The Eagle’s Glenn Frey Sits Down With Art of The Song #1
[This is a transcript of an Art of the Song interview as broadcast nationally on Public Radio. Click here to listen to the complete show with music.]
Viv: All of us at Art of the Song are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey on January 18. An inspiration to a generation of musicians and millions of fans, Glenn helped to define the genre of Country Rock. A member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and winner of six Grammy awards, Glenn Frey will truly be missed.
John: We take this opportunity to re-visit our interview with Glenn from 2012, prior to the release of After Hours, his album of pop standards. We spoke with him about the new project, his creative process, and we heard a great story about how he and Jackson Browne wrote “Take It Easy”.
Viv: This was truly a high point in our careers as interviewers as we were able to sit down and have a relaxed conversation with Glenn at the Southern California Public Radio Studios in Pasadena.
John: We’ve updated the show to include a few of his most beloved songs, in an addition to some from his latest CD, After Hours.
Viv: It is our great pleasure and honor to be talking with Glenn Frey today for Art of the Song. Thank you so much for joining us.
Glenn: Well, thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Viv: It’s hard to know where to start, but I would like to know, first off, this new project that you’re working on. You’re celebrating the soon to be released new CD called After Hours. Listening to it, and reading up on it, it feels like a love affair. It has this incredibly intense, beautiful love of music and history. Could you talk about the creation of it a little bit and why it came about?
Glenn: I’ve loved this sort of music, the romantic love of songs, my whole life. I grew up in Detroit and my mother played Andrews Sisters records and she loved Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and on and on and on and on. So I grew up listening to this music. What really turned my head again was the two records Linda Ronstadt made with Nelson Riddle, which I think are nearly perfect. They’re such excellent records. That’s the benchmark for me. I always wanted to do this. My parents are still alive and I thought, “Gosh, if I could record a bunch of these songs and give them to my folks, that would really make them happy.” So I wanted to do it for that reason. A few other things sort of just happened for me that led me to actually seriously doing this. Every once in a while, I send an audio Christmas card to my friends and I make everybody in my family sing a song, and I sing something. One year I sang, “I’ll be home for Christmas”. One year I sang, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Then I started playing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament up north. Clint Eastwood’s the official king up there, and he’s a great Jazz fan and a real audiophile. They have this volunteer party. They have it on Wednesday night before the golf tournament starts. The singers and the comedians come together and do a little show, just like the old days. So they asked me if I’d come and sing a couple songs. Of course I said, “yeah” and then I got a note that said, “Please sing one of your familiar hits and something from the ’40’s.” The first time I got that note I went, “Oh my God, what? What am I going to sing?” Clint had Jack Sheldon were playing, it was his little orchestra, so I knew that there were going to be some good players. I started trying to figure out, “What could I sing?” It turns out, my range is very close to Tony Bennett’s. As I sang along with some of his songs in the car, that was a good match for me. So I started, every year up there. One year I did “I Want To Be Around”. One year I did “The Good Life”. One year I sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. The crowds liked it, which was nice. Then, I’m buddies with a couple other singers up there and, at another event a couple of nights later, at a dinner party, Michael Bolton came over and said, “Hey Glenn, I forgot to tell you the other night, you really handled that material with a lot of class. Your voice sounds really good singing that stuff. You ever think about making a record?” I said, “Well, thank you. I really appreciate what you said, Michael. And yeah, I thought about it.” And he said, “Well you should.” So, shortly thereafter, I went into the studio and I made a couple quick demos with Richard Davis and Michael Thompson, my two buddies from the Eagles band. And it sounded pretty good. We did “The Look of Love” and we did two Tony Bennett songs. Then we said, “Well maybe we should do some more.” I said, “Yeah, let’s do some more.” So one thing led to another and so, over the course of about the last two and a half years, we’ve been working on this record in between shows and doing other stuff that we do. At some point during a record, the record takes over. I sort of felt that’s what happened with this experience too. I would say, “Well, no, what does this record need? What do you need now? Well, we’ve got to do an up-tempo song. Ok, Route 66 comes in.” Then I thought, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t just limit this to older songs. What about Randy Newman? What about ‘Caroline, No’ by Brian Wilson?” So I started doing a few other songs. The basis was for really piano and voice. We’d sit in a control room, just like this, me and my two buddies. And we’d talk about a song. Michael Thompson would go over to piano and we’d pick out a key and get a lyric sheet and start plugging away. If we said, “Is there anybody’s version you want to hear of this?”, we might go online and just see something. Usually we didn’t. So we just went about making this record.
