Outbound on my most recent cross country trip as I drove northeast out of Fort Worth early one morning in late July on US Route 287, I was thinking of the day before when I had passed just below Gilmer, Texas where Don Henley of The Eagles was born.
Very coincidentally, while searching satellite radio channels I came across the Diane Rehm Show just as she began a fascinating interview with singer Linda Ronstadt.
Her eloquent description of what it feels like at the onset of Parkinson’s is worth it alone to listen to her interview with Ms. Rehm.
It was as backup musicians for Ronstadt that Henley and three other founding members of The Eagles: Glenn Fry, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon, met in 1971 while overlapping for one concert on a tour of college campuses that summer.
That fall they all appeared on a Ronstadt album, three tracks of which were recorded live at the Troubadour. It was released just as I started my last semester before graduating from BYU in 1972 while crashing at a professor’s house during a time of personal turmoil.
Country Rock, as it would be called, was calling me back to my roots at this time of personal turmoil and pain, beginning a few months earlier with Tammy Wynette’s version of Kris Kristopherson’s Help Me Through The Night and David Crosby’s plaintive Almost Cut My Hair on CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu album the year before.
But it was something about Ronstadt’s versions of Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone with its crying fiddle and a cover of Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces that helped me realize that it was the sound of Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s steel pedal guitar that was calling me back to my roots.
However, it is only in hindsight that epiphanies are that abrupt.
It all came together for me when I heard Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons sing In My Hour Of Darkness, co-written and recorded the summer before as my daughter was born.
My all-time favorite by Harris is Boulder to Birmingham written and recorded the following year while in “the throes of deep grief and shock” from Parson’s tragic death from an overdose. For me, it would soon become a hymn for redemption.
"I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham/I would hold my life in his saving grace/I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see, I could see your face."
It was that summer, with my baby girl lying on my chest while I listened on headphones after working third shift in an aluminum mill that I first listened carefully to Ronstadt’s new cover of Desperado, co-written by The Eagles’ Henley and Fry along with So Far Away by Carole King and James Taylor.
Ronstadt’s version of Desperado is Henley’s favorite and became the signature for much of my life.
Possibly sensed through my chest where she lay sleeping, those two songs have always resonated for my daughter and me through many years apart.
“The queen of hearts has always been [our] best friend.”
In 1975, as I took the helm of the first of three community marketing agencies I would lead during my now concluded career, I heard a song by The Eagles written and sung by Meisner called Take It To The Limit.
Perhaps, in part, it was the waltz tempo reminiscent of first learning to dance while standing on the feet of my parents, two of the most incredibly resilient people I would ever meet.
Henley and Fry helped Meisner finish the song he had conceived and started but it is Meisner’s unique voice that made it the band’s fan-favorite.
He is from Scotts Bluff, on the edge of western Nebraska, a point of convergence for several different routes Mugs and I take back home on these cross-country odysseys, seven since I retired five years ago.
Randy Meisner was more mature at the time than the other members of the band. His fingerprints had already been on the very seminal influences of country rock including back up to Rick Nelson in the Stone Canyon Band.
From age nine through Junior High, Ricky Nelson’s meld of pop and country including spots on his parents Ozzie and Harriet TV show served as a bridge of musical influences for me as well as for my first kiss at a party in a friend’s darkened basement.
Meisner already had a family when he helped start The Eagles and he missed them while away at recording sessions and on long tours. Not only was the song one of the band’s signature hits, but Meisner was called upon to hit those incredibly high notes as an encore at each performance.
By 1977 he was sick with stomach ulcers and flu and resigned from the band at its height after a confrontation because he didn’t think he could hit the notes one night.
He went back home to his family while The Eagles were at their height of popularity.
A few months later the band fell apart after releasing the prophetic I Can’t Tell You Why, co—written and sung by Timothy Schmit who, because of his similar voice, had replaced Meisner.
I saw the band in reunion when it played in Greensboro 14 years after the break-up. The volume masked the harmonies and subtleties of the group, perhaps now impossible to replicate.
Fry did an admirable imitation of Meisner on Take It To The Limit, but it just wasn’t the same.
It marked the end of an era, a sound that still resonates today. Needless to say, the soundtrack for our cross-country venture this year was listening to The Eagles.
It wasn’t until I watched a documentary of the band on Netflix last weekend that I realized that Meisner wrote Take It To The Limit as inspiration for just how I used it during my career.
It a timeless anthem of renewal.
“So put me on a highway - And show me a sign - And take it to the limit one more time.”