How Glenn Frey Learned To Write Songs
Glenn Frey with the Eagles, live in 1977 - Giovanni Campidoglio Fotografo / YouTube
Almost none of the music’s all-time great songwriters became famous by chance alone. When he formed the Eagles, Glenn Frey was like everyone else, but getting to Hotel California required a lot more time and effort.
Frey’s friendship with the legendary Bob Seger was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Seger was honing his songwriting skills long before the release of Night Moves when he discovered Frey and invited him to contribute to the song “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” According to Seger in The History of Eagles, Frey sang his background vocals with such assurance that “You can really hear Glenn blurt out on the first chorus. He comes out really loud with tremendous gusto. Of course, that was a big hit for us, which was really cool.”
Frey quickly developed an interest in songwriting and sought out Seger for guidance on how to create timeless hits. After Frey asked Seger, “Well what if they’re bad?” Seger said, “Well, they’re gonna be bad, but you just keep writing and keep writing and eventually you’ll write a good song.”
Frey realized that he couldn’t make a go of it as a composer in Detroit, so he relocated to California, where he met and became friends with fellow songwriter JD Souther. Frey recalled that every morning after moving in next to singer/songwriter Jackson Browne was like attending an unofficial crash school in songwriting.
“I learned from Jackson’s teapot and my floor exactly how to write songs,” Frey said. “He’d go through the first verse of ‘Doctor My Eyes’ and play it 20 times, and then there’d be silence. And 20 minutes later, he’d start again, and there was the second verse, and then he’d go to the top of the song and play the whole thing another 20 times until he was really comfortable. I thought, ‘So that’s how you write songs, elbow grease.”
Frey then began to land a job working as Linda Ronstadt’s sideband, where he first met his future bandmate, Don Henley. Thus, this became the start of a wonderful journey for Frey as he ventured on his future group, Eagles.