Eagles’ Producer Bill Szymczyk Shares Don Henley and Glenn Frey Divided The Band
via Entertainment Tonight / youtube
Eagles, one of the most iconic rock bands in history, is known for two things: their greatness as a band whose members have vocal duties, and their tumultuous periods of division and reunion.
The band was formed in 1971 and quickly gained fame for their harmonious blend of rock and country music. Their original lineup of Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner powered them into stardom with several highly successful albums.
Tensions in the band and the infighting between members, which even led to onstage bickering and backstage physical fights, led to near break-ups and replacements of key members.
A witness of this division was influential producer and recording engineer Bill Szymczyk, who helped Eagles craft some of their best and most successful records, such as the back-to-back classics One of These Nights and Hotel California.
Szymczyk gave insight into the friction inside Eagles in a recent interview with radio veteran John Beaudin. He revealed that there seemed to be two camps in the band.
“There was the Don and Glenn camp, and then there was the guitar camp, and Timothy [B. Schmit] was kinda caught in the middle because he was the new guy,” the producer added.
Bill Szymczyk speaking out
The recording engineer guested in Rock History Music in August 2023 hosted by Beaudin. Szymczyk talked about his career highlights including the albums he engineered, his sequencing methods, his love for JBL speakers, and, of course, his time with Eagles.
He revealed that the rift was so serious that the two “camps” had to stay in two different houses while recording their landmark album Hotel California in 1976. Meisner’s replacement, Timothy B. Schmit, was stuck in the middle of the feuding sides.
Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey Don Henly, Joe Walsh, and Don Felder
— Legends Of Classic Rock (@lofcr1) August 1, 2018
“Back in One of These Nights and Hotel California, there would be one where they’d stand in one house in Miami when we recorded in Miami, and when we got to The Long Run, they had to have two houses. So Glenn and Don are in one, and Felder, [Joe] Wash, and Timothy are in the other,” Szymczyk shared.
It got even worse that the members had to ride in their own vehicles. “And up until then, they would always have a couple of cars. Now everybody had to have their own cars,” The producer laughed as he remembered.
“I didn’t want to do “cowboy band”…”
Bill remembered the first question Don Felder asked him the first time they met was about how many microphones was he going to use for the drums. He responded that he was going to use seven or eight, an answer Felder was happy with.
Glyn Johns, Eagles’ previous producer, was notorious for only using three mics. Szymczyk has always put many microphones around drums.
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When Eagles chose to start working with their new producer, the latter had to make sure that they wanted to move to a more rock-oriented sound.
In an older interview with Jeb Wright of Goldmine in September 2014, Szymczyk revealed that he got the job due to Johns being a tyrant in the studio. When Frey and Henley initiated the rock direction, the London-based producer told them, “You can’t do that. You’re not a rock band. You’re a vocal band.”
Have we discussed Glyn Johns’ style? pic.twitter.com/Sql8yY6eS2
— Chris Floyd (@chrisfloyduk) November 30, 2021
Eagles promptly left and went back to the States, eventually finding themselves in the care of Szymczyk.
In contrast, the new engineer wanted to do rock. “I didn’t want to do “cowboy band”. If you want to rock and you’re sincere, then I’m in,” Szymczyk told Beaudin in their August talk.
He would, of course, help Eagles craft their best work, which made them proper international rockstars.
The fragmented Eagles
Szymczyk wasn’t the lone witness to the rift between the members of the iconic band.
The first founding member to leave the group was Leadon in 1975, after the release of One of These Nights. The guitarist acrimoniously split from Eagles due to discontent with the new rock sound of the band.
Joe Walsh of The James Gang replaced Leadon. Walsh contributed much to the heavier Eagles sound and helped Hotel California become such a massive hit.
Hotel California was also the last album to feature Meisner after Frey confronted the bassist about him refusing to sing their hit and concert staple “Take It to the Limit”.
During one of their shows in Knoxville, an ill Meisner had difficulty hitting the high notes of the song, prompting him to refuse to sing the song altogether. A miffed Frey and Meisner had to be separated backstage.
Schmidt, who played guitar for the rock band Poco, replaced Meisner before Eagles started recording The Long Run in 1977.
The cracks become more apparent by this time, and Szymczyk himself found it hard to complete the record, which took 18 long months.
The Long Run and 14-year hiatus
In his Goldmine interview, the producer shared: “It was really hard. It took eighteen months and a lot of friction had entered into the band by that point. Instead of the old “all for one, one for all’ everybody had their own car, and their own this, and their own that. Everybody even had their own handler and everybody was kind of selfish about certain things. There was a lot of animosity between certain camps in the band, itself. It really grew to a head during that 18-month period we were making that record.”
Tempers boiled onstage during one show at Long Beach, California in 1980 when Frey had a verbal spat with Felder. The latter recalled Frey telling him during the performance of “Best of My Love”, “I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage.”
The band split up after this gig with each member pursuing solo careers. This would go on until they got back 14 years later for the tour and live album Hell Freezes Over, named after Henley’s recurring statement that Eagles would only get back together “when hell freezes over”.
In 2001, the infighting took center stage when Felder was fired from Eagles. The guitarist countered with a 50-million-dollar lawsuit alleging wrongful termination, breach of implied-in-fact contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.
Eagles would go back to touring until the present day, minus Frey, who died in January 2016.