Longbranch Pennywhistle, Glenn Frey's pre-Eagles music

Steve Alexander

It's tragic to realize we won't be hearing any more new music from Glenn Frey. Along with Don Henley (as well as, to a lesser degree, other members of the band), Frey was a driving force in the act. He also had a successful musical and acting career after the Eagles.

Frey made a lot of great music with the Eagles, singing such hits as “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin' Eyes,” “New Kid in Town,” Heartache Tonight,” “How Long” and many others. He was also no slouch as a guitarist, even though he would defer to Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh over the years when it came to taking solos. Furthermore, Frey was highly instrumental in arranging many of those wonderful Eagles vocal harmonies. Although Frey was from Detroit, and he made a lot of country music with Don Henley, the artist was also strongly influenced by the Beach Boys, and you can hear a similar attention to vocal details whenever you listen to Eagles songs – particularly the ballads.

Just as there was a lot of music created during Frey's tenure with the Eagles, as well as the music he made during his post-Eagles years, there is also a lot of fascinating music Frey made prior to forming the Eagles.

Prior to helping create the huge Eagles commercial enterprise, Frey recorded one album with a group called Longbranch Pennywhistle. And what the act lacked in catchy monikers, it more than made up for with fine, country-tinged songs. Longbranch Pennywhistle was a collaboration between Frey and John David Souther (or JD Souther, as he's sometimes known).

Like Frey, Souther is originally from Michigan, even though he was raised in Amarillo, Texas. Both Souther and Frey became roommates after meeting in Los Angeles, where their downstairs neighbor just happened to be Jackson Browne.

Souther was a member of the Souther Hillman Furay Band, which also included Chris Hillman and Richie Furay. He also went on to help write many of the Eagles' best known songs, including “Best of My Love,” “Victim of Love,” “Heartache Tonight,” New Kid in Town.” One of the songs the Eagles recorded, “How Long,” originally appeared on Souther's first solo album in 1972.

In addition to his professional relationship with the Eagles, Souther also had a more personal relationship with Linda Ronstadt, whom he dated. He co-produced her album Don't Cry Now and wrote the song “Faithless Love” for Ronstadt's Heart Like a Wheel. Album. He later sang a duet with Rondstadt on “Hearts Against the Wind,” which was used in the Urban Cowboy soundtrack.

Although Frey's pre-Eagles Longbranch Pennywhistle failed to make much of a commercial impact this collaboration with Souther included some heavyweight backing musicians. These included guitarist James Burton and Ry Cooder, fiddler Doug Kershaw, drummer Jim Gordon, pianist Larry Knechtel and bass player Joe Osborn.

Frey's vocal on “Run Boy Run” will sound quite familiar to Eagles fans. Although it has a rocking guitar groove, Frey's vocals have that strong country sound he so often applied to Eagles songs.

Just as Souther had an early musical relationship with Linda Ronstadt, so also did the Eagles. In fact, the Eagles acted as Rondstadt's backing band in the early days. One wonders, for instance, how many lucky music fans were able to catch Ronstadt backed by the Eagles for a free performance in 1971. Even the great ones must pay their dues, after all.

Glenn Frey became a rock & roll superstar, and was even inducted into the rock & roll hall of fame. But long before he was a rock star, Frey was instrumental in helping create what would be come to be known as country-rock with the help of other talented folks, like JD Souther and Linda Ronstadt.