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Randy Meisner Biography

Randy Herman Meisner was born on March 8, 1946 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He came from humble beginnings; his parents were sharecroppers and his family didn't have much money. However, at the age of 10, he would discover a talent that would be his way out: music. After seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, he got a guitar and taught himself how to play. After that, music was all there was for Meisner. He dropped out of high school and concentrated on honing his musical skills, especially since he needed the income to support a family; he'd married at 17 to Jennifer Lee Barton. At that point, he was working as a professional musician with a band he'd formed called The Driving Dynamics. Their concerts mostly consisted of high school dances and local events, and Meisner wanted more. He traveled around the Midwest as a member of various bands, but one could only go so far there. The west coast beckoned.

It was in 1964 when Meisner finally found a reason to head to California. He joined a group called the Soul Survivors who needed a high-singing bass player, and who were confident enough in their ability to pull up stakes and go to Los Angeles to make it.

Unfortunately, that confidence didn't get them very far. They struggled to make ends meet and, one by one, gave up and went back to the midwest, despite getting a recording contract with Loma Records. It simply wasn't making them enough money to live on. Meisner was the only one to persevere, replacing each departing original member with someone new in the hopes that somehow, they would be able to pull it off. Realizing that with all the new members it was basically a new band, Meisner renamed them The Poor - for obvious reasons. Traveling back and forth from L.A. to Colorado where they could get more gigs, they managed to earn enough to survive living in low-rent places like the Tropicana Hotel. Even that was beyond their means through their musical income; in addition to taking odd jobs like selling newspapers, at one point, they were reduced to dealing marijuana to allow them to make enough to get by. To make matters worse, they continually were getting ripped off. After a gig in New York, they had to threaten the life of a club manager in order to collect the money he owed them for their performances. They were so poor that they were eating discarded food from supermarkets.

This continued for four years. Finally, in 1968, Meisner once again found a way out. After playing an audition for Buffalo Springfield where he was up against Timothy B. Schmit, he was selected to replace Jim Messina in the much more established band. However, before he could enjoy his new role, Richie Furay also quit the band to form Poco with Messina. Meisner joined them. In November of 1968, the new band debuted at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. This venue was to play a large role in the formation of Meisner's future band, the Eagles, as it was the place where Glenn Frey met and befriended Don Henley. Poco's debut performance also marked the first time Rick Nelson saw Meisner play, which was to pay off for him sooner rather than later.

When Poco began recording its first album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, Meisner realized how little the band's founders Furay and Messina thought of him. They considered him little more than a session player, allowing him no input into the production of the songs. Dissatisfied, Meisner complained that he might as well not be a part of the band if that was the way they looked at him. They agreed, and fired him - replacing him with Timothy B. Schmit.

Once again out of work, Meisner was finally ready to give up and return to the Midwest when he got a call from John Boylan, Rick Nelson's manager. Boylan and Nelson had been so impressed with him when seeing him play with Poco that they were eager to snag him for Nelson's backing band, which would become known as the Stone Canyon Band. Such was Meisner's influence with Boylan and Nelson that he was able to get them to also hire some former Poor bandmates. In May 1969, Meisner's new group once again debuted at the Troubadour with Nelson. It was a great success.

What was not a success was Meisner's marriage. Left behind in Nebraska, his wife was understandably unhappy. In late 1970, Meisner decided to quit the Stone Canyon Band and return to Nebraska to be with her, getting a job at a John Deere dealership. While he still would visit Los Angeles to do session work, he had committed to spending the majority of his time in Nebraska. However, when Boylan called asking him if he was interested in backing Linda Ronstadt and perhaps forming a new band with some other backing band members - namely, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Bernie Leadon - it was too good to pass up. In July of 1971, he played with them for the first time at a gig in Disneyland... and the rest is history.

They named themselves the Eagles and approached David Geffen, who had already had dealings with Frey and was willing to sign them despite some grumblings about royalty shares. The band formally became a part of Asylum records in September of 1971. After playing some gigs in Colorado, the band started to gel. Soon they were off to London to be guided by famous producer Glyn Johns.

While Glenn Frey started the band and was its leader, Meisner initially had the impression that he would be an equal member in terms of the amount of song credits per album and the amount of lead vocals. For the first Eagles album, this was indeed the case. He and Frey bonded quickly during the making of the first Eagles album, sneaking away together to spoke marijuana in defiance of Johns' strict "no drugs" policy. Meisner even sung vocals for the Frey-penned song "Most of Us Are Sad." Henley and Leadon, on the other hand, had also bonded from the outset, writing "Witchy Woman" together. While Frey especially chafed at Johns' handling of the band, it paid off in the form of three hits: "Take It Easy," "Witchy Woman," and "Peaceful Easy Feeling."

