Timothy B. Schmit - The Eagles Man Arrives

First with Poco and then with the Eagles, singer/songwriter Timothy B. Schmit is one of the leading exponents of West Coast country rock. He talks with Alan Cackett about working with two of the finest bands of the 70s and 80s - and his own solo career.

Timothy B. Schmit is one of the most underrated talents to have graced the West Coast country-rock scene. Oh yes, he has garnered accolades, but they are not nearly commensurate with the talent that shines through his passionate vocal work and songwriting skills.

The one-time member of Poco and, since 1977, bassist and vocalist with the Eagles, has recently released Feed The Fire, his first solo album in more than a decade. This month, along with his Eagle bandmates, he returns to the UK for a high profile tour.

'We've been rehearsing for several weeks,' he says from his California home. 'I love it over there. We are very excited to be coming over there again, we're looking forward to it and we'll put on a great show and are working very hard to do so.'

Sacramento-born Schmit began playing music in the early 1960's joining the folk trio Tim, Tom & Ron in 1962. The following year, he joined the surfband Contenders, and then moved on to the New Breed who in 1968 became Glad. At the beginning of 1970, he replaced bass player Randy Meisner in Poco, the groundbreaking country-rock band.

Richie Furay and his partner Jim Messina, who had already exerted their country leanings in Buffalo Springfield, put together Poco, the seminal LA country-rock band in 1968. Rusty Young was brought into the picture unseen and unheard and immediately gave Poco that distinctive instrumental sound providing great steel guitar.

He had been playing in a local Denver band Boenzee Cryque with drummer George Grantham; the last member in the puzzle was Randy Meisner.

Poco were one of the very best country-rock bands, yet success always eluded them. Signed to Epic Records, they looked set for the big-time but, within a short period of time, they lost Meisner, Messina and Furay. Young and Schmit emerged as the mainstays as Poco became one of the most popular live bands on the American concert circuit.

For whatever reason, the band was unable to realise it's commercial possibility, and watched helplessly as the Eagles came along and dominated the charts.

'I get a lot of people that want to talk about Poco, more than ever now,'says Timothy. 'It's a pleasant surprise, because you would think most people would want to talk about the Eagles, and they do. But I just didn't realise how big Poco was and how influential it was.'

In many ways, Poco were the country-rock forerunners. It is just possible that they came along just a little too soon. They could rock with the best of them; their harmonies were always spot on; their mainly original songs were interesting; musicianship was of an incredibly high standard...and so on. Would there have been a country-rock movement if there hadn't been a Poco?

Timothy stayed with Poco until he joined the Eagles in 1977. It was an exciting, but at times somewhat frustrating seven years. One of the top American touring acts of the early 1970's, they had people like Elton John, James Taylor and Steely Dan opening for them and, as well as being a major influence on the Eagles, helped to shape the sound that we now refer to as mainstream country.

Poco were always committed to country-rock. The band's strong point was it's seeming ability to create an endless chain of high-potential original material in both rocking and laid-back styles. The musicianship, also, was imperturbably immaculate: no band will ever be so comfortable within it's prescribed emotional and technical range as Poco.

Everyone has their own favourite Poco album. Probably the best bet, for the uninitiated, is to seek out The Forgotten Trail, a double-CD compilation on Epic/Legacy. For Timothy, the memories of what went down with the band, has become a little blurred over the years.

'I think maybe the Crazy Eyes album,' he says when pushed. 'That was really interesting. And Good Feelin' To Know, was right there when we were peaking out. You know, we were together for so long, and when we weren't touring we were recording. Just constantly working, and sometimes it kind of all runs together in my mind.'

He can remember, very clearly, the day he was invited to join the Eagles. Poco had just come off the road after a hectic three month coast-to-coast trek. They were playing to good crowds, but seemed to be going nowhere fast in terms of huge success. 'I could hardly believe my good fortune of having the phone call from Glenn, asking me if I would be prepared to replace Randy again,' he recollects. 'I don't think they had even considered anybody else. It seemed to be that it had to be me.

I pretty much joined the band before I'd played one note for them and I thought that was incredible. It made me a little nervous. They had just come off the Hotel California thing, and we were rehearsing to go on the road. I had a lot of work to do, but they knew I was up to it. It was a good move for me, obviously, and I thought it was a great fit for them.'

That was in 1977 and for the second time in his career, Timothy was replacing long-time music buddy Randy Meisner in a band. It was a quite different situation, though. When he joined Poco, seven years earlier, they had not reached a mass following. With the Eagles, it was a case of stepping in with just about the hottest band on the American rock'n'roll circuit.

Hotel California was a giant album, almost like an albatross around the band's neck. Not only were the Eagles about to hit the road, they were also putting together the follow-up to their most acclaimed, and highly successful album. Expectations were sky-high.

Timothy not only got to sing and play on The Long Run, but also wrote and sang lead on I Can't Tell You Why. Released as a single, it hit the American top 10 in 1980, and was also featured in the movie, Inside Moves. As so often happens in the music business, soon after he left Poco, they made the long-awaited commercial breakthrough with Crazy Love, a top 20 pop hit that spurred the album of the same title to a million-plus sales.

In 1982, the Eagles decided they had gone as far as they could musically. Like the other members, Timothy embarked upon a solo career and success with So Much In Love in 1982 and Boys Night Out in 1987. He also played dozens of sessions including Elton John, Bob Seger, America and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Following the success of the Nashville-produced tribute Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles in 1993, interest in the band was rekindled. They reformed in 1994 for the Hell Freezes Over Tour, which turned out to be bigger than anyone, including the band, could have anticipated.

Though he is still best remembered by long-time fans for the seven years he spent with Poco, Timothy has actually spent a much longer period of time as an Eagle. It has enabled him to pursue different musical projects, including setting up his own Lucan Records and releasing Feed The Fire, this past spring.

There are some artists you simply do not want to change, and Timothy B. Schmit is one of them. On this album, his first solo album in 11 years, he delivers exactly what loyalists require - smart country-influenced music with enough bite to keep it relevant.

'I actually tried to shop my record around to different labels and got turned down,' he admits. 'I think the state of the business is such that it wasn't that people didn't like it, it seemed to me a risky business for any of them to take the album on. Apparently, there's a lot of listeners to radio stations. But the buyers aren't out there. That was how it was explained to me. But I was still undaunted.

I just figured out that maybe this was a better way for me to go. And it would be kind of a new adventure that I could focus on. I would have full control of everything, especially the music. Then there's the other stuff: deadlines, the guys in the suits getting involved with your music. There are a few of them that are music lovers, but I didn't want to do all that anymore.

'I'm in a great position in my career. So I'm doing it this way and really am looking at it as a new experience.'

Known for his unique brand of country soul, Timothy has a passionate voice that makes each song an emotional experience. The album was produced primarily by the singer in his home studio, with four tracks produced by Mark Hudson.

The first single in the States is a remake of You Are Everything, a sweet take on the Stylistics' 1971 pop hit. 'The reason it is the single over here is because it's been getting much better response than any of the other tracks,' he explains. 'It's a favourite of mine. I love that old Thom Bell, Philly stuff. I'm a big fan of R&B, Al Green, all that stuff. A few years ago, I was just fooling around with this song with my engineer, just for fun. My ego does not dictate that I have to write every song.'

He has written or co-written eight of the 11 songs. Sonically, the album is richly textured with inventive arrangements, the whole record one stream-of-collective-unconscious singalong and manna for those who have long since memorised their Poco and Eagles. Timothy's soul-searching intensity and keen observations could win fans across the board, and his summer tour with the Eagles, should raise his profile among a wide range of record buyers.

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