Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Schmitten Part One: 'The flow of energy was so fine'*

* A line from Keep On Tryin' by Poco.

So – a diversion from Opinion8 and the Kinks. Let’s go on the road, tune into FM radio …Links in the song titles as usual.

Watching History of the Eagles documentaries on BBC2 has made me rethink some of my previous opinions.

[These are practically the only programmes I’ve watched on the BBC this year, with the exception of the Scandinavian strand on BBC4. So really I’m paying my licence fee to ensure that the already overpaid BBC staffers can recommend that they all get exorbitant severance packages, over and above those specified in their contracts, because they weren’t chosen for promotion or they made a complete hash of the promotion they were given. £60 million in payouts. ‘It’s been a long time coming but a change is gonna come.’ Scrap the licence fee.]

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved the Eagles and nothing’s changed there. I know they don’t use the definite article but I always have and it doesn’t seem right not to. Whatever other stage I’ve gone through in my life musically (and there’ve been some embarrassing ones), they’ve remained the one constant. I could at any time suddenly experience a resurgence of interest and dig out the old vinyl albums to play. They captured the 70s for me, that laidback West Coast vibe that was a thousand miles from my life in 80s London suburbia. In my imagination, I was there. Like Lloyd Cole, I was crazy for Americana, had read Kerouac and Kinsey and thought the US was impossibly romantic

I can recognise most of these songs from the first couple of notes and seeing Joe Walsh sing Pretty Maids had me in tears. That was unexpected. And it was a great programme – might review it later. I love Don Henley’s quote: ‘We set out to become a band for our time but sometimes if you do a good enough job, you become a band for all time’.

The original and I used to think the best
However, I lamented the departure of founding members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner and never rated Timothy B. Schmit. I thought him a poor substitute. I’ll leave Don Felder out for the time being – the news that the Eagles are intending to tour again and that an ex-member is planning to return is tantalising. I would love it to be any of these three. Just discovered it’s Bernie. Until now, Bernie was always my favourite Eagle but that’s because I had never appreciated TBS, never given him the time. Still, wouldn't it be brilliant if they played My Man? I live for that.

I didn’t think (then) that TBS added anything to what the band had, dismissed his songs as sappy and sentimental and his voice as weak and insipid. I thought he was a feather-weight thrown in with heavy-weights and there was likely to be a smackdown. Surely the other Eagles would eat him for breakfast? Something sweet they could spread on their toast. But I was wrong. Not too proud to admit it. I don't know why I didn’t see it before, that what he contributes is … ineffable, a quality of calm – all wholesome goodness, a purity of tone, all sweetness and light. Something sensitive and touching and beautiful. And still. It’s like the whole band whirls around him and he’s this gentle, peaceful presence in the midst of the vortex. He doesn’t seem to get rattled, the closest he gets is looking a little fed up in the studio, like a child who’s been told he has to eat his greens.

He looks so happy!
First thing I learned was that he was with the Eagles before they broke up in 1980, for three years. And he looked really cute. I’d previously assumed that he’d only been in the 1994 reunion line-up. 1994 would have been the first chance I had to go see the Eagles but I decided it was too expensive (£40 a ticket). You’re laughing, right? Now it’s at least £100!

Prompted to re-explore Poco who were around three years before the Eagles formed. I used to think of Poco as Eagles-lite, pleasant enough but without the punch of the real thing, without the edge, a soft-focus, diluted version but now I see them differently. There’s a clarity and a feel-good atmosphere to most Poco songs. It’s obvious from the clips on YouTube – wish I’d had this when I was young – then I might have known, albeit after he left them, how incredibly pretty young Timothy was. And I would have had a way of listening to more of their material because what Poco had/maybe still have, or what they communicate, is a palpable joy. It’s evident in the way they play together. That Eagles ‘In Concert’ from 1973 is similar. Makes me wish/yearn that I could go back to that time and be the right age to go to a Poco show. Where’s the Hot Tub Time Machine when you need it?

Assumed the name meant something in Native American but learn that they originally chose Pogo, after some cartoon character and had to change it because someone objected. Well, I’ll stick with my romanticised version.

Totally gratuitous Tim pic
Ok, they weren’t roaring, they were purring. But how lovely. Hearing them, you never doubt that they mean what they’re singing.

Now I see that he’s the perfect addition. He has that high, delicate, pure voice, he plays bass, he writes. Ironic and a little sad that as soon as he joins, he gets to contribute a song, have it chosen as a single and sing the lead himself. So much for feather-weight. Poor Don Felder must have been spitting blood.

Obviously not an alpha male (unlike Frey, Henley and Walsh), not even obviously a male (flowing locks, softly spoken, that girlish, apologetic-sounding talking voice), I suppose his charm and his unassuming humility meant he wasn’t viewed as a threat. And in he came to steal the first hit.

Although people have made fun of his laidback, easy-going manner, he was asked to join this notoriously difficult band without playing a note with them so how’s that for respect?

His voice doesn’t sound as strong as it sounded with Poco (although he’s always had access to that sublime upper register), it’s as if he’s realised that he needs to cover different ground in the Eagles.

A quick word on a couple of tracks Timothy’s been on, not necessarily composer or lead singer but which benefit from all the above-mentioned qualities.

This video with Tim in big headphones I now love. All that beautiful hair, that earnestness: he’s adorable. The song I thought was tepid, trivial, unworthy of the band, I find myself singing. He’s right – the song has space to breathe, develop; simple, unalloyed and his voice fits it perfectly. And then there’s Don Felder’s solo … what more need I say?

I remember a certain song very well – Rose of Cimarron, from hearing it on pirate radio, must have been reasonably catchy. Written by Rusty Young. But this song that I thought of as slender, slight, insubstantial even, is so much more. Heavenly harmonies, a perfect blend of voices, a lovely melody. And TBS’s voice has a heartbreaking sweetness and purity that takes it to another plane.

In this video, they look and sound a little like they’re underwater.
More spot-on harmonies, another amazingly contagious, uplifting tune. Real tenderness. Just the ohs at the beginning make my heart flutter and when the words come in, it’s incredibly beautiful. Not so much a wall of sound as a lace net curtain of sound. Their voices are delicately interwoven into something fine and intricate, that lets the light through to cast filigree shadow patterns on the wall.

I will write more later on other outstanding Poco tracks, such as their magnificent version of Magnolia and on some TBS solo songs, lightweight but lovely confections, such as Something Sad.

Please forgive the devotion and zeal of the newly converted.I've taken photos from all over so please let me know if you want a credit. Thanks to: http://eaglesonlinecentral.com.

Bashful Badger was inspired  to write a poem about TBS; you can read it here.

Part Two of this blog is here.


  1. FYI - Glenn Frey did the guitar solo on the original version from The Long Run.

    1. ...I Can't Tell You Why...

    2. Interesting yet DF plays it in this video which I thought might be in the studio when it was recorded. Well done, Glenn!