The band dynamics were to change considerably when Frey approached Henley to do some co-writing for the Eagles' sophomore album, Desperado. The two worked so well together that from that moment on, they began to form a united songwriting front that would eventually begin to edge out Meisner and Leadon. This became apparent immediately; Frey and Henley were involved in every song on Desperado except the two written by Leadon, whereas Meisner only co-wrote two songs and sang sole lead on one (he shared lead with Henley on "Saturday Night").

Not that Meisner was completely disregarded; two lead vocals was reasonable in a band with four members that only had about ten songs per album. It was the lack of songwriting credits that really became noticeable. On their third album On The Border, he only wrote one song: "Is It True." His other lead vocal, "Midnight Flyer," was a cover. Frey and Henley, quickly becoming the power brokers of the band, were rejecting his material as not up to the standards of the Eagles. Frey and Henley were working more closely with "fifth Eagle" John David Souther than with the other members of the band. The success of On the Border and its breakout Frey/Henley/Souther hit "Best of My Love" seemed to lend veracity to their arguments, and Meisner accepted it, but with a deepening sense of unease about his loss of influence on the inner workings of the band.

Another source of problems was Meisner's progressively worsening involvement with drugs, alcohol, and the "rock'n'roll lifestyle." Although he was still married and had three children, he was unable to resist the temptations of the road. The success of On the Border only made things worse. Struggling with constant guilt and self-recrimination at his seeming inability to be faithful to his wife, Meisner often spoke of quitting the band.

One of These Nights was to yield a pleasant surprise for Meisner, however. His songs were not usually selected as singles, but "Take It to the Limit" was - and it was a smash success, becoming the Eagles' first gold record. Co-written with Frey and Henley, it was to become one of the Eagles' signature songs. Meisner's song "Too Many Hands," co-written by the band's new member Don Felder, was also deemed high-quality by Frey and Henley; Frey even expressed that they'd finally found the type of songs for which Meisner's voice was perfectly suited. Things were looking up musically, despite continued conflicts over the direction of the band. Frey and Henley, so productive and successful as a team, were beginning to argue between themselves as well. Leadon felt so completely marginalized the he finally quit the band in frustration.

By the time the Eagles were recording Hotel California, relationships had deteriorated considerably. While Frey and Henley continued to work together creating hits, their personal conflicts also grew. Joe Walsh had been brought in to replace Leadon, and while his contributions continued to move the band in a rock-oriented direction, Meisner felt increasingly left behind. "Try and Love Again" was his only lead on the album, written alone; the song stuck out as the only one on the album not aligned with the Frey/Henley vision of the disillusion created by success that wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Amidst band conflict, Meisner's marriage was finally ending. His partying, drinking, and drug using was now completely unchecked by any lingering marital guilt. It began to interfere with performances, and it didn't help Meisner feel any more positive about the band. It didn't give him confidence about performing, either. He hated touring, hated being in the spotlight, and was nervous about his ability to consistently hit the high notes on "Take It to the Limit" live. The song was a show-stopper, however; people loved its dramatic build and soaring climax, and screamed for it every night. It was a fundamental part of the Eagles live set. When Meisner refused to sing it one night in Knoxville, Tennessee, citing illness that Frey suspected was caused by partying too hard, Frey lost patience with him. He called Meisner a vulgar name and threw a sweaty towel in his face, setting off a fistfight that had to be broken up by roadies. Meisner decided at that point to leave the band at the end of the tour, hoping that Walsh and Felder would join him; they too had expressed dissatisfaction with the Frey/Henley rule that had now expanded to include manager Irving Azoff. Walsh and Felder refused, proving any prior conversations about forming a trio with Meisner were nothing more than idle talk. Before Meisner had a chance to reconsider, he was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit... just as he had been when fired from Poco.

Now Meisner was on his own. In some ways, it was a relief; certainly, there was less pressure on him now. On the other hand, going from being a part of the world's most successful band with multitudinous offers down to a solo artist whom few were interested in was a difficult adjustment. Under Azoff's continued management, he released a solo album in 1978 and had a song appear on the FM soundtrack. Ironically, it was a cover of the Frey/Souther song "Bad Man."

Puzzled by the lack of live gigs, Meisner went to Azoff to inquire about it. Azoff, whose first loyalty was always to the Eagles, had little patience for the much-less-marketable Meisner. Azoff exploded at him, backing him up against the wall and shouting at him to "Get out of here and never come back" (qtd. in Eliot). Meisner realized with dismay that even his own manager wasn't on his side.

