Sunday, 25 August 2013

Schmitten Part Two: Sweet Talking Guy

The Long Run
Part One is here.

YouTube Links in most song titles.

Binge Mode
Thanks to those who posted the Bill Simmons article on The Border. As well as being a great read, it’s reassured me that I’m not the only crazy person out there who has a ‘binge mode’ where music is concerned. Previous to my return to the Eagles (and via them my belated discovery of Poco and Timothy B. Schmit) I did this with the Kinks, a group I never really knew much about but whose personalities, stories, songs, completely captured my imagination for a long while (over two years) leading to excessive spending on Kinks-related trips, gigs, books, CDs and so on. It’s so nice to know it’s not just me.

Wasted Time
So why is it that I can now appreciate TBS when I couldn’t before? Perhaps again not as late to the party as I was to the Kinks one but pretty avoidably delayed. Still, got there in the end. Am I more grown up? Maybe it just wasn’t the right time. But I can't help but think if we had music TV back then and they’d shown I Can't Tell You Why some time in the 80s, I would have fallen at least a little in love.

The ubiquitous dungarees
‘O still small voice of calm’
In History of the Eagles, and in interviews, concerts, TBS comes across as so grounded, naturally optimistic and good-natured, with a sense of gratitude and humility, an awareness that the other Eagles probably didn’t have in 1979:
‘I’m a lucky guy. What can I say?’
but seem to have now (although HOTE proves that Don H and Glenn were always conscious of the transience of fame and success). I imagine Timothy can usually be relied on to see both sides of an argument although I expect he deems it wise not to rock the boat. In this interview on Bob Rivers, he’s affable but doesn’t let them get anything wrong (eg. the tapdance teacher misconception).

I wonder if his unassuming, placid presence and apparent all around wholesomeness have an effect on other people’s behaviour, their egos. Would it make them hesitate before swearing? Of course I could be wrong; he might be a total divo although this quote from TimothyBSchmitonline seems to back up my impression:
‘With his sweet, calm, caring demeanor he always manages to make a fan feel special … Timothy always takes the time to go the extra mile to connect with his fans … he loves to create music and is extremely grateful for all of his good fortune.’

In Part One, I speculated that the rest of the Eagles might eat him for breakfast. Learning more about him, hearing his solo songs, his sweet talking voice (surely the voice of reason, he’s so softly spoken in the aforementioned interview that you have to listen really hard to hear him), I think it was more like throwing a lamb to the wolves.Would they rip him to shreds or adopt him as a mascot?

The Lone Arranger
The Lone Arranger and the First Resort
But he was Glenn's first choice; he wanted him even though Irving Azoff reported him as ‘smashed out of his head and gakked up’ in a hotel bar. Still not entirely clear on how to spell ‘gakked’ up or what it means – any elucidation appreciated. Revved up on speed I think. With Glenn the most volatile member of the band rooting for him, he was safe-ish. Glenn seems to be the one who’s always had a vision of what the band should be, how it should develop, the man with the plan. I like what he says about Poco:
‘Back then, Poco was the band that impressed me most. Their vocals were pristine and perfect. They were the band I wanted to model us after. …but I had my eye on Poco… and I wanted to go beyond them too.’
Listen to this high audio quality Keep On Tryin’ and you’ll see what he means. In HOTE, TBS affirms that he belonged in the Eagles (see Bashful's poem).

There’s no doubt that the Eagles surpassed Poco in terms of success and effectively bridged the divide between country/folk and rock music but more of that in a bonafide Eagles/Poco blog later. I believe Poco were a prototype for early Eagles.

Hell Freezes Over
'I don't know when I realized the dream was over' (Waiting in the Weeds)
These lines could just as easily refer to the dissolution of the band than as to any other relationship (not with a bang but a whimper). By the time I was old enough to go to gigs though, ‘the dream was over’, the flame had fizzled out. Then, by 1994, when hell froze over, it was Kurt Cobain all the way. I was going to tons of shows but had forgotten all about the Eagles. But Hell Freezes Over - what a fantastic title for a tour and an album. It shows they didn't take themselves too seriously and could laugh at the past.

But, at any time, I could go back, and often did. Would decide to play the old vinyl albums I’d bought long after the first Greatest Hits had come out, Desperado, etc. Also had The Long Run but never really got into it, apart from Heartache Tonight, which still had the vitality of the early days. Didn’t rate I Can't Tell You Why, which I now love. It didn’t fit with my idea of the band at the time.

‘I have my place in the band’
However, I do think TBS has been a little pigeon-holed in the Eagles; he’s proved himself great at tear-jerking ballads but he did much more than this in Poco and in his solo projects. The Eagles had lost Randy’s high vocal range and Bernie’s soft side (songs like I Wish You Peace) and country credentials and Timothy was the ideal substitute. He had those three things in spades.

