Glenn Frey’s Death: Five Years Later
The world lost a master songwriter in Glenn Frey on Jan. 18, 2016, but not before the Eagles co-founder created a catalog of ubiquitous classic-rock hits.
Some gleefully complained about the former country-rock kings, taking a cue from the Dude in The Big Lebowski, but standout moments like Frey's “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Already Gone” or “Take It Easy” remain a tribute to songwriting craft.
The Eagles initially emerged with a peaceful, easy feeling, despite coming of age in an era defined by epic prog music, glam rock, disco and ugly, angry punk. Frey went on to forge a Lennon/McCartney-like partnership with Don Henley, growing as composers even as the band's sound shifted with the times.
Along the way, the Eagles recorded just seven studio project – but they sold over 150 million copies. A huge chunk of those sales came from Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which became the best-selling U.S. album of the 20th century. Together less than a decade during their classic period, Frey and his bandmates minted 18 Top 40 hits and sold a million copies or more of every album.
Frey went solo in the '80s, and the hits kept coming – including Beverly Hills Cop-soundtrack tune “The Heat is On,” and underrated gem “Smuggler's Blues.” The Eagles later reunited, releasing the celebrated Hell Freezes Over live project, then a double album of new songs titled Long Road Out of Eden.
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They remained stalwarts on the concert trail, even after reaching elder-statesman status with the announcement that the group would be honored at 2015's annual Kennedy Center Honors event. The Eagles postponed while Frey underwent surgery as part of a lengthy battle with intestinal issues. He never recovered, dying at age 67.
At first, it seemed the Eagles wouldn't survive Frey's passing. Henley said an emotional performance with Jackson Browne at Grammy Awards shortly after Frey’s death would be the group’s last.
“I don’t see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band,” Henley told the Washington Post a few months later. “It would just seem like greed or something. … It would seem like a desperate thing.”
By then, however, there was already speculation that Frey’s son might join the band. Ultimately, he and fellow newcomer Vince Gill helped the Eagles begin an unexpected final chapter. Deacon's sister Taylor also came on board a road manager, completing an emotional circle.
“It’s a family reunion for all of us, and we’re all doing it together,” Frey's widow Cindy told Billboard. “I don’t know that there’d be anything else we could do that’d make us move through our grief in this way. As painful as it is at times, it’s also deeply healing and comforting. It sort of makes us feel closer. ... I think it’s a wonderful thing — not just for our family, but for the fans to be able to see the music continue on and have another generation, another iteration of what it means.”
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The new lineup also convened for the postponed Kennedy Center Honors, where Gill handled vocals on "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and Frey collaborator Bob Seger sang "Heartache Tonight." Fans were then invited to take a deeper dive into Frey’s solo career with a four-disc retrospective box set of hits, deep cuts, live recordings and hard-to-find tracks.
Above the Clouds: The Collection provided a fitting swan song to a career cut short. At the same time, however, Frey's presence remained inescapable.
Chris Stapleton’s “Traveler” recalls the mellow-but-tight work of “Lyin’ Eyes,” while acts like the Foo Fighters and the Zac Brown Band make clear nods to "Heartache Tonight" when they stuff big rock riffs into what are obviously pop tunes. Fans can find a life-sized bronze statue of Frey at the Standing on the Corner Park in Winslow, Ariz., which became a part of rock 'n' roll lore after he name checked the town in "Take It Easy."
And then there's the Eagles shows, which continued to work as nightly tributes to their fallen bandmate.
“Deacon carries his father’s torch,” Henley told the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2018. “He carries his father’s spirit. It blows my mind sometimes when I’m sitting at the drums and I’m looking at the back of his head. His hair looks just like his dad’s did in 1974. It’s like déjà vu. We’re all like uncles to him, so it very much has a feeling of family. Having Deacon in the band is really the only way it made sense to me. It’s the only thing that, to me, would make it ethically alright to carry this on.”
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