By Bob Lutz
It’s been a strange week since Glenn Frey, co-founder and architect of the Eagles, died. It was last Monday that I found out that complications from rheumatoid arthritis, colitis and pneumonia had caused Frey’s death at 67, five minutes before I was to start a radio show with my son, Jeff.
He’s the second biggest Eagles fan I know. Honestly, maybe the first. So we were distraught and still are.
I became hooked on the Eagles when I was 18 years old, the summer after my senior year in high school. It was 1973. And not a day has gone by since when I don’t think of one of the guys in the band or one of the songs they created. When I go out to karaoke, I purposely include an Eagles song in my “performance.”
I’ve seen the band a bunch, 28 times as best I can remember. It might be 29. The ‘70s are a little foggy for me.
Now the Eagles are finished, most likely. And for sure finished in the form I’ve known them.
I waited a week to write about this because I wanted to take it all in. The tributes to Frey have come from all over and have been touching and healing to read. I go back and forth with my feelings about social media, but in a situation like this I’ve gained much from knowing how much Glenn met to so many others.
I first saw the Eagles at Henry Levitt Arena in 1976 on their “Hotel California” tour. It seems like yesterday.
Frey, Henley, Walsh, Felder, Meisner was the lineup and they were so cool with their long hair and blue jeans. There was something about the Eagles’ sound, but also something about their persona. I was 21 at the time and I spent hours reading about and learning about each of the guys in the band.
Over time, Henley became my favorite. I love his voice and his ability to convey a message in a song. He’s always at his best with a long ballad, such as “The Last Resort,” “The Heart of the Matter,” and “Waiting in the Weeds.”
I remember where I was in 1981 when news of the Eagles’ breakup became public. Everyone knew the band was finished because of the acrimony that festered between the members, especially Frey and Felder. The sadness was profound and so was the anger, which I directed mostly at Frey.
My feelings for him remained cool as he and Henley embarked on solo careers. Frey did OK with hits like “The Heat is On,” “Smuggler’s Blues” and others. But Henley knocked it out of the park, proving to me, at least, that he was the band’s most talented member.
Henley’s success was captivating while I held Frey at arm’s length. For 14 years, the Eagles were disbanded until, in 1994, they regrouped thanks to Travis Tritt’s project that brought country singers together to perform Eagles songs for a CD called “Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.”
Tritt enticed Frey and the others to get together for a video of his version of “Take it Easy,” and soon thereafter the Eagles performed their first show together, which they called “Hell Freezes Over,” because it’s the term Henley used when asked when the band was getting back together. It was on MTV and I had friends over that night to watch. I remember it like it was yesterday.
More than 21 glorious years followed, during which the Eagles were on the road a bunch and released a 2007 record, “Long Road Out of Eden.”
My personal freeze-out with Frey also thawed. We became good friends again because, well, he’s a big part of my favorite band.
He’s been the spokesman for the group all of these years, the guy out front. He told corny jokes during live shows and had a charm that was endearing.
Even after the Eagles concluded their “History of the Eagles” tour in July, I had hope they would do one more tour. Until last week, that is, when the Eagles came to an abrupt and tragic halt.
People who love music understand the profundity of this loss. It’s personal. I learned the words to every Eagles song. Being a writer, I’m amazed by the words and the message they convey.
I last saw the Eagles in 2013 at Intrust Bank Arena. It seems like a million years ago. Frey, Henley, Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit made up the band.
It was, I told friends at the time, the best Eagles concert I had attended. There was something about seeing those guys in my town that made it extra special.
The impact of the Eagles on my life is difficult to express without sounding corny. They’ve been more than just a band to me. I grew up with them, became an adult to them. I was singing “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” more than 40 years ago. I can’t even guess as to how many times I’ve listened to that song and so many others. I’ve gone through albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and iPods with this band.
The day a new Eagles record came out was a national holiday for me. I spent hours playing and re-playing a song until I knew it.
Glenn Frey was a major influence on my life. And man, I miss him.
Bob Lutz is an award winning sportswriter for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Wichita, Kansas. He was named the 2015 Kansas Sportswriter of the Year.