I hope I won’t be writing any more Requiems for Rockers for a while — especially when the Rockers are the same age as I — but coming on the heels of the passing of David Bowie, we lost two more Makers of The Music the past week.
Neither Glenn Frey nor Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin was as influential, or as original, as Bowie. But Frey, a founding member of the Eagles, was part of one of the more important American bands.
The Motown native — his first record-making experience was playing backup on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” — died Monday, of what sounds like a perfect storm of ailments. As if often the case with rock musicians, he had a number of interesting connections as his career developed.
Before he played in the studio for Seger, Frey had gotten the Silver Bullet Man to write a song for one of his early bands, the Mushrooms. After relocating from Detroit to Los Angeles, he hooked up with J.D. Souther, who would later write several songs recorded by the Eagles.
Souther and Frey formed a folk duo with one of those random, incomprehensible 1960/70s names, Longbranch Pennywhistle. (Souther would go on to form, with Richie Furay of Poco and former Byrd Chris Hillman, the Souther Hillman Furay Band.)
Frey met Don Henley, who would become the Eagles’ drummer, in 1970. Those two and the other Eaglets came together when Souther recommended to his then girlfriend, Linda Ronstadt, that she hire Frey, Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner as a one-time backup band.
Frey and Henley later toured with Ronstadt, then they, Leadon and Meisner formed the Eagles in 1971. The band broke up in 1980, reunited a couple times, and is one of the most successful rock acts of all time: five No. 1 singles and six No. 1 albums (two of their LPs rank among the top 20 best-selling albums in the U.S.), six Grammy Awards and 150 million albums sold.
Frey was the lead singer on many of the group’s biggest hits, starting with “Take It Easy,” which I’m sure was the first Eagles’ song I ever heard. He also co-wrote, with Henley, many of those hits (although Souther contributed some, too).
Frey went on to have a successful solo career, his most notable songs being “The Heat Is On” and “Smuggler’s Blues. (I think co-founder Henley did better solo, creating memorable lines like “I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac” and “Molotov cocktail, the local drink.”) The former was the theme song for the movie “Beverly Hills Cop” and the latter inspired a “Miami Vice” episode, but he contributed more than music to the visual medium; he also appeared on several TV shows and in some movies.
The Eagles were among the pioneers of the country rock genre, and after the surplus of Englishness we got from the British Invasion, they were a good American answer. But they were also a quintessentially 70s band. Frey helped write some of the hits, contributed some of the signature vocals that made the band successful, and definitely rates a place among the important Makers of The Music.
I don’t have a lot of Eagles music — just “The Long Run” and a greatest hits collection. I always liked “Hotel California,” and will probably pick that up at some point.
Listened to “The Long Run” yesterday, but it’s not a good gauge for judging Frey’s vocal work. He has the solo lead on only one cut, and shares the vocal with Henley on two others.
He does share songwriting credit on nine of the 10 cuts, with Seger and Souther (and Henley) on “Heartache Tonight,” and with Souther (and Henley) on “Teenage Jail.” But the album was the band’s last before the first breakup, the country-rock feel was pretty much gone, and the sound was definitely quintessentially 70s — it was 1979, after all.
Griffin’s name didn’t ring a bell; the only name I associated with Mott the Hoople was that of the lead singer, Ian Hunter. Griffin was one of the original members of a band named Silence, which would eventually become MtH; Hunter didn’t join the group until later, ousting the original lead singer.
Mott was failing at selling records when it was pulled back from the brink of extinction by none other than Bowie, who persuaded them to stay together, hooked them up with his manager and offered them the song “Suffragette City. The band wanted another tune Bowie had written, but Bowie wanted to keep “Drive-in Saturday” for himself. Instead, he wrote “All the Young Dudes” for them — and it put MtH on the road to stardom.
Transitory stardom, it turned out. That success didn’t last long, the band breaking up in 1974, although Griffin and two other original members continued to perform as Mott for a few years. The drummer tried to get the group to reunite, finally succeeding in 2009 — only to be diagnosed about the same time with Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed his life Sunday.
I liked Mott’s music — it didn’t hurt that they used an M.C. Escher illustration as the front cover for their first album — and do own a greatest hits compilation. The group’s lyrics had a wry, and ribald (think “Jerkin’ Crocus” and “before he got his hands across your state line”), edge to them.
Griffin doesn’t seem to have had much input on those words — he gets co-writing credit on just two songs on the band’s six LPs —but he obviously made a contribution to The Music, too.
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At some point during the last month, Russia overtook the U.S. as the country with the most users/readers of Can’t Get It Outta My Head. (Or maybe its sessions — I haven’t figured out this Google Analytics stuff yet.)
This I don’t quite get that, so: “Привет!” to my readers in the Land of Vlad and Vodka. Those who aren’t scammers or spammers are welcome to write me at the scottthomson.org email address (it’s on the landing page of the site, and the introductory page for the blog), and relate how you got into The Music.