I find his phrasing so distinctive, so unusual. I can never anticipate where he will pause or what he will emphasise. He reaches the high note on a word or elongates a word unexpectedly. But however he does it (and probably he doesn’t have to think about it), it works brilliantly and after a while seems the natural and only way to sing the line. It’s almost like he’s having a conversation and you can hear the cadences and rhythms of his normal speaking voice in the songs.

So, first a retrospective look at his vocals with the Eagles.

To die for cute ...
I Can't Tell You Why
Discussed this in Part One but have a little more to say. A little rewriting of history is taking place, as implied by this from Don H:
‘Timothy came in with the title and other bits and pieces. Glenn and I just wanted to surround it with everything we could. Glenn came up with that wonderful counterpart … Glenn also composed and played that great guitar solo.’
And Glenn’s version:
‘Timothy joined the band and the real challenge, as Don and I saw it, was to get a piece of material for him that wasn’t country. So we got him over to LaFontaine, and the three of us got down to work. I said, “You could sing like Smokey Robinson. Let’s not do a Richie Furay, Poco-sounding song. Let’s do an R&B song.” He said, “Sure, love to try!”’

[I think I’d just do what Glenn told me too. And it turned out to be a great choice, leading as it did to a no. 8 single.]
Glenn makes it sound as if they racked their brains and came up with something but surely that’s a revision of the original story? And personally, I love the Poco sound and who better to deliver it than one of Poco? I do agree there is a Smokey-like quality to Timothy’s voice, something that has been exploited to good effect in the songs he gets to sing with the Eagles. However, Timothy’s role seems to have been minimised in the retelling. I don’t doubt that Don and Glenn had a lot of input but the emphasis was different before.

When we get crazy, it just ain't right/(Try to keep your head, little girl)/Girl, I get lonely, too/You don't have to worry/Just hold on tight/(Don't get caught in your little world)/'Cause I love you/Nothing's wrong as far as I can see/We make it harder than it has to be/And I can't tell you why
Can't help but wonder if the lines ‘Nothing's wrong as far as I can see/We make it harder than it has to be’ are an oblique reference to the situation in the band, with the in-fighting and eventual implosion. TBS has said before that he thought to start with that it was just the usual band friction rather than anything worth breaking up over. 

‘Come on, guys!’
Timothy didn’t have to think twice about an Eagles reunion. You can tell from his comment about their experience during the Travis Tritt Take It Easy recording in 1992 that he was ready and waiting. Incidentally, has Tim’s hair ever looked more gorgeous than in the video for this?

A version from the current tour (2013) with a nice introduction by TBS. Don says something during this that makes him smile.Also love it when he performs this solo. It has a different feel, more personal.
I grew up in the 80s so even though I know very well what the song is called, every time I say the title it comes out as Love Will Tear Us Apart, a Freudian slip perhaps indicative of my natural negativity. Timothy’s a glass half-full person; I’m a glass half-empty, I hesitate to say more like Don Felder. Always ready to look a gift horse in the mouth.

[There’s a version on YouTube with some over-keen fans that’s torture to listen to. Timothy comes across as such a sensitive soul – when someone’s putting his heart into a vocal, why do people think it’s ok to ‘sing’ along, and so badly? Makes me angry when this happens at gigs. I didn’t go to hear Joe Bloggs yell out the lyrics. I paid money to hear the person on stage. I can understand people getting carried away, wanting to express their enthusiasm. Please do it some other way. We all know the words, you don’t need to prove it. Fine to join in if the singer asks you to (as Ray Davies insists on doing) but otherwise mouth the words and save your vocals for the shower. It just shows a lack of respect for the singer.]

Timothy endows the lyrics with his own sanguine, romantic sensibility and tenderness:
I was standing/All alone against the world outside/You were searching/For a place to hide/Lost and lonely/Now you've given me the will to survive/When we're hungry/Love will keep us alive

I Don’t Want to Hear Any More
Nice to see TBS run the show so sweetly, with such grace, humour, confidence and joy in this 'solo' rendition, segueing smoothly from an easy rapport with musicians and audience:
‘Alright then! … Ready, Herman? I know you are’
to the heart of the emotion in the song. I feel tears start in my eyes. I only wish he’d sung the chorus too. I don't know whether he is naturally able to invest the melody and words with soul or whether it’s simply a quality or tone he always has in his voice that makes you  quiver. Incredible.
This Paul Carrack song has rather drippy lyrics:
It's not the first time/That I've had the sense that something's wrong/But I'm old enough to know/That things don't always work out like they should/I know you're tryin' hard/To break it gently to me, now/But there's no easy way/To tell it like it is, so baby
but Timothy manages to lend them credibility because of his gentle persona and manner. Instead of thinking ‘What a sap!’, you think ‘Oh how sensitive’.

Photogenically windswept
Do Something
Amazingly not available on YouTube so can't link to it. Another plaintive break-up ballad, co-written with Glenn and Don H. Timothy’s vocal is perfect as ever, like the iridescence in a bubble, light and beautiful, floating over our heads:
But when I feel like giving up/And there’s nowhere left to go/That’s the time I dig down deep/It's the only thing I know

But these slightly sappy songs are not solely reserved for TBS. People have criticised IDWTHAM but the sentiments in What Do I Do with My Heart are very similar, maybe even wimpier:
You don't have to say a word/I can see it in your eyes/I know what you wanna say/It's so hard to say goodbye
But then Glenn is able to counterbalance this with the brilliant paranoid rant of Somebody.

