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August 27, 2013 9:44 am

Lawrence at Large: Eagles should all take flight together

Written by Tom Lawrence

Ever been tempted to contact someone you were friends with, somebody you worked with, and did a lot of goofy, young-person stuff with away from the job?

It would have to be a person that once was fairly close to you, but then, well, stuff happened. Things changed, and suddenly you were both headed in very different directions. Hey, it happens to all of us.

I’m not talking about chatting on Facebook or other forms of social media. I mean get back together with this person, work with them again, try to recapture what you once had. Ever done that?
What if several million dollars were involved, and a chance to burnish your reputation? I know, I know, who cares about the burnishing part. Get back to the millions of dollars.

Such a reunion is now underway across America and the rest of the world, as Eagles, the multi-million-selling country-rock act, has invited one of its founding members, Bernie Leadon, to rejoin the band, at least on a part-time, temporary basis.

Eagles — fellow founders Glen Frey and Don Henley are adamant that there is no capitalized “The” before the name — have started their “History of the Eagles” tour. The seven men who have been in the band are all in their mid-60s, and this could be the final road show for the band.

Eagles took flight in 1971 after working as a backup band for country-pop chanteuse Linda Ronstadt. Frey and Henley were struggling young musicians who were teamed with Leadon and Randy Meisner, both of whom had been somewhat more successful.

The quartet’s first single, “Take It Easy,” co-written by Frey and another future star, Jackson Browne, exploded out of radios across the country in 1972. It was a smash, and the band’s first album rocketed to the top of the charts, spawning more hits.

Continued success, and great excess, quickly followed. Eagles’ songs combined perfectly blended harmony with driving guitars and catchy lyrics. Henley and Frey formed a friendship and a partnership to pump out hit song after hit song. They seemed to have it made.

But stress, made worse by long hours in the studio and on the road, and exacerbated by drugs and alcohol — “The Life in the Fast Lane” the band sang about — was getting to Leadon.

In 1975, he asked for a break, maybe six months or so. Leadon suggested they all take some time off, for their own sakes and for the good of the band.

He was also reportedly wary of the new, harder-rocking sound that had supplanted the gentle, country-flavored tunes that he had played on in the first few years. To show his exasperation, he dumped a beer on Frey’s head as he departed the band.

Henley, Frey and Meisner, along with recently added master guitarist Don Felder, moved on without Leadon. Eagles soon had their greatest career triumph, the album and song “Hotel California.”

Leadon slipped into relative obscurity. He recorded a few songs, released two solo albums, played some shows and spent a lot of time surfing and collecting royalties.

Eagles have sold 150 million records, and many of them come from his time in the band. The band’s 1976 collection, “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975,” has sold more than 42 million copies, and most of those songs feature Leadon’s talent on guitar and other instruments, as well as his gentle voice, usually on harmonies but, in a few songs, on lead.

So there was no need to cry for Bernie. He also ended up looking wise when the band, beset by personal problems and exhausted after a wild run through the ’70s, broke up in 1980 and didn’t reunite for 14 years.

But for those of us who grew up on Eagles’ songs, it always seemed wrong for Eagles to record and tour without Leadon. Meisner also dropped out of the group, worn down by the lifestyle and stymied as Henley and Frey seized almost complete control.

Two talented musicians, guitarist Joe Walsh, himself a successful solo star, and bass player Timothy B. Schmidt, joined the band. They accepted subordinate roles and went along for the profitable ride.

Felder, who created the soaring sound that became “Hotel California,” was fired from the band in 2001 and has been in an ongoing legal battle ever since. For the first time in 25 years, Eagles were a quartet again.

The tours continued, and the money rolled in. But the band was unable to continue to crank out so many hits. Times, and tastes, had changed.

Although Eagles released two albums in the past 20 years and sold millions of copies, fewer songs blasted out of the radio compared to the 1970s. They were, like the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, basically oldies acts, middle-aged men faithfully reproducing the songs they wrote and sang when they were in the 20s.

A documentary on the band, “The History of the Eagles,” was released this year, and it’s a stunningly frank account of the band’s 42-year run. Band members, current and past, get their say, and the comments are not all adulatory.

The band is touring once more, and it stunned and delighted fans — including this Eagles fan — by inviting Leadon to take the stage once more. He is almost completely bald now, a far cry from his younger days when curly locks caressed his shoulders.

But hair or not, Bernie still is a great guitarist, and it’s wonderful to see him back in the spotlight. There is a chance Meisner may appear a time or two as well, if he can recover from a recent health problem. The world tour is scheduled to last until 2015.

Felder? Well, that seems less likely. Although he spoke movingly in the documentary of how much he missed his buddies in the band, all legal battles would have to come to an end for him to rejoin the Eagles.

His book on the band, which contained several highly unflattering stories about Henley and Frey, likely also is an issue.

All seven Eagles have been on stage once, and they sounded great. It was the band’s 1998 induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the various incarnations of the Eagles appeared as one. You can see the performance on YouTube.

Most classic rock bands can never fully reunite. The Beatles, the Stones, Beach Boys and others — one or more members are dead.

For the Eagles, there may not be another chance to truly display the history of one of the greatest bands of all time on stage. Come on, men, “Take it Easy” on the feuding and “Take it to the Limit” on stage.

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