The Eagles have delved into their history for 20 years onstage, playing "Hotel California," "Desperado" and the other classic-rock staples religiously, but for their
"History of the Eagles Tour" -- which stops by Madison Square Garden for three shows, starting next Friday -- the LA easygoing-country-rock heroes have turned the concept into a thesis statement.
At the beginning of every show, bandleaders Glenn Frey and Don Henley play an intimate, acoustic version of "Saturday Night"; then, recently returned guitarist Bernie Leadon joins them for "Train Leaves Here This Morning." This sentimental focus began earlier this year, when the band released the three-DVD "History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band," which takes a surprisingly forthcoming look at sex, drugs, rock and roll, trashing hotel rooms and internal strife.
In the spirit of both history and debauchery, here are the band's 10 biggest moments:
1964 Glenn Frey, then 12, sees The Beatles at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, near his suburban hometown. He witnesses girls falling backward, shouting, "Paul! Paul!" "I thought, 'Oh, my GOD,' " Frey says in the documentary. Afterward, he trades piano lessons for guitar. Roughly 1964 "Get in the car," Don Henley's mom says, and drives him to Sulphur Springs, Texas, to buy a set of red-sparkle Slingerland drums.
1969 Frey befriends Detroit rocker Bob Seger and sings on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." Seger invites Frey to tour as his bassist, but Frey's parents veto the idea after catching their teenage son smoking pot. Meanwhile, Henley joins a Texas band called Shiloh.
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1970 Frey, the fast-talking Detroiter, and Henley, the soft-spoken Texan, meet after signing with the same small record label. By then, they were journeymen. ("I just thought Glenn was another ---- little punk," Henley would tell Rolling Stone.) Through a series of connections, they wind up playing in Linda Ronstadt's touring band.
1972 On its second album, "Desperado," the band's combination of rickety country harmonies, rock guitar and compact, Motown-style pop songwriting comes together -- with Frey and Henley providing a unique style of leadership over bandmates Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder. "I asked Graham Nash once, 'In Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, did you ever change any of the other guys' lyrics?' " Frey explains to Rolling Stone's Cameron Crowe in 1975. "He said, No, NEVER. Why, do you do that?' "
1975 Leadon, the country guitarist, leaves the band. Joe Walsh, the slurring rocker who learned his hotel-room-smashing skills in an apprenticeship with The Who's Keith Moon, joins as his replacement. "One of the things I brought into the band was kicking it up a notch when we played live," Walsh says in the documentary. "Just keep kicking it in the butt, you know?"
1977 Guitarist Felder records guitar licks at his rental house in Malibu, then sends them to songwriters Henley and Frey. "Ninety-five percent of them were cluttered with guitar licks, and we would listen to these things and go, 'Well, where do you sing?' " Frey recalls in the documentary. When they hear a particular acoustic lick, a mix of Spanish music and reggae, they think, "Hmm, this is interesting." They write lyrics quickly. Henley comes up with the song title: "Hotel California."
1980 As rock-band breakups go, the Eagles' is especially dark and bitter. Henley and Walsh describe the process of making "The Long Run" album as "frazzled," "excruciating" and "burned out." Tension between Frey and Felder builds to the point that, after the nonpolitical Felder showed disrespect for Sen. Alan Cranston during a benefit concert, Frey throws a bottle against a wall, then appears onstage with the Eagles "seething." By the end of the Long Beach, Calif., concert in 1980, Frey is caught on tape literally threatening to kill Felder. The band breaks up soon afterward.
1994 The Eagles reunite for their "Hell Freezes Over" tour. Why? Let's just say it was the first time a rock band had ever broken the $100 concert-ticket barrier -- average prices for superstar shows have increased astronomically since then.
2013 The band that has sold more albums than any other American group releases its "History of the Eagles" documentary, then tours with a distinctly historic set list: "Train Leaves Here This Morning," "Witchy Woman," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Desperado," "Hotel California," "Life in the Fast Lane," "Take It Easy." The documentary begins, ironically, with this Henley quote from an Eagles interview in the mid-'70s: "It's something you can't do forever. This is not a lifetime career that we can do."
WHEN | WHERE Next Friday, Saturday and Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., Madison Square Garden
INFO Ticketmaster.com, 800-745-3000
Eagles' influence on other artists
Five artists who borrowed musical ideas and paid tribute to the Eagles:
1. Travis Tritt Country music essentially ignored the Eagles as they made hits in the '70s, as did Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and those who went in a more outlaw direction in the '80s. But by the early '90s, Tritt was one of the mainstream country star who went out of his way to salute the band -- inviting them to appear in his "Take It Easy" cover video.
2. Trisha Yearwood After duetting with Don Henley on 1992's "Walkaway Joe," Yearwood was one of many huge country stars who paid tribute to the Eagles on the "Common Thread" charity album released the following year. While Yearwood's "Peaceful Easy Feeling," Clint Black's "Desperado," Brooks & Dunn's "Best of My Love" and others smoothed out some of the Eagles' outsider quirks, the cover album was a massive hit.
3. Kenny Chesney To make 2010's tear-jerker "You and Tequila," Chesney drove the Pacific Coast Highway in California with the windows down and, he said at the time, "I'd listen to a lot of Eagles songs and some Tom Petty."
4. The Avett Brothers The Concord, N.C., band arrives at its mixture of country and rock from a louder and harder place than the Eagles, but it's hard to listen to catchy ballads such as "I and Love and You" without recalling the Frey-Henley-Schmit harmonies.
5. Mumford & Sons Although more reverential to bluegrass tradition than the Eagles, and lacking a killer guitarist like Joe Walsh or Bernie Leadon, the Mumford boys borrow from the same formula -- rickety harmonies, country and rock instrumentation, big choruses.