Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Glenn Frey: In the long run

Glenn Frey of the Eagles is heading here on a solo tour, just as soon as he finishes a definitive doco about his old band. He talks to Russell Baillie

Glenn Frey in action and with the Eagles in their early days. Photo / Supplied
Glenn Frey in action and with the Eagles in their early days. Photo / Supplied

The phone finds Glenn Frey watching his life flash before his eyes.

In his home studio, he's overseeing the final sound mix on The History of The Eagles, an authorised documentary about his band which is about to have its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this week before heading out into the world as a double DVD set.

"I think one of the things that we have in our favour is nobody has told the whole story," says Frey, who shared singing and songwriting duties in the 70s juggernaut group with Don Henley before they split in 1980.

"We haven't made any attempts to do that. This is our opportunity to do that."

The Eagles - who have toured intermittently since a world reunion tour in the early 90s and a 2007 studio album - commissioned the docos themselves, but Frey says it's an honest account of the band who sold 120 million albums but who never much liked each other or their livers very much, and who made their lawyers rich along the way

Supporting his warts'n'all claims is that Frey roped Alex Gibney, director of the Academy Award-winning Taxi to the Dark Side and the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room among many other hard-hitting docos.

"I was just blown away at this guy's storytelling. I said 'I don't even care if he knows anything about music. I just want to go to hm and talk to him about having us telling us our story.'

"I met with him in to New York and said 'here's what I want to tell you about the Eagles, there were always obstacles. There were always roadblocks. There were always challenges. We changed managers, producers, band members, accountants, record companies ...'."

Well after bringing clarity to stories of corporate malfeasance and death in US military custody - as well as biographies of Jimi Hendrix and Hunter S. Thompson - Gibney would seem uniquely qualified to take on the story of the men behind Hotel California ...

"Yeah," laughs Frey," he's perfect for a revisionist our-version-of-the-truth history of the Eagles."

Gibney acted as producer on the film, bringing in Alison Elwood, his usual editor, to direct the film, a mammoth task of gathering contemporary interviews and archival footage. Frey sounds pleased with the result.

"We have a two-part DVD that we are really proud of. We are quite happy with it right now and it tells the truth. We don't dwell on anything but we don't hide anything either."

The reason for TimeOut's call, however, is his solo tour which brings him to New Zealand in the coming months.

Frey's post-Eagles solo career in the 80s generated a run of hits - The Heat is On, Smuggler's Blues, You Belong to the City - and he also dabbled in acting. Former Rolling Stone journalist turned director Cameron Crowe, who cast Frey as a football team owner in Jerry Maguire has said the character of Russell Hammond in his 70s rock flick Almost Famous was based on Frey.

Frey's most recent album, last year's After Hours has the 64 year-old taking a wander through the Great American Songbook with an orchestral backing - some of his shows in Australia will have an symphonic backing.

There might seem quite some distance between the 70s West Coast pop of Tequila Sunrise and the sort of tunes Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole once crooned. But Frey sees a connection.

"Well once I became a songwriter I had a tremendous appreciation for all the other songwriters you know. That was when I began to understand how great a Cole Porter song was; how great the Beatles were.

"Willie Nelson did Stardust, my friend Linda Ronstadt did three beautiful albums with Nelson Riddle. So I have always had it in the back of my mind is that I would like to do something like that.

"And what really pushed me forward is that my parents are still with me. My dad's 91 and my mom is 87. So for me to be able to record some songs that they so heavily identified with - Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Tony Bennett - that was really a reward in itself. So I wanted to get this record done while they were still around to appreciate it."

But those heading along to his Auckland show shouldn't mistake it for a Michael Buble show.

"What I usually do is I play some Eagles songs right away, just get everybody comfortable. 'Yeah this is what we came to hear and then you can step away for a song or two but for the most part, even when I do songs from After Hours, it's songs that people know.

" It's Caroline No from the Beach Boys, it's The Look of Love by Burt Bacharach - everybody can sing along with most of the show."

"They want to hear Take It Easy, they want to hear Peaceful Easy Feeling, they want to hear Take it to the Limit, they want to hear Tequila Sunrise - so it's my job to play those songs for them ... most nights it's really not hard to get excited about singing these songs. I've been singin' for so long now."

Of late, Frey says, between, working on the doco and being a father - his youngest is 10 - he's also been teaching a songwriting course at New York University. The lessons he imparts?

"Well every day you have to show up and work at it. It just doesn't fall into your lap. I think that is a given and it's tricky.

"The first question we asked ourselves is 'can you really teach songwriting? Is it scientiifc or is it artistic or is it both?'.

"But if you are going to learn how to paint, don't they usually take drawing classes and the human body and stuff like that? So there are rules - the first one is show up and the second one is be interesting. "It can't be boring, from the very first downbeat of your song you have to have something going on."

"It was great experience for me. It's got me thinking like a songwriter again and it's got me anxious to write some new songs myself, just to see what I might be doing.

"I'm know I'm pretty good at it. So I should probably get back to it."

In the meantime, there's that epic rockumentary to finish, meaning Frey is watching - and listening - to a big chunk of his life flashing before his eyes. And ears.

"Yeah and every night I play that happens too," he laughs.

Who: Glenn Frey

Where and When: Friday March 8 CBS Arena Christchurch; Sunday March 10 Vector Arena, Auckland

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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