Eagles founder Glenn Frey has just released his first solo album in 20 years – and pal Clint Eastwood is responsible Andy Welch discovers.
The USA’s West Coast has long been famed for its relaxed vibe. Whether it’s the endless sun and surf or the acres of space, there’s definitely something fuelling the region’s laid-back, can-do attitude.
Glenn Frey, founding member of The Eagles, might not have been born in California – he’s from Detroit, Michigan – but when he speaks now, full of positivity and like there’s all the time in the world, it’s easy to see how he’s been shaped by his years spent staring at the Pacific Ocean.
If he’s become a product of his environment, much of the music he made as part of The Eagles with Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner couldn’t have come from anywhere else either. The band, who formed near the Hollywood Hills in Laurel Canyon in 1971, made their name on the back of country-inspired, radio-friendly hits such as Hotel California, Desperado, Peaceful Easy Feeling and a song called Take It Easy.
The formula worked brilliantly. Their Greatest Hits album, originally released in 1976, has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, putting them among the top 30 best-selling artists of all time.
Now, 20 years after his last solo album, Frey, 63, has recorded another collection. Taking it easy is still at the heart of the album, but this time, instead of the sun-kissed harmonies he’s known for, After Hours features covers of his favourite standards.
“I’ve wanted to make this sort of record for a long time,” he says. “A couple of things happened that were benchmark moments.
“Back in the early Nineties I was partner in a restaurant. My business partner asked me to make some CDs of songs I would want to hear in the restaurant – Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, all those singers.”
Frey put together 10 hours of music to play for the diners. The next step came 10 years later when Frey, a keen golfer, was playing in a tournament in, California, organised by friend Clint Eastwood.
“At Pebble Beach, Clint is the king. He’s a big music fan, jazz in particular, and one of the things he does is organise a party the night before the tournament.
“Clint asked me to play one of my hits, and something from the Forties, because he has the Jack Shelton Orchestra there to play Big Band songs.”
While doing so, Frey discovered he has the same vocal range as Tony Bennett, so could sing Bennett’s songs without the need to change the key. He performed I Wanna Be Around one year, The Good Life the next, and I Left My Heart In San Francisco third time round.
It was only when he was having dinner that the idea of recording the album came up.
After Hours was pieced together over the course of a few years, in between Eagles tours and recording sessions. “It was great not having any pressure,” Frey recalls.
Among the covers (For Sentimental Reasons, The Good Life and a stripped-back take on the Beach Boys’ Caroline, No), there’s one Frey original. It’s the title track and was written for 1984 album The Allnighter but didn’t make the final cut.
“I had been waiting to release that song, and this seemed too perfect an opportunity to miss. ”
When not in his studio, Frey spends time trawling through archives for a documentary about The Eagles, to be released next year.
Relationships between the band’s members are reputed to be frosty. Don Felder, fired in 2001, famously sued the rest of the group over earnings. It was later settled out of court. Other rumours abound that since their reformation in 1994, each member has travelled separately and stayed in different hotels.
Frey thinks the reputation is unwarranted. “That sort of stuff is blown out of proportion,” he says.
“On the surface it may seem that we don’t get on, but everybody in our band is just passionate.
“People don’t know a great deal about the band, which has been to our advantage, so this [documentary] will hopefully be a real insight into what being in The Eagles was, and is, like.
“I want people to see that, 99% of the time, we had an absolute blast.”
Glenn Frey’s high-flying career with the Eagles
Glenn Frey was born in Detroit on November 6, 1948.
He moved to Los Angeles with a girlfriend in the late Sixties and began writing songs and performing. He briefly shared an apartment with Jackson Browne, with whom he wrote many songs.
He met Don Henley in 1970 and the pair formed The Eagles. They released their self-titled debut in 1972.
They released five more albums but broke up in 1980.
Film director Cameron Crowe said he based the guitarist central character in Almost Famous on Frey.
After Hours is out now.