For now the chance to see the Eagles is via the two-part documentary that airs on Showtime beginning Feb. 15 and 16. The cable network has a monthlong window to air the "Part One" and "Part Two" and it will be released on DVD as early as March 19. The DVD package will be three discs, the two documentaries plus eight full song performances shot during the 1977 "Hotel California" tour.
Eagles-mania struck Sundance Saturday as the band came to town to do a Q&A in Acura's space on Main Street and a post-screening Q&A with producer Alex Gibney and director Alison Elwood. CAA partner/managing director Rob Light, DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, Showtime Networks president of entertainment David Nevins and producer-engineer Elliot Scheiner were on hand at the screening to hear Frey do most of the talking, Don Henley give short answers and Joe Walsh elicit the most laughs.
Between the two public sessions, Billboard grabbed some private time to talk with Frey and Henley about their history and how the making of the documentary -- financed by the Eagles but with artistic control in the hands of Gibney and Ellwood -- affected their take on the band's history.
"History of the Eagles, Part One" suggests that there was always an attempt by the band to stretch artistically, but also ensure that fans are satisfied. Was that important to you then?
Glenn Frey: I think you have to make music for yourself and your friends and that's what we did. But you also want to get it on the radio -- you want people to here it. There was a combination of things going on. We were a commercial band by the nature of our sound and those were the days when you had hit singles and they went on AM radio and the album tracks, the unedited stuff, went on FM. It was as simple as that. We were sort of able to do both successfully.
How does that effect the way you have created set lists over last 18 years since you reunited?
GF: It's hard to say what to leave in and what to leave out. We're in a rotating place (of songs) right now.
Don Henley: It's a great problem to have.
GF: I think we feel like people come to hear us play the songs they've been living with. One of my rules, but it's not a cardinal rule, you have to open with a bit of a bang, then you have to settle down with some mid-tempo things and then ramp up to crescendo. But we're also looking at who sings which song -- you don't want the same person to sing three in a row -- what are the guitar changes, does Don have to leave the drums, do I have to move to the piano.
DH: There's a channel on Sirius XM radio called Deep Cuts and I think we have to do a few songs for those people, the ones who didn't just listen to the hit singles.
As you sat for interviews and dug up old tapes, besides the factual recollections, what was the visceral reaction?
GF: I was really surprised and reminded of how much fun we had. You couldn't have asked for a better script for a bunch of guys in their 20s trying to make it into the music business. We were young, we made mistakes, we still make mistakes. It's the story of an American band, but it's also the story of the songs we wrote and what those songs did to (people). We're here because everybody likes the songs.
What sort of control did you have on the film?
GF: Zero. Part of the deal with Alex and Alison was they were going to set out to tell the truth. We might have had suggestions, but in terms of overall scope we let them make their film.
What was your role when it came to the music?
GF: We've been basically remixing our career for 5.1(surround sound) for the last few months. That was another interesting process for us, to unearth and go back and listen to the original 16 or 24 tracks of our early albums and go through and listen to some of our albums because maybe we hadn't listened to them for awhile. We feel this is going to be one of the best sounding films of its kind.
Why did you select Gibney and Ellwood?
GF: When we started working on this about 2-1/2 years ago, people in our management office sent us a bunch of reels of people who had done musical biography documentaries and to tell you the truth, I was really left wanting. I called back and said why don't you send me the reels for the guys who were nominated for the Academy Award for best documentary? When I looked at the reels, Alex's work jumped off the (screen) to me. It was so riveting. It was a surprising mix, the guy who made 'Taxi to the Dark Side' and 'Enron' would be telling the story of the Eagles, but I think we have a good story and he's a great storyteller.
DH: Another thing that interested Alex was the music scene in Los Angeles in the late '60s and the '70s. That's all a part of the story , plus the context of what was going on in the country.
There was a professional crew that shot the band in 1977 and it plays a major role in the "Part One." What was the thinking back then to have a tour filmed?
GF: At the time we wanted to get some things recorded and something documented on the band. For me, it's interesting to watch the interviews at that time to see where everybody's head was at.
DH: We were very private. We didn't allow a lot of access to outside people or press -- we tried to keep it all in-house. We did have the foresight to get some filming done.
Early in the film there's a scene of you guys warming up vocally and the producer Glyn Johns said that was the key reason he would work with you. Did those harmonies come together easily or was the result of hours and hours of practice?
GF: We practiced, but there was -- what's the word I want to use -- a sonic thing that would happen when Randy Meisner and Don and I sang together. We would sing and Glyn Johns would think he was hearing some sort of fourth part. There was some sort of resonance, something that happened.
The film explores everyone's backgrounds and everyone had a fair amount of experience as touring and recording musicians. Did that help you at the start.
DH: My band, Shiloh, had done a few singles, but I was a terrible songwriter when I got in this band. I learned from Glenn and J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne. I'd done eight or nine years in bars and clubs and paid those dues and we'd all done that.
GF: There was nothing else to do. We'd play music all day and listen to records.
DH: There was no plan B -- we were learning as went and that was our pattern. We could make an album, listen to each one (after release) and say 'that song stinks' and we can do better than that. We were just trying to top ourselves.
Alex and Alison both said in an earlier interview with Billboard they were fascinated with your pre-Eagles history and the music you listened to and played when you were younger. Besides sharing similar tastes, how did it affect you guys working together?
DH: Like most artists, we're fans. Both Glenn and I have pretty strong knowledge of the history of music in general going back to the '30s and '40s, blues and jazz and standards. We didn't just discover music in the '60s. We had a well-rounded musical education, which I think is lacking in a lot of people now. I think things have been put in boxes and become so specialized and radio has become so formatted that kids, including musicians, aren't exposed to a wide variety of influences and that's not good. We were fortunate growing up on the Byrds and the Beach Boys and before that the Mills Brothers and the Four Preps and Four Freshman, the people who influenced Brian Wilson.