Wing and a prayer: He made his mark in a world-famous band. And today, Timothy B. Schmit continues his solo flight.
By Chris Macias
Bee Pop Music Writer
(Published May 1, 2001)
CALABASAS -- There's a peaceful, easy feeling in the hills surrounding Cold Creek Canyon. The midday sun warms to swimming pool-ready conditions, and the cloudless sky is colored deep blue, like the nearby Pacific Ocean.
This is where multi-instrumentalist Timothy B. Schmit calls home. It's an oasis from downtown Los Angeles, a smoggy, 30-mile trip down Highway 101.
Tucked off a winding road, Schmit's estate features a horse stable, a stately home and a smaller house that doubles as a recording studio and office. They're especially palatial digs for Schmit, considering that he used to live on a couch when he moved to Los Angeles in 1968.
A Sacramento native, Schmit is best known as the bass player for the Eagles. He was also a member of country-rockers Poco, and Schmit's session work as a vocalist reads like a Who's Who of rock stars. Steely Dan; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Elton John, and Linda Ronstadt are but a few of the artists with whom Schmit has recorded.
Schmit also has released four solo albums since 1984. His latest, "Feed the Fire," reaches record stores today. To usher in the new album, Schmit will host an in-store performance in Sacramento at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Tower Records store on Watt Avenue.
Back in his home studio, Schmit is preparing to rehearse for such solo gigs. He's also gearing up for the Eagles' forthcoming European tour, which kicks off May 29 in Moscow.
Percussionist Scott Crago, who plays in the Eagles' backing band, drops by with a deep-toned jambe drum. As Crago pounds away, Schmit offers a tour.
The recording studio features a monster-size mixing board, and racks of electronic gear and effects. A Hofner bass and a collection of electric and acoustic guitars hang from the walls.
Even more awe-inspiring are the contents of a dozen cardboard boxes stacked in the corner.
"Those are all gold and platinum records," Schmit says. "I have a few of them hanging up, but it's weird. They're good mementos and I'm really proud I've been awarded these kinds of things, but they're almost too much to deal with."
In the hallway between the recording studio and his office, Schmit points to a framed photo. It's a black-and-white action shot of the Tune Mixers, a trio that featured Schmit's violin-playing father, Danny Schmit.
Timothy B. Schmit was born in the Bay Area. But before he settled in Sacramento at age 7, his family spent a couple of years following the elder Schmit from gig to gig.
"From the time I was born until the age of 5, my dad was gone a lot," Schmit says. "And then around the age of 5, my dad and mom put up our house in San Leandro and bought a 28-foot-by-8-foot trailer. We traveled for, like, four- and six-week stints. My brother and I would sleep in the only bed, and my mother and father would sleep on the couch."
Schmit pulls up a chair in his office. Now 53, he has a youthful glow and mane of brown hair that brushes past his shoulders. American Indian artifacts are positioned around the room, and an impressive seven-times-platinum commemoration for the Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over" album hangs above a couch. An award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is also on display.
A bookshelf next to Schmit's desk houses more trophies, including a 1979 Grammy Award for "Heartache Tonight" and three American Music Awards from 1996. There's also a Little League trophy and Schmit's "most valuable gymnast" award from Encina High School, circa 1965.
Schmit's expertise on the parallel bars was superseded by his musical ability at Encina High. He had learned violin and trombone as a youngster, and in high school formed a folk trio with two buddies, Tom Phillips and Ron Floegel. In that band -- dubbed Tim, Tom & Ron -- Schmit sang and strummed the ukulele and banjo. He'd later add bass guitar to his musical cadre.
Schmit opens up a photo album from his teenage music days. The pages flip by, with photos of Schmit and his cohorts -- fresh-faced adolescents wearing ties and strumming acoustic instruments. Schmit still refers to Phillips and Floegel as close friends.
"That's us at our first gig," Schmit says about one picture of Tim, Tom & Ron. "Gosh, we were young. I must've been 14."
Following the trends of 1960s pop music, Tim, Tom & Ron soon morphed into the Contenders, a surf band. A few years later, the Contenders ditched their surf duds and donned Beatles boots and mop-top haircuts. Under their revamped moniker, New Breed, Schmit's British Invasion-styled group became a force on the local "battle of the bands" circuit and party scene.
New Breed's tune "Green Eyed Woman" was a hit on Sacramento's KXOA radio, and the band also made appearances on TV shows in Los Angeles. New Breed even had a fan club that produced a fanzine called Breed Beat.
