Not one of the four group founders was a Californian by birth. Guitarist/keyboardist Glenn Frey (born November 6, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan) escaped Michigan's cold winters and musically stultifying frat and bar scene, bringing a rhythm and blues heritage. Drummer Don Henley (born July 22, 1947 in Gilmer, Texas) was nearly a college graduate, majoring in English literature. Guitarist/mandolinist/banjo player Bernie Leadon (born July 19, 1947, in Minneapolis, Minnesota) had a passion for country and bluegrass that shaped the band's early direction. Bassist Randy Meisner (born March 8, 1946 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska) was a car and cycle buff who preferred spending time with his family to playing bass in a rock and roll band.
The band formed in 1971 when Linda Ronstadt's then-manager, John Boylan, extracted Frey, Leadon, and Meisner from their affiliations. They were short a drummer until Frey phoned Henley, a musician he'd met at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. The Eagles backed up Ronstadt on a two-month tour, then decided to become a band on their own. Their first album, Eagles, was filled with pure, sometimes innocent country rock; their second, Desperado, was themed on Old West outlaws and introduced the group's penchant for conceptual songwriting.
To record their third album, On the Border, the group selected producer Glyn Johns, who had previously worked with Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. The band wanted to rock, but Johns tended to extract the lush side of the band's double-edged music. After completing two thirds of the album with Johns, the band turned to Bill Szymczyk to produce the rest of the album. Szymczyk brought in Don Felder (born September 21, 1948 in Topanga, California) to add slide guitar to a song called "Good Day in Hell", and the band was blown away. Two days later, Felder became the fifth Eagle. On the Border yielded a #1 Billboard single in the song "Best of My Love", which hit the top on March 1, 1975.
Their next album, One of These Nights, had an aggressive, sinewy rock stance. Between the album and the subsequent tour, Bernie Leadon left the group because he was disillusioned about the direction the band's music was taking. The group replaced Leadon with Joe Walsh, a veteran of such groups as the James Gang and Barnstorm and a solo artist in his own right. The addition of Walsh made the group's aim perfectly clear: they wanted to rock. The title track from One of These Nights hit #1 on the Billboard chart August 2, 1975. By this time, the personalities inside the band would start clashing with each other, and there were plenty of inter-band fights.
The group's next album, Hotel California in 1976, was about the pursuit of the American dream, 1970s style. Using California as a metaphor for the nation, the Eagles wrote about innocence ("New Kid in Town", a #1 hit in Billboard on February 26, 1977) and temptations ("Life In The Fast Lane" and the title track, a #1 hit in Billboard on May 7, 1977) of that pursuit. During the final leg of the ensuing tour, however, Randy Meisner decided he'd had enough hotel rooms in his seven years as an Eagle and left the band for the relative quiet of Nebraska to recuperate and instigate a solo career.
The Eagles replaced Meisner with the man who had succeeded him in Poco, Timothy B. Schmit. In February 1978, the Eagles went into the studio to produce their final studio album, The Long Run. That album took two years to make, but yielded the group's fifth and last #1 single in Billboard, "Heartache Tonight" (November 10, 1979). The tour to promote the album intensified personality differences between the band members, made worse when on the night of November 21, 1980, Henley was arrested when cocaine, Quaaludes, and marijuana were found in his hotel room after a nude 16 year old prostitute had drug-related seizures. Henley was also subsequently charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Following The Long Run tour, in 1980, the band went on hiatus, and all of them had solo careers of varying degrees of success. It wasn't until 1994 that the band, after years of speculation, reunited. That tour spawned a live album entitled Hell Freezes Over (after a quote from Henley who said that the group would get back together only when Hell froze over) and a single, "Get Over It". Controversy followed on September 12, 1996 when the band dedicated "Peaceful Easy Feeling" to Saddam Hussein at a United States Democratic Party fundraiser held in Los Angeles. In 1998, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and during the induction ceremony, all seven former members played together on stage. Several subsequent reunion tours would follow, noted for their record-setting ticket prices. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.
See Winslow, Arizona for a unique tribute to The Eagles' song "Take It Easy".