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10 Years On: ‘History Of The Eagles’ Documentary Revisited
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10 Years On: ‘History Of The Eagles’ Documentary Revisited

The classic documentary ‘History Of The Eagles’ is still the definitive word on the Californian country-rock icons. Here’s what it teaches us.

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Premiering at Sundance Film Festival on 19 January 2013, the three-hour documentary History Of The Eagles was the first major attempt to tell the story of one of the greatest bands in rock history. Originally broadcast in two parts, the first two hours of the documentary focuses on Eagles’ formation, rise to fame and their dramatic break-up, while the second episode traces the two-decade stretch from their 1994 reunion up to the time of the film’s release. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening watch, full of great performances and jaw-dropping rock’n’roll stories. Here are ten things we learned from History Of The Eagles.

Listen to the best of Eagles here, and check out our 10 ‘History Of The Eagles’ documentary takeaways, below.

1: Glenn Frey’s life was changed by a Beatles gig

Speaking in History Of The Eagles, singer, guitarist and Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey reveals that he started taking piano lessons at five years old, while growing up in Detroit, Michigan. He stopped playing piano at 12 (as “the girl thing was starting to happen”), but then a formative gig influenced him to take up guitar. “My aunt took me down to see The Beatles at the Olympia,” Frey remembers. “I remember this girl standing on her seat in front of me fall backwards into my arms, delirious, going, ‘Paul, Paul!’ And I thought, Oh my god.”

2: Don Henley started out in a jazz band

Eagles drummer Don Henley reveals that his first group were a long way musically from the country-rock that would later make his name. Henley says, “The first band I was in was with my high-school buddy Richard Bowden and another high-school friend, Jerry Surratt, and we played Dixieland jazz music. Nobody sang, we just played music.”

3: Jackson Brown taught Glenn Frey how to write songs

Having grown close to Eagles as the band were starting out and the two acts shared bills, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne suggested Frey move to his neighbourhood. “Jackson said, ‘You know, you should come down to Echo Park, rent’s real cheap,’” Frey told the History Of The Eagles documentary team. The pair ended up living in the same building, as Browne reveals: “Glenn got the apartment next to mine. And this apartment cost $125 a month, or something a month. I needed to economise, so I moved into the basement underneath Glenn’s place, which I could get for $35 a month. It only had one door, it was really just an illegal place, a cubby hole. There was a stereo, a piano a bed, a guitar, a teapot…”

The arrangement would have a formative effect on Frey’s songwriting, as the fledgling Eagle confirmed: “I learned through Jackson’s ceiling exactly how to write songs… Jackson would get up and play the first verse and first chorus 20 times until he had it just the way he wanted it. Then there’d be silence, then I’d hear the teapot go off again, then it’d be quiet for 20 minutes and he’d play the second verse… I’m up there going, So that’s how you do it – elbow grease, time, thought, persistence.” The pair would share a writing credit on Eagles’ debut single, Take It Easy.

4: Eagles’ vocal harmonies won producer Glyn Johns over

When it came time to record Eagles’ debut album, Glyn Johns (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who) was the producer on top of the group’s wish list. Johns was unimpressed when he saw the band in concert, but he decided to give them another chance, suggesting he attend one of their rehearsals. Again, Johns didn’t see the potential. “I was thinking, I still don’t get it,” the producer says. “So we decided to take a break for lunch, and as we were leaving somebody said, ‘Why don’t we play Glyn that ballad?’” The group sang Johns their close harmony arrangement of Dolly Parton’s Silver Dagger and everything fell into place. “They just completely blew me off my feet, there it was – that was the sound. Extraordinary blend of voices, wonderful harmony sound, just stunning and that was it. I was in with both feet.” The team behind some of the best Eagles albums was in place.

5: Joe Walsh auditioned on stage for the band

With guitarist Bernie Leadon increasingly discontent with the rockier elements of Eagles’ sound and struggling with life on the road, the band began to consider other options. Former James Gang guitarist (and future Life’s Been Good hitmaker) Joe Walsh shared management with Eagles, and when the band were offered support slots on The Rolling Stones’ 1975 US tour, they asked Walsh to join them on stage for the encores. It wasn’t a conventional entrance for Walsh, as Frey recalls in History Of The Eagles: “We put Joe Walsh in a road box… we’d come back to do an encore and roll the road box out. Just like a model jumping out of a cake, we’d open the guitar case and there would be Joe Walsh with his Les Paul. He’d climb out of the box and plug in and we’d play Rocky Mountain Way.”

6: When it came to on-the-road excess, Eagles learned from the best

Joe Walsh reveals that legendary hellraiser Keith Moon, drummer in The Who, took him under his wing. “One of the most terrifying things that ever happened to me was that Keith Moon decided he liked me. All those Keith Moon stories were true,” Walsh admits in History Of The Eagles. “This guy was full-blown nuts and you never knew what was coming next. Keith was my mentor at chaos, getting arrested, practical jokes, pranks, room damage.” The rest of Eagles were no angels, either, and even encouraged Walsh’s antics. “One year we gave him a chainsaw for his birthday as a joke,” laughs Frey.

7: Eagles defied their record label to release Hotel California as a single

Producer Bill Szymczyk reveals that there was pressure from the band’s record label to cut the epic single Hotel California to a more conventionally radio-friendly length. “The ending of Hotel California – that’s one of the high points of my entire recording career… to have a seven-minute single be No.1, that was unheard of,” Szymczyk recalls. “The record company said, ‘You’ve gotta do an edit.’ And we all said, ‘No, take it or leave it.’ And they took it.” The band were right to dig their heels in: the title track of the Hotel California album remains one of the best Eagles songs of all time.

9: Glenn Frey appeared in an episode of ‘Miami Vice’

Don Henley maintains that he found the dawn of the video age difficult, having always preferred to concentrate on his music. His bandmate Frey was more enthusiastic about appearing on screen. The History Of The Eagles documentary contains footage of Frey’s appearances on the 80s cop show Miami Vice and in the hit movie Jerry Maguire, revealing a credible thespian side to the guitarist.

10: Eagles have YouTube to thank for their 2007 comeback single

“My kids were looking on the internet and they found this show that the Eagles had done in 1974,” says Frey. “They were saying, ‘Hey, Dad, you gotta come see this, look at your hair’… and one of the songs was How Long.” It was a JD Souther song that Eagles had played live but never recorded, because Souther had wanted to release on his debut solo album. After being reminded of the tune, Eagles recorded it for their 2007 comeback album, Long Road Out Of Eden, and it hit No.7 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.

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