverticulitis in 1989 required hospitalization, after which Frey underwent a rigorous campaign to restore his health. He would return to music with 1992's Strange Weather, which fell off the charts without making an impact.
In 1993, Frey earned his own television show, "South of Sunset" (CBS) about a low-rent private eye in Los Angeles. Seven episodes were filmed, but the pilot scored some of the lowest ratings in television history, prompting the network to pull the plug. Dismayed, he released Glenn Frey Live in 1993, and hit the road with ex-Eagles bandmate Joe Walsh, prompting rumors of a full-fledged reunion with Henley, Felder and Timothy B. Schmidt, who had joined the group in 1980. A test run with the other Eagles in the video for Travis Tritt's cover of "Take It Easy" from the tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles (1993) proved palatable for all involved, and in 1994, the reunited Eagles hit the road for a monumentally successful tour that lasted over two years. A live album, Hell Freezes Over (1994), reached the top of the Billboard album charts, and generated two Top 40 hits. In 1994, Frey's diverticulitis resurfaced, forcing a halt to the tour and surgery that removed a substantial part of his intestine. After recovery, he returned to the tour, which ran until 1996.
After the tour's completion, Frey returned briefly to acting that year with a bit part in "Jerry Maguire" as the penny-pinching general manager of the Arizona Cardinals. The film's director, Cameron Crowe, had interviewed the Eagles as a teenaged journalist for "Rolling Stone," and his experiences with them formed the basis for his 2000 feature "Almost Famous," with Billy Crudup's character, guitarist Russell Hammond, based directly on Crowe's experiences with Frey. The singer also launched his own record label, Mission Records, prior to the Eagles' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. The following year, they were named Artists of the Century by the Recording Association of America, and their greatest hits compilation was officially cited as the best-selling album in music history.
A series of concerts in Las Vegas and Los Angeles to mark the end of the millennium led to another tour, this time without Felder, who had been fired from the Eagles over alleged contract issues. The Millennium tour in 2001 was followed by a "farewell" tour that proved to be anything but a conclusion; a 2005 jaunt through the Southwest preceded a 2006 tour through Europe and Frey's solo tour that same year. In late 2006, two brand new Eagles songs served as formal announcement of a new album, Long Road Out of Eden, which was released in 2008. The record debuted at No. 1 on the album charts, while its lead single, "How Long," won a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group that same year. A massive world tour lasted until 2009, after which Frey and the rest of the group proclaimed that the Eagles were again no more. But by the following year, the Eagles were on the road with the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban, followed by an extended international tour that drew to a close in the summer of 2015. Glenn Frey died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia on January 18, 2016. He was 67.
By Paul Gaita
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