Say what you want, but there’s just no denying that the Eagles are one of the greatest American rock bands there ever was. If anyone should know it’s me, too, because I’ve long considered myself to be the sixth Eagle. And with good reason—for a brief period in the 1970s, during what I and a lot of other people consider to be the band’s heyday, I was the sixth Eagle, dammit.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was just past sundown and I was wandering around Laurel, Beachwood, or one of the other canyons they have out there in Los Angeles, barefoot with my acoustic guitar and a half empty bottle of bargain tequila in tow, just like I did most days back then, when I happened upon Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Joe Walsh, just sitting on top of this big rock, shirtless and—I don’t think they’ll mind me saying this—stoned out of their minds while singing in three-part harmony.
Glenn took the root, Don sang the third, and Joe sang the fifth. Then, without even thinking about it, I whipped off my shirt and chimed in with this crazy thing I made up on the spot where I kept alternating really fast between the seventh and the octave, partially because I thought it sounded cool and partially because I was already pretty hammered by then. Needless to say, the guys were totally floored, especially Glenn.
“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never heard anything quite like that before.”
“I know,” I replied.
We got to talking as I passed around what was left of my tequila and they fired up what was left of their stash. Next thing we knew, the sun was coming up again and the guys were begging me to join the band.
“You sure Randy and Don won’t mind?” I asked, referring to Randy Meisner and Don Felder, the bass player and second guitarist at the time respectively, while we stumbled down the hill toward where Joe swore their van was parked.
“Screw those guys,” Henley laughed before hurling the empty tequila bottle with startling accuracy at what he claimed was David Geffen’s house.
I’d heard Don, Glenn, and Joe weren’t always too nice to those other dudes in the band, so I wasn’t all that surprised when Don said that. Still, being the new guy and not wanting to take sides, when I showed up for practice later that afternoon, I set down the gigantic bag of cocaine I’d brought as an icebreaker, walked over to Glenn, and punched him right in the face.
“What the hell’d you that for?” Glenn moaned, holding his jaw.
“There’s a new kid in town!” I laughed before offering my hand to Meisner and Felder, both of whom seemed pretty tickled that I had just clocked Glenn in the jaw for no good reason. As for Glenn, he wasn’t too amused by any of it. He couldn’t stay mad for long, though, because, by the time we got about halfway through that bag of coke I brought, we had another hit on our hands.
“New Kid in Town” wasn’t the only Eagles song I can claim responsibility for either. “Hotel California,” for example, was a complete mess before I came along. It was called “Travelodge California” and was maybe a minute and a half long at best.
“Whaddya say we think a little bigger with this one?” I asked the guys before clocking Glenn in the jaw again without warning in hopes of both reigniting the band’s creative spark and getting a laugh out of the rest of the band. “And let’s not skimp on those guitar solos either, Walsh and Felder—if anyone in the control room is still awake by the time the song’s over, you’re not doing your job!”
The rest, of course, is history.
But it wasn’t all good times being in the Eagles. Not by a long shot.
“Hey, Dave, it’s pretty crowded at the front of the stage,” Henley said to me a couple nights into my first tour with the band. “Why don’t you try standing behind the drums tonight? The lighting is much better back there and we really wanna let folks get a good look at you.”
I was flattered at first, but when Glenn told me I should back five or ten feet off the mic to “really let my vocals breathe,” I knew the writing was on the wall. By then, Joe was my only real friend in the band. Henley and Frey were barely speaking to me and Meisner and Felder got all whiny after I refused to ever take a swing at Henley and Walsh. I tried to tell them that there was just something really funny about punching Glenn every time but they wouldn’t listen. I quickly began to numb my pain with the typical excesses of the road.
Being one of the biggest bands in the world and all, we had it in our rider that a medium-sized dump truck full of cocaine be backed up to the venue just after soundcheck each night. And, like clockwork, Joe and I would be standing there waiting for it like it was feeding time at the zoo or something.
“First one to the bottom gets to take another crack at Stevie Nicks,” I’d say to Joe with a wink before we both dove in with these special gold-plated straws we’d had made just for the occasion. Before long, though, snorting alone wasn’t enough, so we started sneaking a loaf of bread from catering and making ourselves big cocaine sandwiches with it. They were pretty chalky the first few bites, but once they began to work their magic they really weren’t bad at all. Admittedly, though, Joe always seemed way more into them than I ever was.
By then I was pretty sure things were on the upswing between me and the rest of the band, but it turned out to be just the sandwiches talking. We had just boarded our bus in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn outside of Jacksonville, Florida when Glenn made his usual beeline for the can.
“Hey, Glenn,” I laughed. “Don’t go number two in there again or there’s gonna be a heartache tonight—I know!”
Glenn shot me a dirty look before quickly grabbing a pen and paper, just like he did after pretty much every time I ever said a word back then, and slamming the bathroom door behind him. Then, from out of nowhere, Henley claimed it was my turn to go back in the hotel and do a quick “idiot check” to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind.
“Sure thing,” I said, trying to be a team player.
When I got back to hotel parking lot a few minutes later, though, the bus was long gone. So I headed back inside to drown my sorrows at the hotel bar, where I noticed an old baby grand piano gathering dust in the corner. I immediately sat down to play the first thing that came to mind.
“Wow,” a guy with flowing blonde hair and a beard sitting at the bar said after a few bars. “I’ve never heard anything quite like that before.”
“I know,” I replied.
“Name’s Gregg,” the guy said, offering his hand. “Gregg Allman.”
We got to talking over a few drinks, one thing lead to another and, well, the rest, I’m afraid, is a story for another time.