Classic Rock Magazine, September 2001
[Thanks to Gill for typing up the interview & Joe for scanning the photos!]
Timothy B. Schmit joined his first major band, Poco, back in 1970. The California-born bassist remained with the country-rock pioneers for seven years before accepting an invitation to replace Randy Meisner in the Eagles during the bands tour to promote Hotel California. Schmit's move was a curious coincidence, as he had also succeeded Meisner in Poco. During the tortuously long sessions that eventually produced The Long Run, Schmit added his signature alto-tenor vocals to the Schmit/Henley/Frey composed Top 10 hit I Can't Tell You Why. But drink, drugs and egos were tearing the band apart. Label pressure was also being exerted for anything bearing the bands name; at one point Electra chairman Joe Smith sent the band a rhyming dictionary.
Although the Eagles broke up in 1980, nobody realised it until two years later. By then, drummer Henley had come out and branded guitarist Joe Walsh an "insidious troublemaker."
Schmit was among the many people who reckoned the likelihood of the Eagles ever taking flight again was about the same as hell freezing over, remarking, "I never thought lightning would strike twice." So after the split he hired out his sonorous tonsils to such luminaries as Crosby Stills & Nash, Bob Seger, Toto, Randy Newman, Elton John, Julian Lennon and Dan Fogelberg, and also released three solo albums.
Some 13 years later, hell did effectively freeze over, when the Eagles reformed for an MTV concert special, and what came to be known as the Greed Tour. The trek lasted almost 2 1/2 years, after which the Eagles were inducted into the Hall Of Fame in January 1998.
Don Felder, the band's guitarist since 1974 was unceremoniously sacked in February this year, and is legally contesting the action.
With more than 80 million albums sold, the band still seem to pursue the almighty dollar, and to engage in seemingly trivial points of principle. Henley has been outspoken concerning the "evils" of the MP3 phenomenon...
This year, the Eagles flew in to play their first UK shows since 1996, including a four-night stint at London's Earls Court. While it was difficult to be critical of the actual content of the 2 hrs 40 min set, many fans were appalled at ticket prices of £60, £46.50 0r £36.50 - plus booking fee.
In the preamble to our chat, Schmit informs me that he's just finished reading a review of one of the Earls Court concerts. "It was just so bad...so negative," he sighs, balanced equally between resignation and anger. "It read like the guy went there with the intention of saying all those things about us before he even heard a note. There have been some bad reviews in the past, but..."
Classic Rock: At least Classic Rock has been kind to your new solo album Feed the Fire. Back in Issue 28 it was even suggested that you may be the Eagles' secret weapon.
TBS: (laughs quietly) I read that and it was quite a compliment. No, I don't really think I'm the bands secret weapon, everybody is an integral part of our success. Everybody brings something different to what we do.
CR: Does it feel strange to be still regarded as the new kid in town in the Eagles even after all these years?
TBS Yeah, it does seem odd that some people think of me as a newcomer. I've been here since 19...well, it's been a long time. But it's very obvious that there could be no Eagles without Don and Glenn.
CR: Feed The Fire is your first solo work in almost 11 years. Why has it been so long in coming?
TBS: It's hard to say. The HFO tour was pretty long, I suppose. Away from the Eagles, I try to live a very normal life. I'm a father and a husband. That's really about it. When I'm at home I make breakfast for my children and take my high-schooler to school. But my music is all I live for - I have no hobbies.
CR: Your fourth solo album is certainly very different from 1987's rather soulful Timothy B. Would it be fair to say that Feed The Fire is the most Eagles-like of your solo-records to date?
TBS: It wasn't something that I consciously worked towards, but it's something that I've been hearing quite a lot.
CR: What are your expectations in terms of sales? And do you expect that being a member of something as big as the Eagles to help?
TBS: The strange thing is that, although I'm a member of the Eagles, the major labels just wouldn't touch me as a solo artist. That's why I started my own label (Lucan Records, with distribution through BMG offshoot Giant)
CR: Did Joe Walsh take much persuading to make his appearance on I'll Always Let You In?
TBS: No, I just called and asked if he would help me and he was happy to do so. It's such a thrill for me to be in a band with somebody like Joe Walsh. On this tour, he and I have been hanging out quite a lot. We've been spending time together and putting song ideas down onto tape.
