Fledglings - Before they were Eagles

Fledglings - Before they were Eagles

Posted 21 Jul 2017

The Eagles are of course one of the biggest groups of all time; a band with a monumental presence. But the band didn’t just appear out of nowhere – all members had previous experiences collaborating, touring and recording on Los Angeles’s bustling country rock scene; experience that ultimately brought them together. Let’s have a look at what went on BEFORE THEY WERE EAGLES….

The Eagles began in early 1971, when LA-based Linda Ronstadt recruited local musicians Don Henley and Glenn Frey for her band. The two had already met hanging around at country-rock hub the Troubadour.  Henley was originally from Texas and Frey from Michigan.

Linda Ronstadt recently told Uncut magazine: “I had a hand in forming the Eagles, yes! But it was their talent and their mutual interaction that really did it. I asked my friend John Boylan if he’d help me put a band together. So we walked to The Troubadour one Monday night, and heard this band called Shiloh onstage. They were playing my version of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” exactly off the record, including the guitar solo. So I thought, ‘Maybe I can just hire this band, they already know the arrangements!’ But I had some players already, so we went and asked Don Henley, the drummer in Shiloh, if he’d like to play for my next tour. Then I needed a guitar-player, so I asked Glenn Frey, who used to sing with my boyfriend, JD Souther. When we were on the road, Glenn and Don roomed together, and they each discovered that the other was a good singer and writer, so they started working together. By the end of the tour, they decided to form a band. John suggested Randy Meisner to play bass and I suggested Bernie Leadon, so those four became my band with the idea that they’d go on their own as soon as they got a deal.”

You can catch a glimpse of Don and Glenn in this live footage of Linda, filmed at the Troubador in ’71.

Frey and Henley appeared on six tracks on the Ronstadt album, including this fabulous version of Neil Young's “Birds” recorded live  - at the Troubadour of course.

At the time Don was fresh from Texan country rock band Shiloh, who released one album for LA indie Amos Records, which was produced in LA by Kenny Rogers.

Glenn had also been in a band signed to Amos - Longbranch Pennywhistle. The band also featured Glenn’s friend, and future Eagles associate J.D.Souther.

Shiloh and Longbranch Pennywhistle give a clear indication of the country rock was to come with the Eagles – if you’re an Eagles fan check these songs out.  

Frey, who was from Detroit, had earlier worked with Bob Seger on the mid-‘60s teen scene, and in 1968, at the age of 19, he’d played acoustic guitar and sung backup on Seger’s early breakthrough single, the electrifying “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”.

To complete the original Eagles lineup, Henley and Fry brought in a couple of more seasoned veterans, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon, who had both also joined Ronstadt’s band.

Randy Meisner, had also been working with Ricky Nelson's backing band, the Stone Canyon Band, and was previously a member of influential country-rock pioneers Poco

Ricky Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band cover Dylan live on TV 

Bernie Leadon had been a member of Dillard & Clark, fronted by brilliant original Byrds lead singer Gene Clark, and then the legendary Flying Burrito Brothers, alongside Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, fresh out of the Sweetheart of the Rodeo line-up of the Byrds. Bernie was serious country-rock royalty.

Dillard & Clark “Train Leaves Here This Morning” (a Leadon co-write that the Eagles later recorded for their first album) 

Flying Burrito Brothers

Henley, Frey, Meisner and Leadon only played live with Ronstadt once, but all four appeared on her self-titled album. By the time that album was released, the four were already the Eagles and had signed to David Geffen’s new Asylum label.

At this point, it’s worth noting that Frey’s old Longbranch Pennywhistle partner J.D. Souther had nearly been brought into the original line-up, but Meisner resisted the idea. Souther ended up with an Asylum deal himself – his acclaimed 1972 debut ‘John David Souther’ included a song ‘How Long’ that would also be the lead single from the Eagles’ reformation album in 2007.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for now. Of course, there were later Eagles – Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt. And country hit maker Vince Gill and Glenn Fry’s son Deacon are performing in Glenn’s place in the new line-up. We’ll catch up with them all in Part 2.

Before we sign off, we need to wish both Bernie Leadon (July 19) and Don Henley (July 22) a Happy 70th Birthday. Happy Birthday guys.

Preorder the Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 & 2 on CD here.

If you want to hear more of the classic country rock sound of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, check out our Cosmic Country playlist on Spotify!

-DL

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