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Bassist Schmit can tell you why Eagles endure: Good music

By Kevin C. Johnson
Post-Dispatch
June 4, 2003

Fans of the Eagles should feel fortunate that band members' promises are worthless.

Sometime after the Eagles - the classic purveyor of California rock - called it quits in 1980, the group's Don Henley said hell would freeze over before the band reunited. Since then, hell has frozen over time after time. The Eagles not only reunited for a "Hell Freezes Over" tour in 1994, the group has performed regularly since. The latest tour, Farewell 1, comes to Savvis Center on Friday night.

"That was a tongue-in-cheek name we thought of more or less as a joke," says bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who joined the lineup in 1977, replacing Randy Meisner.

"So many older acts claim to be doing their swan song tour or their last album or whatever, and many times they come back. They'll pull a Michael Jordan and keep coming back," says Schmit, making obvious reference to acts such as Cher and Fleetwood Mac.

Schmit, interviewed by telephone from Orlando, Fla., recently, says, "This cut down on our naming the tour. If things go well, we could do Farewell VI or VII, you never know. Or this could be it. But that's not the intention."

And why should it be, considering what a cash cow the Eagles' road show has proved to be? Consider this: The band is receiving more than $1 million for its Savvis Center show this weekend and can be expected to earn a comparable payday on the tour's three-dozen or so other dates. That adds up to an overstuffed wallet.

The suggestion that Schmit, Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh are out there again for the money is not entirely dismissed.

"This is what we do for a living," says Schmit, who co-wrote the ballad "I Can't Tell You Why." "I'm not a doctor or a plumber. We're musicians, and this is our livelihood. This is how we support our families. But it's certainly not totally about the money. We love to do this. And the fact that we're so creative in the studio and having fun doing these shows, why not?

"We're not twisting anybody's arm to pay for the ticket. It's there, and it's what it is."

Fans do complain, as they do with any group when prices go through the roof. But they also continue to buy tickets to see their favorite acts, especially when the music has the longevity of the Eagles'.

"It's not just with this band, but with any artist or group whose songs have staying power," Schmit says. "They're the ones that are going to be around. The band, from its inception, has written classic songs that will be around well after we're gone."

Timeless is an appropriate description of the music of the Eagles. "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975," which includes "Take It Easy," "Lyin' Eyes," "One of These Nights" and "Take It to the Limit," has sold 28 million copies. The album flip-flops with Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as the best-selling album of all time.

The Eagles' "Hotel California" and "Greatest Hits 2" sold 16 million and 11 million copies, respectively.

The Eagles also are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have won Grammys for "Lyin' Eyes," "New Kid in Town," "Heartache Tonight" and "Hotel California."

The tours continue to generate excitement regardless of whether the band has new music out.

"We all consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be doing this at this level at this age," says Schmit, who is 55, as are Walsh and Henley. "We don't take any of it for granted. I don't like to say we're lucky, but I know it's a fortunate turn of events in my life, and I try to appreciate it all. I really love my work. It's a great job.

"I'm sitting in a very beautiful place (on the day of this interview) overlooking a beautiful landscape, and I have a day off. There's not a lot to complain about."

He's certainly not complaining about being back with his old comrades after the artists pursued solo careers during much of the 1980s. Schmit says the band is in a good place with each other.

"The four of us have never been as good as this in my memory," he says. "We're older now, and we all have different priorities, our health and our families. And we've pared our band down to where it really works. It's just better, for whatever reasons. Everybody is very positive now and working hard to keep this thing going."

Rehearsals were intense, he says, like music boot camp. But nothing less would do.

"We aim to please," Schmit says. "We want to put on the best show possible."

And that means all Eagles, all night, with no opening act. The show will clock in at more than three hours, with an intermission. There will be updated lighting and video aspects to the production, and all the Eagles music fans can stand.

"We can't do them all, so sometimes we substitute this song for that song," Schmit says. "And we do some solo stuff from Henley, Frey and Walsh. It's a head-scratcher, but we do what we can to make it fun."

The band also will play a smattering of fresh songs, including the new single "Hole in the World," a Henley-Frey composition.

"It's a beautiful song, a vocal-heavy ballad," Schmit says. "It's a simple message about human compassion. It has a great sentiment. And if it doesn't do well, it doesn't mean we'll stop everything."

Actually, regardless of what happens with "Hole in the World," the band will forge ahead and complete another full-length studio CD for release next year. Several songs have been recorded.

"We're trying to make it an Eagles album, which means it should be melodic with a lot of singing and a lot of harmonies," Schmit says. "That's one of our trademarks. We're taking our time crafting these songs so they'll be up to our classics."

Of course, creating the type of catchy songs the group cranked out regularly during its heyday would be nice, but the band is realistic in knowing that won't necessarily happen.

"We can't get into the studio and write songs with any kind of idea of competing with former songs," Schmit says. "But if it develops into something entertaining, you keep working on it. If not, it falls by the wayside. I have no idea if any of these songs will be classics. I don't know where they will go."

The band is hoping young people are among those who embrace the new music. Already, Schmit says, the band has proved itself with younger listeners.

"A lot of people come up to me and say they listened to this music as they were growing up, that their parents listened to this," he says. "Younger people who come like our music as well. Good music is good music. Songs are classic for a reason - because they're good. Just because it's older music doesn't mean it's bad."

Schmit hopes to see some of these younger fans in St. Louis, a city he has visited often over the years, not only with the Eagles but with Poco before that. Schmit, incidentally, also sang uncredited backup vocals on a '70s album by St. Louis band Mama's Pride, though he doesn't remember the recording because he sang on many artists' albums during that time.

"I've always enjoyed going there. The people have been very gracious there, and it's always a good crowd," says Schmit, who calls Cardinals manager Tony La Russa a friend. "I have a lot of memories there, and a lot of them I would never repeat."

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