CR: At Earls Court Joe changed the lyrics to Life's Been Good. Is he still as eccentric as ever?
TBS: (pauses to consider) Maybe, but Joe's a lovely guy and it's a pleasure to work with him.
CR: Has he matured at all in his older years?
TBS: A little yeah...but everybody has. Time changes people.
CR: Your first major band was Poco. Where would you advise somebody new to that band to begin listening to them?
TBS: (Whistles quietly). That's a good question, because there were so many Poco albums. We sometimes made two a year.
CR: 1976's Rose Of Cimarron maybe?
TBS: Yeah, maybe. The title track's on that one right? Well, that would give you an insight. That album still seems to be very popular in Europe. And I've always liked Crazy Eyes (1973) too.
CR: Away from the Eagles and your solo efforts, one of the numerous artists you've worked with is Steely Dan, singing on their albums Aja, The Royal Scam and Pretzel Logic. Were Dan nucleus Walter Becker and Donald Fagan as grouchy in the studio as stories about them suggest?
TBS: I wouldn't exactly say they were grouchy, but as everybody knows they're real musicians' musicians. I went to see them on their last tour and they invited me to sing with them again, which was an honour. In the studio they were so intense, so focused on what they wanted - from themselves and the people they worked with. Some things they said went straight over my head. Not many, but a few. Yeah, they were sometimes kinda unusual - in the best possible way.
CR: More eccentric than Joe Walsh even?
TBS: (Splutters an embarrassed laugh). I'm not sure I want to answer that question.
CR: Along with Don Henley and Glenn Frey, you also sang backing vocals on Bob Seger's 1980 album Against The Wind. He's supposedly a real recluse. Do you hear anything from him these days?
TBS: Yeah, I did work with Bob, and no I don't hear anything from him anymore. I don't think many people actually do.
CR: Poison are also listed in your musical CV. What did you do with them?
TBS: Oh there was a time before HFO where I simply hustled a lot of work. I had to downsize my lifestyle during those 13 years. Instead of taking an external job I kept doing music, because it's what I do best. During that time I sang for anybody who asked me, really just to make ends meet. But most of my experiences with people as unlikely as that really helped to open my eyes. I sang for a couple of acts and I couldn't talk at night, because they weren't what my voice is supposed to do. (Schmit was featured on Poisons 1993 album Native Tongue).
CR: But the highlight of your career - indeed any musician's career - must have been working with Spinal Tap. Care to give us the details?
TBS: Ha ha! That was the absolute pinnacle, yeah. I was on their second album (92's Break Like The Wind) I guess they wanted some real singers for a bit of the backgrounds. I got to play Big Bottom with them once at a charity show. But to me the coolest thing regarding Spinal Tap is that my wife Jean is actually in the movie. It's only a tiny part during the first five minutes, but she's the very thin blonde groupie you see in line at the concert. That impresses a lot of people!
CR: Are you planning any solo shows?
TBS: I'd like to think so. Before we started rehearsing for the Eagles tour, I went to radio stations and a couple of record in-stores, playing four or five tunes and then shaking hands and kissing babies. It was very frightening at first, but it really got my confidence up. But the band is my priority, and the plan is for us to get together and start writing a studio album after the tour finishes. If we're successful I probably won't have the time to do anything on my own because I'll be busy for the next few years.
CR: Hasn't the writing process already begun?
TBS: Well, a few of us have gotten together in little groupettes and thrown some pieces around, but there's nothing real solid yet. But we do have some starters.
CR: It must be daunting to know that whatever you come up with will be judged against seminal albums like Hotel California, Desperado and One Of These Nights.
TBS: You can look at it that way, or you can just keep on doing what you're doing. Of course somebody's always gonna make those kind of judgments, but it won't stop us from doin' what we do.
CR: This 30th anniversary tour for the Eagles will last for a year and a half. After so much time as part of a huge stadium beast, do you crave getting dirt under your fingernails?
TBS: If I do get the chance to do something on my own it'll definitely be on a much lower level than the Eagles. It'll be small, small venues. But I'd have to test the water first, see what happens. As far as the Eagles being this huge stadium beast, it seems strange to me that people could think that way. Maybe it's envy. People also get jealous of sports figures because they're successful and make money, but if the tables were turned those same people would be doing exactly the same thing. Everybody wants to do well in life, and when you do so it seems that everyone wants to criticise you for it. I'm not doing anything wrong; nobody twists anybody's arm to make them buy a ticket. It's a win-win situation. We want to do this because it's our lives and our career, and we're happy to provide it. Lots of people want to see a band like the Eagles. Why shouldn't they?
