The Eagles have always had a close relationship with country music, despite being considered mostly classic rock. Along with coming up in the California country rock scene and landing some songs on the country charts like “Lyin’ Eyes” and “New Kid In Town,” Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill is currently part of The Eagles touring lineup as well.
Perhaps most importantly though, if it wasn’t for one country star, there is a possibility that The Eagles never would have reunited in the early ’90s, which gave the legendary band and their music a second wind that’s still blowing thirty years to the day.
After nearly a decade of being one of the most successful and beloved bands in all of American music, things began to unravel for The Eagles in 1980. Stress fractures grew within the band when recording their 1979 album The Long Run. The album took two years to record as Don Henley and Glenn Frey struggled to match the massive success of their previous album Hotel California. Founding member Randy Meisner also left the band in 1977, and bitterness was swelling in between the remaining members.
This all came to a head on July 31st, 1980 at a concert in Long Beach, California, later dubbed the “Long Night at Wrong Beach.” Then California Senator Alan Cranston and his wife were backstage to thank The Eagles for appearing at a benefit concert. Guitarist Don Felder said flippantly to the senator, “You’re welcome, I guess,” stirring already bad blood between Felder and singer/guitarist Glen Frey. The two then spent the entire set saying how they were going to kick each other’s asses when the show was over.
That’s basically when The Eagles ended, with Glen Frey ultimately leaving the band, though they did record Eagles Live afterwards since they were obligated to Elektra Records to release the album. Glen Frey and drummer Don Henley launched solo careers, and any time they were asked if The Eagles would ever reunite, the notorious answer was “When hell freezes over.”
But this animosity wouldn’t last forever. In a strange twist of fate, it was country artist Travis Tritt that was critical to getting the legendary band back together.
In 1993, the former manager of The Eagles, Irving Azoff, had the idea of making a tribute album to The Eagles featuring country artists of the day. Country music was currently swelling in popularity thanks to the “Class of ’89” that included Travis Tritt, and at the time the Eagles compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was one of the best selling albums in the world, eventually going Triple Diamond, and surpassing Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best selling album of all time.
The rise in appeal for neotraditional country along with the back catalog of The Eagles was a common thread. So Irving Azoff envisioned the album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles that featured appearances by Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Trisha Yearwood, Tanya Tucker, and Vince Gill among others.
Leading off the album was Travis Tritt singing “Take It Easy.” The rendition was also released as the lead single from the album. Irving Azoff wanted Tritt to make a video for the song, and called him up and asked him if he had an idea for a video concept.
“Off the top of my head, without even thinking about it, I said, ‘Hell I don’t know. Let’s get The Eagles back together,’ and it was dead silent on the other end of the phone,” Tritt recalls. “I had really no idea about all the turmoil that had gone on inside the band.”
A couple of days later, the office of Irving Azoff calls Travis Tritt back and tells him that if he wants The Eagles to reunite for the video, Travis Tritt is going to have to call them himself and make it happen. Tritt first called Glen Frey and got him to commit. Frey said it was less about The Eagles, and more about all the great performances from the country artists on the compilation that he wanted to help support. Then Tritt called Don Henley and got him to commit, without telling him he’d talked to Glen Frey first, and that Frey had already committed.
Something else that probably helped convince The Eagles members to participate was the compilation album was conceived to help raise funds for the Walden Woods Project, which helps preserve a patch of woods in Massachusetts. Participating in a charitable opportunity also helped sweeten the deal.
Though none of The Eagles played on the actual studio track of Travis Tritt’s take on “Take It Easy,” Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Don Felder, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit all agreed to show up to a bar in Los Angeles on December 6th, 1993 and appear in the video—shooting pool, hanging out, and cutting up as cameras rolled.
14 years after the band had called it quits and swore to never reunite, the lineup from The Long Run era of The Eagles were all there in the same room, and enjoying themselves. Though the concept for the video was staged, the enjoyment everyone was having in the room was sincere.
In the bar was a stage with a full band setup, including guitars, amps, and a live PA with microphones. Near the end of the video shoot, Travis Tritt stepped onto the stage, and struck the opening guitar chords to “Rocky Mountain Way.” Soon all of The Eagles members sauntered up on stage and started jamming away too. This officially was the first time in 14 years all the then current members of The Eagles played together.
“After years passed, you really sort of remember that you were friends first,” Glen Frey said later about the video shoot. “I just remembered how much we genuinely had liked each other and how much fun we’d had.”
Two months later, Glen Frey and Don Henley had lunch with their respective managers, and they decided to relaunch the band. Their first release back was a live album infamously called Hell Freezes Over in 1994.
Humbly, Travis Tritt says, “I don’t take any credit for bringing The Eagles back together,” and instead says it was the process of making the Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles compilation that did the magic. But Tritt was the guy that made the phone calls to get Glen Frey and Don Henley to agree to it.
If not for the underlying appeal for the sounds of country music, it’s hard to see The Eagles becoming as big as they were. The Eagles also seeded the appeal for country music in major swaths of the listening public, making the genre cool and accessible to a wider audience. And ultimately, country music would return the favor through Travis Tritt’s “Take It Easy” video, and eventually the former member of the Pure Prairie League, Vince Gill, keeping The Eagles flame alive in concert.
A common thread indeed.