Eagles' tour soars into Grand Rapids Friday

Sunday, June 16, 2002
By John Sinkevics
The Grand Rapids Press

They have the best-selling album in rock music history, they were shoo-ins into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and talk of their first honest-to-goodness studio recording project in more than 20 years has the music industry buzzing.

Yet, when members of the Eagles sat down to map out their first U.S. road trip in seven years, Grand Rapids and other medium-sized markets -- not Chicago, Los Angeles or New York -- became must-play cities.

"All of us think that it's important to go to some of these markets, because that way the people who live in these markets don't have to travel. We can come to them for a change," bassist Timothy B. Schmit said in a telephone interview from Reno, Nev., just a few hours before the band kicked off its 32-date tour.

"We decided to go out and hit some of these cities, many of which we've never been to before. We'll go out and do some work. We have become a working band again, which I think everybody is pleased about."

The tour -- which plays to a sold-out Van Andel Arena on Friday -- comes halfway through L.A. studio sessions for the Eagles' long-awaited new album.

Schmit said "getting away from the studio" for live performances gives the band a needed break and helps it re-energize before returning to recording later this year.

It also gives the Eagles a chance to show their fans they're alive and kicking and that they're still one heckuva fine live band.

"We're really prepared. We work really hard, go into heavy rehearsals and go into a lot of details about the show, even the songs we've done for a long time. We keep honing it down and tuning it up," said Schmit, 54. A former member of Poco, Schmit joined the Eagles in 1977 as a replacement for Randy Meisner.

"We're all giving our best at these shows, and I can honestly say that no one will be disappointed in the quality of our performance ... Things are good, spirits are good. We're functioning more as a band, as a group, than I can ever remember."

That comes as great news for diehard fans of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Schmit, who have reunited for studio work and the "Summer Tour 2002" -- the first tour since the band's extended "Hell Freezes Over" jaunt in the mid-1990s.

The extended absence from the road certainly made the Grand Rapids concert tickets a hot item: The Van Andel concert sold out in 22 minutes, the fourth-fastest sellout in arena history.

It's the first time the band has played Grand Rapids.

(By the way, the big change from the "Hell Freezes Over" tour comes as a result of last year's firing of guitarist Don Felder, who had been with the group since 1974. Felder later sued the group over his dismissal. On the current tour, the Eagles fill out the stage band with Scott Crago, drums and percussion; Steuart Smith, guitars and vocals; Michael Thompson, keyboards and vocals; Al Garth, saxophones and violin; Bill Armstrong, trumpet; Chris Mostert, tenor saxophone; and Greg Smith, baritone saxophone.)

It's been a "long run" indeed for the group that formed as a country-rock outfit in California in late 1971. Drummer Henley, a native of Texas, and guitarist Frey, a Detroiter, joined up with bassist Meisner and guitarist Bernie Leadon to record the 1972 debut album, "Eagles," which produced the hits "Take It Easy," "Witchy Woman" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling."

More hit singles and albums followed, with the band's fourth album, "One of These Nights," going gold the same month it was released in 1975. That album also generated the band's first Grammy Award, for best pop vocal performance on the countrified single, "Lyin' Eyes."

When high-profile guitarist Joe Walsh joined the band in early 1976 to replace Leadon, the band's sound took a decided turn toward rock and a musical approach that helped define the southern California sound of that era.

The Grammy-winning "Hotel California" went platinum in one week after it was released in December 1976, going on to top 16 million in sales.

"The Long Run," the band's last studio album, further solidified the Eagles' supergroup reputation by shooting to No. 1 on the charts in 1979 and producing the hit singles "Heartache Tonight," "I Can't Tell You Why" and "The Long Run."

But none of that compares with "Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975," which has sold more than 27 million copies to rank as the best-selling album of all time in the United States, ahead of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall." The Eagles play all 10 songs from that collection on the current tour.

Considering the newest song on that compilation came out 27 years ago, it's long past time for something new, Schmit said.

So, the band's four core musicians eagerly are hammering out a fresh batch of songs, though he conceded "there won't be anything brand new yet" to perform on the tour. That will have to wait for a world tour of bigger markets the group hopes to launch next year after the new album hits store shelves.

"We owe the public something new," Schmit said. "It's going very well; everybody's working hard."

That work includes having individual members offer up potential songs for the project.

"We submit songs that we've been working on individually. And we're doing a lot of sitting around and jamming things out and seeing if we can come up with ideas," he said of the songwriting process. "That's the really fun part to me: actually sitting down and starting with nothing and coming up with a possible idea."

And what about any past friction between band members, any leftover dissension from the initial breakup in the early '80s?

"We've become a working band. This is what we do," Schmit insisted. "We have come to terms with each other on many levels. We know that there's a demand (for new Eagles' music). We want to keep doing it, and we're in a position to keep doing it.

"We've all gotten older, and our priorities are a little bit different in a lot of cases, and basically, this is what we do. We've chosen to stay together and try and continue to better ourselves. It's pretty much that simple."

For a veteran band celebrating its 30th year in the business (the Eagles' first single, "Take It Easy," was released in June 1972), the desire to extend that legacy has never been stronger.

Even when the band took an extended hiatus between the early '80s and mid-'90s, Schmit noted rock radio never stopped playing its hits, including "One of These Nights," "Hotel California," "Desperado" and "The Long Run."

"We're one of the fortunate ones in the business. I have always thought that, for any musical entity, it comes down to very simple, basic things, and in our case, it's songs," he said.

"If you don't have strong songs, you're not going to last, you're not going to be on the radio, people are not going to remember. I think that's the legacy of this band. We have songs that last."