CR: Actually, the question wasn't intended as a criticism, more of an observation of how enormous the Eagles have become. From the outside, the band are something of a rock monolith.
TBS: Yeah, it's a big, big machine. But I'm thankful and grateful to be a part of it, for my good health and my wonderful family. Things are good in life. I have a lot of balance. When I go home and I'm away from the Eagles machine, it's a different kind of greatness, but it's still as good.
CR: What's life like inside the Eagles bubble?
TBS: Well it's become a routine now. As well as being big it's a very well-oiled machine.
CR: Does it completely rule your life?
TBS: Of course. I'm on a strict schedule, but I try to remain in contact with my wife through fax or email. There's a certain routine I maintain to keep my own sanity. Today, for instance, is our last show before we take a week off. I'm going to separate my belongings into things that are going on to the next show in Ireland and the things I'm going to need when I take a little vacation in Spain. It all has to be ready in 30 minutes but luckily I'm very prepared. The thing people don't always understand is that we all work very hard at this. We could probably just throw the thing together with a couple of rehearsals, but we work on every song and every last note until we're exhausted. In fact I thought our rehearsals went on a little too long this time. It's a job, and it's become normal in our lives.
CR: The fractious nature of the band's inner circle is legendary, of course. How are the relationships within the band these days?
TBS: It's better than ever - and that's a very honest answer. The energy in the Eagles is unlike I've ever seen it before; it's very light-hearted. We work hard but there's a lot of laughter. We actually socialise a little more than we have done. We want to work and we see work as our future. If you're not careful, negative things can pull things apart as you begin the intricacies of writing and making an album. But I can't really see that happening.
CR: Do you ever go out for a beer together?
TBS: Actually...well...so to speak , yeah. It's not like after the show we all get together and hang out, unless we're traveling that night. There's just a good atmosphere. Everybody needs their privacy, and we pretty much don't see each other until sound check, and then we spend the next few hours together. Maybe something will happen afterwards, if there's an after-show flight. I don't see any major problems; what I see is a bunch of guys who want to work together and who are enjoying that process.
CR: With Don Felder out of the way, are things easier now?
TBS: I think I just answered that question when I said that things are easier right now. I'm not gonna directly answer that because it's a situation I can't speak about due to an impending lawsuit.
CR:For live appearances, the band utilise an array of top-notch session musicians. You yourself touched upon admission prices for the shows earlier. Are we to assume that the Eagles believe that quality must be paid for?
TBS:Yeah, I'll say it once again: nobody's twisting anybody's arm. People come to see the Eagles because they want to. We aim to please, because we put on not only a quality performance, but a nice long show, with most of the songs people would want us to play. And the bottom line is that I really believe we're worth it.
CR: As you say, the current set is indeed lengthy, how do you decide on the balance between which Eagles songs and which solo tunes are included in the set?
TBS: We just sit down and work it out between ourselves. We're into this and we're here to do it completely right. In fact, the set has been changed around since London. We felt that Hotel California was too early in the set, so now it's an encore. And we also added Witchy Woman to it.
CR: Some of the posters for the tour stated "Your last chance to see the Eagles" and others didn't. Any idea what was going on there?
TBS: I'm not sure whose idea that was and it surprised me when I saw it too. On some nights Henley has been saying from the stage "Contrary to what you've been reading, we'll be around for some time to come." This is not people's last chance to see us. It certainly didn't come from us, because we're not gonna do an eternal farewell tour the way that Kiss seem to be doing. I'll ask our promoter if he knows anything about why that's on some of the posters.
CR: Finally, after all these years and millions of dollars, what continues to drive the Eagles as a band, and you individually?
TBS: We still have the need to work. It's as simple as that. It's all about your basic love of music, and seeing what you can come up with next. I suppose we will retire from performing some day, but right now we're in a business where we don't need to. But as a songwriter and recording artist, I myself feel like I can probably keep on going right on until I drop - and I plan to do so. I don't have the kind of job where I can just go to a pension. I love this, and I want to keep on doing it.
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