PARK CITY — There was tension. There were quarrels. But Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit – collectively known as the Eagles – did not hate each other.
“Most of the things written about this band have been centered around conflict,” Henley said. “This band also had a lot of fun.”
“We argued a lot. We discussed stuff a lot. And that tension was good with the creative process,” Walsh added. “We didn’t hate each other, we didn’t have fist fights. None of that.”
On Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, all four of the current members of the Eagles gathered for a press conference on Park City’s Main Street before attending the world premier of a new documentary, History of the Eagles Part 1, at the Eccles Theatre.
The Eagles are a true American success story of rags-to-riches, starting with Henley and Frey not having enough money to pay their rents, to becoming one of the most successful bands in rock-n-roll history. The Eagles were a heavy influence in defining the Southern California music sound of the 1970s. Anthems like “Hotel California,” “Take It Easy,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Desperado” and “The Long Run” are still played daily on classic rock radio stations across the nation. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album was the best selling record of the 20th Century and still today flip-flops between the No. 1 and No. 2 position with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the greatest selling album ever.
But as Henley conceded on Saturday, “We were very private. We didn’t allow a lot of outside access.”
Because of that, Frey believes the Eagles didn’t suffer from over-exposure.
Still, the band had the foresight to film backstage moments themselves during the 1970s or by manager Irving Azoff. Much of that forgotten video, which until Saturday had never been shown publicly, was unearthed over the past two-and-half-years as the movie was being made.
When asked why the notoriously private band decided now was the time to make a documentary, Henley said the band had been around for 42 years, if they were going to do a documentary they figured they’d better not wait any longer.
When looking for the right people to tell the Eagles’ story, Frey said he initially looked through the works of filmmakers who had previously made rock bios, but he wasn’t pleased with what he was seeing. He then asked his manager to just send him the works of the people who had won Academy Awards for documentary film making. That’s when the work of filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) “jumped off the screen at me.”
The next move was to pick up director Alison Ellwood. Neither Ellwood nor Gibney were interested in making the film, however, unless they could do it without restraints from the band. Frey said the band had zero control over the final product.
“I think that was part of the deal going in with Alex and with Alison. They were going to set out to tell the truth, tell the story. We might have had suggestions about a cut here or a shot here or there. But the overall scope of the movie, we let them make their film,” he said. “It’s not really a film with our point of view – it’s a film about us,” said Frey.
Henley said Saturday’s premier at Sundance was the first time they had seen the final cut of the movie themselves.
History of the Eagles Part 1 is a little over two hours long. And while it includes interviews with all current and former members, the focus is on Frey and Henley. The movie goes briefly into their childhoods followed by their moves to southern California where they met the likes of Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and became the backup band for Linda Ronstadt. It was from playing in Ronstadt’s band that the original Eagles – Frey, Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon – were born.
“It was a great time to be in a young band trying to make it,” said Frey.
“We got each other out of jail,” quipped Walsh on the camaraderie of the time.
“A couple of times,” added Frey.
The film goes through each of the band’s first seven albums, including the Greatest Hits compilation, all released in just seven years, and the stories behind some of their biggest hits. The film also doesn’t shy away from the drug use and after show parties (known as the “Third Encore”). And while Frey said 90% of being in the Eagles was fun, the band also had it’s share of conflict. Leadon left in 1975 and was replaced by Walsh who was hired to add a bigger rock sound to the band.
“I thought the harmonies, the vocals, would be really powerful with some rock-n-roll guitar behind them,” Walsh said about why he joined the group.
The film also spends a little time talking about Walsh’s infamous reign of destruction on hotel rooms across the nation, something he said he learned from The Who’s Keith Moon.
Randy Meisner parted ways in 1977, replaced by Schmit, who signed up without even having a rehearsal with the band.
“It seemed like a perfect fit for them and for me. Then we broke up,” he said.
History of the Eagles Part 1 ends with the band’s breakup in 1980 (or as Frey would infamously call it later, their 14-year vacation). The final straw came at a benefit concert in 1980 when Frey and Don Felder spent the show verbally threatening each other about how each was going to beat-up the other backstage. By that stage of their careers, Frey and Henley were also having issues with each other.
Henley admitted Saturday that some of the movie was tough for him to watch. Both he and Frey said that as far as former members were concerned, each made their own contributions to the band that live on today in the albums. And they still receive royalty checks. But while both men said they had no ill feelings toward Leadon and Meisner, it was evident that the same could not be said for Felder who sued the band after being fired in 2001 and then wrote a tell-all book. During a Q&A session with the audience Saturday night after the movie premier, Henley either referred to Felder as “the other guy” when speaking of former members or declined to talk about Felder at all, saying today he only has contact with his attorney.
Among those in the audience on Saturday was Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins who asked the band about the unseen live concert footage from the 1970s. The band said it would be released as a bonus DVD when History of the Eagles Parts I and II were released on DVD.
The oddest audience question of the night came from a woman who said the first time she ever heard of the Eagles was two weeks ago. She asked the band what they did between the breakup years of 1980 and 1994.
“We all made solo records. You may have heard of them,” replied a somewhat baffled Henley, prompting laughter from the crowd.
Henley had the most successful solo career of the group, releasing songs such as, “The Boys of Summer” (which won both a Grammy and the MTV Video of the Year award), “Dirty Laundry,” “The End of the Innocence,” “Sunset Grill” and “All She Wants to do is Dance.”
History of the Eagles Part 2, focusing on the band’s solo projects and the reunion up to the present, will premier on Showtime, on Feb. 16.
Walsh said looking back at it all, it may have seemed like chaos while they were living it, but today it looks like everything happened just as they planned it.
“For me, it was interesting to watch the interviews of us at that time and see where our head space was,” Frey said. “We’ve sort of been reliving our lives for the past two years. It’s interesting, when we started unearthing all this archival footage and the Super 8 (video) we found, what I was reminded of was how much fun we had. You couldn’t ask for a better script for a bunch of young musicians in their 20’s trying to make it in the music business. So, ya know, we were young. We made mistakes. We still make mistakes. This is a story of an American band. But it’s also a story about the songs we wrote, what they did to you guys and also what they did to us. We’re here because everybody liked the songs.”