Love Of The Music Love Of Being a Songwriter
We all love this music so much. Being a songwriter, I think I have a unique appreciation for a good song. I know how hard it is to write and I know how great it is when it’s good and when it makes a connection with the person who’s listening to it. These songs have just been songs that have connected with me my whole life. It was just so much fun to go to work every day. One day, I’d be going, “What are we doing today?” “We’re going to be doing a couple overdubs on ‘Caroline, No?” Well, how bad can it be to listen to that song twenty-five times in the morning? It’s fabulous. So, I was always in the presence of greatness. And I was learning how to sing a different way. When I play in the Eagles, and when I play shows by myself, it’s guitar-singing. That’s what I call it, because that’s the accompanying instrument most of the time. So that’s sort of the way you sing. But, when you do standards and songs like we’re talking about on After Hours, then you’ve got to sing like a trumpet and like a flute and like a clarinet and like a flugelhorn. You take on the tenor of the instruments that you’re working with as well as what’s part of the ensemble and you want to fit. It was a new kind of singing for me. It came to me pretty naturally, I felt comfortable, but there was still the process of learning the song, living with the song, taking enough ownership of it to be able to go out and do a lead vocal. “Now, I feel like I’ve practiced it enough now. Let’s go out and see how I do.” The reward was the journey. I had so much fun and learned so much making this record. I know that’s a cliché thing to say, but that’s really what happened.
Viv: What kind of preparation did you do vocally, or did you have to train differently or warm up differently? How different was it?
Glenn: I would sing along on the way to the studio, or driving my son to school. Anytime I was in the car, I’d plug on the version, or I’d have a rough version of my own that I did that I would singing with to try to learn. Sometimes I’d take the lyric sheet and just make little notes on it. “This is a hold on that word.” Just trying to learn the ins and outs of how to do it. It’s an interesting challenge because, at some level, when you have a respect for the material, I don’t want to go in there and start putting my spin on everything. These songs were written and sung a certain way for a reason. So I tried to stay close to that and not mess it up, because you know you’re in a beautiful place. So that was also part of my goal, to not offend.
Viv: There’s a purity to the sound that just jumped right out at us when we were listening to it. We’re like “Whoa”.
Glenn: I have a lady friend that lives in Kauai. I have sort of a secret group of friends there. We’re all closet intellectuals. We all watch movies and read books and listen to music and know painters and landscape and cooking. We have this little group of friends. I played this record for some of my friends there and my one lady friend, Sharon Britt, says, “Glenn, it’s like these songs were waiting for you.” And I thought, “Oh God, Sharon, what a wonderful thing to say, thank you so much.” I sort of feel like that too. It’s supposed to feel natural. It’s not supposed to sound like a struggle. It’s not supposed to sound hard. It’s supposed to flow and feel, like I said, natural. It’s my favorite word for that. That’s what you find characterizes all the great songs. They all engage the listener and get them to some place where they’re paying attention. Then, they warm the cockles of their brain with chords and melody and sounds and it never sounds forced. Every chord change sounds like that’s the exact chord that should have come after the chord that was before. It all sounds fairly perfect. Like I say, nothing’s forced. That’s the way these songs are. They’re like little streams that are flowing and you just dip your toe in and just sort of go with it.
Click here for part 2 of Glenn Frey interview…