He had better luck with the album One More Song (1980). Henley even agreed to appear on it, and his duet "Deep Inside My Heart" with Kim Carnes reached #22 on Billboard. "Hearts on Fire" did even better, going to #14. Unfortunately, that was to be his peak as a solo artist. Despite the release of another self-titled album in 1982, he was unable to establish himself as a solo name and disappeared off the radar of the music-buying public.

Meisner returned to it briefly in 1989 by re-joining Poco for its Legacy album. Their song "Call It Love" was a hit, and he sang lead on the top 40 single "Nothing to Hide." Furay's departure from the band in 1990 kept that project from going further; Meisner briefly toured with fellow Poco members Messina and Rusty Young, but that met with little success.

Throughout this time and beyond, Meisner had kept himself busy with session work and occasionally forming new bands with other classic rockers. One of these was the Meisner-Roberts Band in 1987, with former Firefall member Ricky Roberts. Another was Black Tie, formed in 1992 with Charlie Rich (best known for the hit "The Most Beautiful Girl"), Billy Swan (best known for "I Can Help"), and Jimmy Griffin (formerly of Bread). In 2001, Meisner would record an album with Swan and Rich named for the three band members. That year, he also appeared with his original band The Drivin' Dynamics for a 40th Anniversary reunion concert.

The big reunion he was not included in, of course, was the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over "resumption" in 1994. Meisner had hoped to be a part of the revenue juggernaut, but he was told in no uncertain terms that once a man quits the Eagles, he's out for good. Timothy B. Schmit was now the Eagles bassist, and he was not going to be displaced by a former member. However, Meisner was able to perform one last time with the Eagles in 1998 when they were inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Schmit paid tribute to Meisner, recognizing that Meisner had contributed far more to the Eagles sound than Schmit had, and was much more deserving of the award. In a historic moment, all seven Eagles, past and present, performed together onstage. Meisner's tenure with the Eagles had come full circle.

Meisner is currently involved with the World Class Rockers, whose members over the years have included classic-rock band alumni such as Nick St. Nicholas and Michael Monarch (ex-Steppenwolf), Fergie Frederiksen (ex-Toto), Denny Laine (ex-Moody Blues), Spencer Davis (ex-Spencer Davis Band), and Alex Ligertwood (ex-Santana). While Meisner joined the band as an active member in 1996, his appearances now are few and far between; he is an occasional "special guest" due to health reasons.

These health problems began on August 6, 2004, when Meisner was admitted to the hospital for chest pains. This occurred again later in the year. No mention has been made of any more visits to the hospital for heart troubles, but it was enough to cause Meisner to limit his public appearances to a handful per year. As a result, they are very precious; if you have seen him, count yourself lucky!

Meisner is now a great-grandfather and spends most of his time with his second wife (whom he married in November of 1996) at his lovely woodland home in the hills of Studio City, California, collecting antiques as a hobby. We wish Meisner all the best in his future endeavors, and hope he one day re-emerges into the public eye.

 

Sources

"The Eagles Take It Easy and Soar." Rolling Stone (Aug. 17, 1972)

"'Rock Stars Are Outlaws' - The Eagles' 'Desperado' Message." Circus (August 1973)

"Songs from the New Frontier." Music Scene (March 1974)

"The Eagles Have Stopped Takin' It Easy." Crawdaddy (July 1974)

"'On the Border' - The Eagles Kick Up a Sundance." Circus (Aug. 1974)

"The Eagles." (1974)

"Desert Singers." Time Magazine (Aug. 18, 1975)

"Chips Off the Old Buffalo." Rolling Stone (Sept. 25, 1975)

"Eagles Add a Touch of Disco Soul." Circus Raves (1975)

"Eagles: Up to Date with Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner." ZigZag (December 1976)

"The Eagles Make California Sounds." Hit Parader (Winter 1977-78)

"Ex-Eagle Soars on Solo Flight." Circus (1980)

"Bassist-Composer Randy Meisner Courageously Bailed Out of the Eagles So That He Could Rock His Own Boat." People (1980)

"Seven Eagles Fly." Goldmine (July 9, 1993)

"We're the f***in' Eagles. Kiss my ass!" Q (Aug. 1996)

"The Eagles Head the Class of 1998." Scene (Jan. 8-14, 1998)

Eliot, Mark. To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles (1998)

"Friends: Randy Meisner." CharlieRichJr.com (2003?)

"Randy Meisner Interview." Smooth Jazz Now (2004?)

"Life in the Fast Lane." Classic Rock (Feb. 2004)

"The Eagles: After the Thrill Is Gone." Mojo Classic (Jan. 2006)

"Such a Lovely Place." Guitar World Acoustic (March 2007)

"Randy Meisner." Classic Rock (Feb. 2008)