Still, Schmit describes many of his first brushes with the music industry as difficult. In 1969, the band's record label, ABC, forced New Breed to change its name to Glad. But the group's "Feelin' Glad" album stiffed.
However, Schmit's connection to Los Angeles' music scene offered hope. He got word that Poco was looking for a bass player. The group already had a solid marquee value, including such former Buffalo Springfield members as Jim Messina and Richie Furay. Schmit felt confident after his audition, but Poco chose Randy Meisner, who would later become the Eagles' first bassist.
"I felt like I was a failure," Schmit remembers. "I was only (about) 20 years old, but I felt old in the rock 'n' roll world. I felt like this was my one big chance and I blew it. It wasn't a great time."
However, Meisner left Poco after just a few months. Schmit was offered the gig and quickly moved to Los Angeles from the River City. He stayed with Poco for more than eight years, 13 albums and countless tours.
He chuckles while recalling those whirlwind days. "I was gone about 10 months out of the year. But I was young and single and it was nice."
Poco's drawing power was waning by the mid-1970s, but then Schmit got a big break. Meisner, who Schmit replaced in Poco, quit the Eagles in 1977 and Schmit was invited to replace him. He'd known Glenn Frey and Don Henley since the early 1970s, when they were still back-up musicians for Linda Ronstadt.
Schmit soon hit the road with the Eagles and performed on the group's 1979 album, "The Long Run." One of the album's signature tunes, "I Can't Tell You Why," was co-authored by Schmit and featured his lead vocal.
But "The Long Run" would be the Eagles' last album for 14 years. Bogged down by infighting, the band broke up in 1980. Schmit, the band's new kid in town, felt like he was hitting his stride just as the Eagles flew south.
"I was really sad when we broke up," Schmit says. "I was just getting geared up. I thought all of the problems I was seeing were just more of the same kinds of band squabbles that I'd seen forever. But (the Eagles) had this history that I wasn't aware of. And the breakup was so brutal and final that I thought that was it."
The post-Eagles years yielded mixed results for Schmit. He released three solo albums -- "Playin' It Cool" (1984), "Timothy B." (1987) and "Tell Me The Truth" (1990). Schmit had a Top 25 hit in 1987 with the song "Boys' Night Out," but his albums slumped overall. Schmit relied on session work during his self-described "humbling times."
"I took almost everything that came around," he says. "I mean, I sang for Twisted Sister and Poison."
But there were more memorable gigs, such as a 1992 tour with the Ringo Starr All-Star Band, an outfit that featured Nils Lofgren, Dave Edmunds, Todd Rundgren and fellow former Eagle Joe Walsh.
The reunion of the Eagles in 1994 marked a return to flush times for Schmit. The band's "Hell Freezes Over" tour was a success and its accompanying live album sold 7 million copies.
Schmit's new solo album is coming out just as the Eagles are set to fly again. There won't be much promotion for "Feed the Fire," with Schmit dedicating his energies toward the Eagles' European tour. (No American dates are planned, though the band will inaugurate Dallas' American Airlines Center on July 28.)
"The solo thing is like frosting to me," Schmit says. "Sure, I would like to make some noise, but if my album doesn't sell, I wouldn't take it as a sign of being a failure or that my music isn't good. I'm in a great situation. I don't need to do this at all, quite honestly. But it brings me great joy and happiness to do it."
True, the album's soft-rock leanings might not find a good fit on commercial radio. But "Feed the Fire" is a solid showcase for Schmit's musical talents, from svelte vocal harmonies to polished songwriting. He plays most of the instruments on the album, while guest musicians such as Walsh lend their talents.
"I can see by my past albums that I wasn't really focused," Schmit says. "I was so anxious to get it out there that I didn't take the time to quality-control it. But with this new solo album, since I wasn't under any kind of deadline, I made sure that I did it right."
Schmit also plans to join the Eagles for recording sessions later this year. It would be the first album of new material since "The Long Run."
"It's better than ever right now," Schmit says. "The vibe in the band is certainly better. It's just good timing. Everyone wants to do (a new record), we're getting along, we're actually having fun."
Schmit's wife, Jean, comes in to announce that lunch will be ready soon. Schmit takes a last look around his office and offers some final reflections.
"There are so many people who have these dreams, who get together with their friends in the garage and borrow instruments," Schmit says. "And they have these dreams of vast fame and wealth and big audiences cheering for you. It doesn't happen to many people. I'm really one of the fortunate ones, and it still blows me away."