Word on the street is the Eagles, America's high-flying singing group, are coming back with a new album. People love the Eagles. People hate the Eagles. Personally, I wouldn't pay to see them. They don't set things on fire. They don't dance. They sit on stools like old men. I've got plenty of that kind of entertainment where I live. Why would I pay to see it?
But millions of people have paid to see and hear it. According to the United States Department of Treasury, the Eagles take up something like 3 per cent of the GDP, that's gross domestic product, and without them our economy would likely collapse. So next time you're enjoying a $4 latte and a smooth ride in your Hummer, thank those southern Cali "Desperadoes" who taught us all to "Take It Easy" since in "The Long Run," we'll all be dead. Without them, we'd all be eating sand in the back of our Ford Pintos.
But the Eagles had to learn their craft somewhere. They had to capitalize on the mistakes of others. They watched other bands do sorta what they do and screw it up. So they avoided that. They decided to make "Country Rock" during the soft rock era, adding just a hint of western twang, potentially adding to their possible audience, since people love cowboys and ladies love outlaws.
Now for the five bands that helped make the Eagles what they were.
Buffalo Springfield: They weren't really a country rock band, but with Stephen Stills, ex-Dillard Dewey Martin, future Poco-guru Richard Furay and later Jim Messina, and Neil Young in the group, well, they certainly knew how to turn on the country charm. The amount of talent, however, could never match the amount of ego, which led these guys to record some of their tracks separately, form other dopey bands, and generally make much less money as a band than they would have if they'd just agreed to get along. With a little care and foresight, Loggins & Messina could've been avoided, not to mention Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
The Byrds: In 1968 a young man named Gram Parsons participated in a leveraged buyout of the Byrds, a once popular singing group in the mid-1960s. He somehow managed to convince the band's leader Roger McGuinn to do whatever he said and suddenly the group who had been "Eight Miles High" into psychedelia was galloping along in the desert singing something about not missing their water. It wasn't successful at first. Nowadays when everyone's a cowboy it's different. But back then it seemed like a goofy move. Parsons soon left the group and started another. McGuinn kept hiring new, uglier guys with even less success.
The Flying Burrito Brothers: Gram Parsons quit the Byrds and started this group. Why not? Government reports state the band didn't like to rehearse much and their concerts were often disastrous. Basically, they added a lot of pedal steel to R&B tunes like "The Dark End Of The Street" and "Do Right Woman" and their own C&W tunes and wore Nudie suits, which are these appallingly ugly pantsuits with goofy flowers on them that future generations are sure to look at as a sign of if not moral then aesthetic decline. To his credit, when he tried, Parsons could sing the hell out of song. Bernie Leadon, who joined the Brothers after their peak, went on to become an early member of the Eagles and even wrote a tune ("My Man") for Parsons. No word whether or not Parsons liked the tune.
The Grateful Dead: Yes, everyone thinks of them as the ultimate hippie band, a bunch of slovenly acid trippers known for their space jams and their trail of unwashed VW drivers with a grilled cheese sandwich to sell, but if you listen to Workingman's Dead or American Beauty, you'll hear a band working the ropes of "roots" music, which includes blues, folk and country--all done at the speed of sleep.
Ray Charles: I debated long and hard on this last one. I know, Ray Charles isn't a group. But it was really a toss-up between Michael Nesmith, the only good Monkee (sorry Davy) and also an obvious "non group," who recorded his albums of country yodels back in the early '70s, or this paragon of Soul Music who put together Modern Sounds in Country & Western and went on to sell tons of records and introduce a whole new way of life to people who had never seen a cowboy hat before. Ray himself didn't do anything like that. He didn't stick a piece of hay in his mouth or find a straw hat and some overalls. Had he done so, civilization would've looked a lot funnier by now.
- Gram Parsons