Few bands were better at distilling the vibe of Los Angeles in the 1970s than the Eagles, and as its singer and guitarist, Glenn Frey served as a sort of mellow ambassador of our city. Just as Liverpool is forever associated with the Beatles, Seattle claims Nirvana and Bruce Springsteen owns New Jersey, the Eagles embodied the bell-bottomed, feather-haired flair of Southern California.
Frey, who died Monday at age 67, co-wrote or sang some of the most commercially successful country rock ballads of the ‘70s, including “Tequila Sunrise,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Take It Easy” “Lyin’ Eyes.”
For the Record
Jan. 19, 9:41 a.m.: An earlier version of this article credited Glenn Frey with co-writing “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Though Frey sang lead vocals on the Eagles’ version of the song, it was written by Jack Tempchin.
Soft and twangy, his hits as co-founder of the Eagles defined the region like the vivid colors of orange crate art had during the city’s early boom years and as the Beach Boys had during the surf craze.
During the Eagles’ 2014 concert at the Forum, in fact, Frey compared the legacy of two uniquely Californian bands: “The Beach Boys were pioneers. The Eagles were settlers.” Which is to say, where the Beach Boys forged new sounds, the Eagles gathered up what was already there — country rock — and made it their home.
Where the Beach Boys reveled in a daytime spent surfing and having fun with the girls, the Eagles worked far later into the night. Frey co-wrote and sang songs about mysterious women, the loneliness of the outsider, unrequited desire and dangerous reflexes.
Glenn Frey, circa 1970. The founding member of the Eagles died at age 67 on Jan. 18.(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
The Eagles in a 1973 group portrait in London, from left: Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley.(Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns)
A portrait of Glenn Frey in London in 1973.(Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns)
Glenn Frey of the Eagles performs onstage at Wembley Empire Pool in London on April 26, 1977. He plays a Gibson ES-330 guitar.(Gus Stewart / Redferns)
Glenn Frey performs with the Eagles at the Oakland Coliseum in 1977.(Richard McCaffrey / Getty Images)
Glenn Frey performs with the Eagles at Ahoy on May 11, 1977 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.(Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns)
The Eagles, with special guest Jackson Browne (second from left), perform onstage at the Chicago Stadium on Oct. 22, 1979. Pictured are, from left, Timothy B. Schmit, Browne, Glenn Frey, Don Henley (on drums), Joe Walsh and Don Felder.(Paul Natkin / Getty Images)
The Eagles take a bow in 1980 with songwriter J.D. Souther, second from left. From left: Timothy Schmit, Souther, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Don Felder. The concert at the San Diego Sports Arena was a fundraiser for Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign for president.(George Rose )
California Gov. Jerry Brown was introduced onstage by Eagles’ Glenn Frey, right, during a fundraising concert at the San Diego Sports Arena. This photo was published in the Dec. 24, 1979, Los Angeles Times.(George Rose / George Rose)
The Eagles perform on the TV show “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert” in 1979. From left: Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey.(Fotos International / Getty Images)
Glenn Frey performs onstage at the Petrillo Band Shell during the Chicago BluesFest on July 4, 1985.(Paul Natkin / Getty Images)
The Eagles, clockwise from upper left, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt, Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glen Frey, pose before their “MTV Unplugged” taping in 1994.(Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)
Don Henley, left, and Glen Frey perform at an “MTV Unplugged” taping inside the Warner Bros. sound stage on April 25, 1994.(Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)
Glenn Frey of the Eagles performs onstage during the 16th annual Race to Erase MS event at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on May 8, 2009 in Century City.(Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
Glenn Frey performs at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena in Northern Ireland in 2009.(Peter Morrison / Associated Press)
The Eagles’ Glenn Frey performs on Day 3 of the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas.(C Flanigan / Getty Images)
Glenn Frey on Jan. 19, 2013 at the premiere of the film “History of the Eagles Part 1.”(George Frey / EPA)
Glenn Frey performs with the Eagles at Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night XVI in Phoenix in March 2010.(Ralph Freso / Associated Press)
Glenn Frey performs with the Eagles at Qantas Credit Union Arena on March 2, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.(Don Arnold / WireImage)
He did so, though, minus any hint of distortion or aggression. In songwriter Jack Tempchin’s “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” Frey didn’t want to get funky or dirty. Rather, he spun visions of the simple pleasures in his adopted Southern California home as he sang of wanting to “sleep with you in the desert tonight/ With a billion stars all around.”
Frey and writing partner in the Eagles Don Henley (along with Don Felder, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne and others) thrived in this setting.
Starting in the early 1970s, the band took the country-rock cues of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, toned down the Nashville twang and honed in on the balladry.
Frey ended up in Ronstadt’s backing band with Henley, and soon the Eagles were born.
Within a few years, the Eagles broke through to the mainstream, ultimately becoming one of the most commercially successful bands of the era. Along with Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles came to define arena rock. After the Eagles broke up in the early 1980s, Frey went on to have a successful solo career, charting with songs that became deeply tied with the era’s movies and TV, including “You Belong to the City,” “Smuggler’s Blues” and “The Heat Is On.”
But the era-defining hits Frey co-wrote and/or performed with the Eagles remain the most indelible. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Tequila Sunrise” testified to California’s calm, breezy beauty. “Witchy Woman” and “Hotel California” dwelt within the region’s layers of mystery and mysticism. “New Kid in Town” expressed the insecurity and confusion of new love. And “Take It Easy,” written with Jackson Browne, should be the state song of California.
Frey may be gone, but those sun-baked, Southern California ballads, many sung with exquisite tenderness, endure.