Bass players never seem to get the proper respect. Randy Meisner suffered that fate as much as any of them. But from being a founding member of The Eagles, being there during the early formations of country rock on the West Coast, to being a session musician that played on the albums of guys like Waylon Jennings to James Taylor, Randy Meisner proved he mattered, and put together a strong legacy that is well-recognized throughout music today.
Country and rock wasn’t really Randy Meisner’s first primary influence. Growing up in Nebraska on a family farm, his initial passion was R&B. After seeing Elvis perform on Ed Sullivan, like so many kids, Meisner decided right then and there at the age of 10 that he wanted to be a musician. His appeal for R&B is what made a teacher suggest he pick up bass as opposed to guitar. That way he could effectuate those beefy rhythms he found so appealing.
After playing in local bands in the Midwest, Randy Meisner moved to the music mecca of Los Angeles in a soul band called The Soul Survivors. Their lot in life became so downtrodden, they renamed themselves The Poor, which described the band in a literal sense. But Randy got his big break auditioning for Poco in 1968 in a session that also included Gregg Allman and Timothy B. Schmit. Meisner got the gig, and all of a sudden he was right in the mix in helping to define the emerging genre of country rock.
You may not know that Randy Meisner was a member of Poco though, unless you dig deep into the liner notes of Poco’s debut album Pickin’ Up The Pieces. When Richie Furay and Jim Messina handled him more as a hired hand as opposed to an actual member of the band, Meisner left in frustration right before the first album came out. When it did, they replaced the image of Meisner on the front cover with a dog. Talk about low.
But Randy Mesiner picked up the pieces himself, and in early 1969 had joined Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. The steel guitar player for Buck Owens, Tom Brumley, was one of Meisner’s band mates. But Meisner was relegated to more of an auxilliary player in the band, and only appeared on and off in the band’s catalog. To fill in the gaps, Meisner engaged in session work. This is when he played on multiple songs on Waylon’s 1970 album Singer of Sad Songs that was recorded in Los Angeles.
While continuing to pick up gigs wherever he could, Meisner became part of the revolving rotation of bass players in Linda Ronstadt’s backing band with a few dudes named Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon. Soon after, one of the most successful bands in American music was formed and called themselves The Eagles. Randy Meisner had finally secured himself a permanent gig.
Meisner wasn’t just the bass player. Far from it. He contributed the songs “Try and Love Again,” “Is it True?,” “Take the Devil,” “Tryin’,” and co-wrote “Certain Kind of Fool.” He also often sang harmony vocals. Most notably, Randy Meisner both wrote and sang the Eagles song “Take It To The Limit,” which went on to be the first million-selling single from the band.
But as time went on, the regular refrain of feeling like “just the bass player” came up for Randy Meisner yet again. He may have wanted respect, but Meisner never desired to be the center of attention, and to the point where it started causing friction. Meisner didn’t want to stand in a spotlight when singing “Take It To The Limit,” and due to deteriorating health, sometimes couldn’t hit the crucial high notes of the song. This put him on the wrong side of frontman Glenn Frey.
Already suffering from poor health, including stomach ulcers due to the band’s constant partying and touring, things reached a breaking point. At a show in Knoxville, TN in 1977 Meisner decided to skip his performance of “Take It To The Limit” during the encore. He’d recently been suffering from the flu. Frey got so angry, a physical confrontation ensued backstage. Meisner later said, “That was the end. . . I really felt like I was a member of the group, not a part of it.”
Randy Meisner’s final show with The Eagles was on September 3, 1977 in East Troy, Wisconsin. He was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit, who Meisner had beat out auditioning for Poco.
Randy Meisner would go on to perform solo and with other groups over the years, and with on and off success. But his involvement with The Eagles, Poco, Linda Ronstadt, and the Stone Canyon Band secured his legacy in country rock and American music, making him a well-known name to most music fans. Maybe his band mates never saw him as an essential puzzle piece and replaceable in their plans. But the public didn’t feel the same.
Randy Meisner died due to complications from COPD in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. His death was revealed Thursday afternoon. He was 77 years old.