Eagles’ Glenn Frey a ‘soul guy in a country rock band’

Adam Graham and Susan Whitall
The Detroit News
Glenn Frey performs during the After Hours Tour opening night at Town Hall in 2012 in New York City.

Bob Seger, who helped kick-start the career of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Glenn Frey, mourned the loss of his good friend on Monday.

“I loved him like he was my brother,” Seger said.

The Royal Oak-bred co-founder of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands of all time, died Monday after a bout of severe illness. He was 67.

He succumbed to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia, according to a note posted on his band’s website.

Frey, a 1966 graduate of Dondero High School in Royal Oak, fell ill in November. His sickness forced the four-member group to postpone their Kennedy Center Honors appearance until next December.

Tributes from his fellow artists poured in on social media Monday evening as word of Frey’s death spread.

“I’m shocked,” Huey Lewis wrote on Twitter. “A brilliant songwriter and a really good guy. Talented, funny, cynical and sweet.”

“We lost one of the greatest songwriters ever today,” Justin Timberlake tweeted Monday night.

“Glenn Frey, you will be sorely missed,” Sheryl Crow tweeted. “Thank you for all you gave us.”

Before Frey headed to California in the ’70s and started the Eagles with Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, there was Seger, who mentored the young singer and songwriter. Frey can be heard playing acoustic guitar and singing background vocals on Seger’s first national hit, 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.”

“We just clicked automatically because we both knew deep inside that the key to everything, the thing that would make us original, was songwriting,” said Seger of the classically trained pianist who started playing at age 6. “We both agreed on that score.”

Seger and Frey met in Detroit in the 1960s, through their respective girlfriends, who were friends.

They shared a love of soul music, both the Motown of their native city — Frey loved Marvin Gaye — but also Al Green and Otis Redding.

“He named his last kid Otis!” Seger said. “He loved Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ album when that came out, he drove me crazy playing that. He really was a closet soul guy in a country rock band. You can hear it burst through a bit in ‘One of These Nights’ and later, in ‘The Long Run,’ that soul thing he loved.”

Frey was grateful to his fans, Seger said. “Over the last 11 or 12 years, every time I’d see him he’d say, ‘Bob, do you realize how lucky we are?’ He was really grateful to be able to do what he did at that age. He loved playing Eagles songs. And why not? He wrote most of them.”

“When you look at the annals of songwriting, and you look at the cash register and the airplay monitor, there aren’t many more successful than Glenn Frey. He is probably one of the 50 most successful songwriters as far as sales are concerned.

“The Eagles weren’t very well liked by critics, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t important,” he said. “The reason they were important, a big reason was Glenn Frey.”

The Eagles were one of the biggest rock bands of all time; an Eagles greatest hits collection from the mid-1970s and “Hotel California” are among the best-selling albums in history.

The Eagles came about because pop singer Linda Ronstadt needed a band. Ronstadt’s producer gathered some of the usual suspects from the legendary Los Angeles rock venue the Troubadour, including Frey, Henley, Meisner and Leadon. The group first played behind Ronstadt in 1971 at Disneyland.

It was Frey’s winsome tenor that we first heard singing about standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, in “Take it Easy,” in 1972. The song was written by Frey with Jackson Browne. It was in England, ironically, that the band recorded that sun-soaked debut album in the spring of ’72, “The Eagles.”

“Take it Easy” was followed quickly by “Witchy Woman” and “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.”

With their rough-hewn good looks and folk-country roots, the Eagles were at the center of the California country-rock scene of the early ’70s. But while their music touted the sunny California of their era, it was a darker time than the Beach Boys’ ’60s.

Songs like “Hotel California” evoked the palmy charms of LA in those years, but also the seedy, cocaine-driven decadence of the culture.

Beyond their hits, the group was well-known for its contentious nature, and they went their separate ways in 1980. Frey logged a string of solo hits in the 1980s, including “The Heat is On,” “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City.” He released five solo albums, the final of which, “After Hours,” came in 2012.

But the Eagles would rise again. A reunion tour in 1994 was so unexpected it was dubbed “Hell Freezes Over.”

That tour included a July 1994 concert at Tiger Stadium. Prior to the outing Frey talked to The Detroit News about the group’s fights and the eventual mending of fences between band members.

“I think it’s worth pointing out that any worthwhile relationship has to go through and survive extremes,” Frey said. “That doesn’t apply just to bands, it applies to men and women, to male friends and women friends and co-workers.”

“We got over it,” he continued, “and the the important thing to have note of here, this band did not break up because we didn’t get along. We got along for a long, long time. The band was together for nine years. And almost all of it was good fun and hard work. I think at that particular juncture (in 1980), the band had sort of run its course. We’d made six albums, we’d experienced the pressure of following up ‘Hotel California,’ we got perhaps a little dizzy breathing the rarefied air at the top of Mt. Moolah.”

Frey — a devoted Detroit Tigers fan who listed Kirk Gibson as his favorite Tiger — said of the Eagles at that time, “We’re happy guys, happy in our work.”

The reunion lasted through the ’90s. The band reconvened again in 2007 and recorded “Long Road Out of Eden.” It was the Eagles’ final studio release, though the band continued to tour; its last area performance in July at Joe Louis Arena.

Melissa and Tim Downey of Berkley saw the Eagles and members of the band more than 70 times in concert, and were deeply saddened by the news of Frey’s death.

“We’re sitting here crying,” Melissa Downey said Monday. “People don’t understand ... 42 years of following a band and loving them; it’s a loss.”

In a statement, Henley said Frey “was like a brother to me.”

“We were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken. ...

“I’m not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful, every day, that he was in my life.”

Frey is survived by his wife, Cindy Frey, and three children — Taylor, Deacon and Otis Frey.


Susan Whitall is a Metro Detroit entertainment writer.

Detroit News Staff Writer Neal Rubin and Associated Press contributed.