Learn to Be Still
Although it’s a Henley song, it’s a lesson that could be learned from Timothy. More haste, less speed. You get the feeling that he’s paid his dues and finally gets to reap the rewards. Too often that never happens to the most-deserving people. His attitude:

‘Don't take yourself too seriously and all that stuff. That’s hard to do sometimes.'

But only to note his lead vocals would not fully cover his contribution to the band – the harmonies, the solid bass rhythm, his personable and peaceful presence, spreading ripples of good humour and calm across stage and studio. Well, I feel it when I watch him.

‘I’m doing alright’
This is his sweet understatement on the Bob Rivers show. He just seems so endlessly optimistic and positive, almost Pollyanna-ish, ready to find the good in any situation. Of course that’s just my idea of him and may not be accurate at all. Strikes me he might be the Mark Owen of the band if it’s not an insult to compare the Eagles with Take That. Robbie Williams talked of ‘the Tao of Mark Owen’. He (Robbie) would be bitching and moaning about something and Mark would just say ‘It doesn’t matter’. He managed in this manner to stay friends with everyone and win Celebrity Big Brother.

Back together
Collared by a reporter (on HFO DVD), TBS is unable or too polite to shake him off. He’s pursued and shepherded around till someone rescues him (Irving Azoff I think).

As a recent convert, I’m only just beginning to investigate Timothy’s solo work. Hardly an arduous task. Admit I was a little afraid of Playin' It Cool and Timothy B. and the big 80s hair, not to mention the ‘at-first-sight’ fairly naff videos. But that’s what all music and videos were like then. At least that's what I remember. Dry ice and wind machines. I’ve chosen a few of my current favourites, discovering more all the time, that demonstrate Timothy’s versatility as arranger, composer, singer and his ability to interpret someone else’s song while staying true to its spirit.

Something Sad from Tell Me the Truth
This song showcases the perfect bell-like clarity of his voice. The middle eight is mellifluous and highlights his peculiarly effective phrasing. He reaches a peak on the ‘up’ of ‘wake up’, extends ‘dream’ into two syllables and ‘really’ into three. Interesting.
Deep in the night I dream we're together/Nothing can do me wrong/But then I wake up and find you're really not there/Like a singer without a song

Caroline, No from Stars & Stripes, Vol. 1
TBS’s interpretation of this Beach Boys tune is clear and true, full of energy; the original seems to drag a little in comparison. There’s a clip of the recording on YouTube with the Beach Boys comments about TBS ‘really feeling the song’ and singing it ‘beautifully’. They recorded some background harmonies that weren’t there first time around so all in all a new improved version.

One More Mile from Expando
He deflates any sexiness in this bluesy number by singing:
Well, I cleaned up the kitchen and it looks so good/I'm ready to live my life/I got my umbrella and my rubber boots/I even got my pocket knife
He’s not exactly living on the edge. Before he can live his life, he has to clean up the kitchen and then makes sure to take an umbrella out in case he gets wet. Bless.

Top of the Stairs from Feed the Fire
Beautiful acapella – so striking and intimate. Because of the layering of the vocals, you don’t at first realise that there are no instruments. Perfectly constructed.
I know a place that's right/Meet me at the top of the stairs tonight/And we'll remember what heaven's for/It's waiting behind that door
I’ve been waiting a while now, honey. When you gonna show?

The Shadow from Feed the Fire
His voice is totally sublime, I feel a catch in my throat as he sings the first line, the acoustic guitar refrain so delicate.
I've been so brokenhearted/You've been so far away/I don't know how it started/To be this way/I want to tell you something/I want to play with fate/Come over here and listen/It's not too late/We need to feed the fire/Gotta stir the wind/I will never tire/And I won't give in

I realise that I'm probably preaching mainly to the converted but I've always evangelised where music is concerned, hence all my blogs on the late, great and much-missed Jackie Leven.

But, if I thought TBS was a revelation, Poco were an epiphany so more on them in the next blog.


  1. Hi SS -

    Gakked up = speeded up or coked up, probably the latter in the '70s.

    Since he "came to the band" with ICTYW, I've always assumed that "we make it harder than it has to be" referred to his first wife Noreen, or maybe even Jean in the early stages of their relationship - "girl I get lonely, too" - he was gone much of the time. I don't think it referred to the Eagles' dynamic.

    MaryC from the Border

  2. Thanks, MC. And is that the right spelling?

    You're probably right about that line. I have a tendency to over-analyse. But I do think that writers sometimes intend multiple meanings. Of course who knows who wrote the actual line?

    Thanks for reading it.

  3. Tim Who? You are such a fkin loser just like him, he only has a career for and rides on the coattails of the eagles.