Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

96,000 People Can’t Be That Wrong, Redux

As I write this, I’m listening to the early Flying Burrito Brothers. I love this stuff.

I first got “turned on” to music like this by hearing the very first Hot Tuna album (called, shockingly, Hot Tuna), the one with mostly just Jack and Jorma. I had started playing about 6 months earlier, just as the Fabs split up, and was listening to Ten Years After, the Airplane, Santana, and Joe Cocker – “the heavy groups”. Suddenly, acoustic Hot Tuna — I consider the album to be among the greatest bass recordings ever done, both for Jack’s playing and for how it captured the bass’s tone. [1]

The album remains a touchstone for me, but I started to listen to everything that was, I suppose you’d call it, softer. That was the primary music I listened to for about two years — formative, crucial, years for my playing.

So, the Burritos: I had no idea who the members were, but I made a recording of them playing in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios over the air on WMMR that I listened to all the time. I loved it. So one would think I’d be primed to love The Eagles, right? And, as I said last time, you’d almost be right. I want to explore what about them turned me off so much, and why I think (or rather, why I know) they’re so disliked by a very vocal minority.

And believe me, I know we’re a minority. In 2015 the Eagles Greatest Hits Reunion Revue played for eight nights at the forum. I went one of the nights, courtesy of Bernie. I enjoyed their playing, but that’s about it (except for the experience of seeing and hanging out with Bernie). It was nice to see that certain level of professionalism, but the music? Meh. But eights nights, 12,000 people a night — that’s a whole lot of fans. And plainly, they completely disagreed with me. People were swaying and singing along for three solid hours. 96,000 people can’t be THAT wrong.

So what is it? What about them puts off all of those folks who should like them?

I can almost remember exactly where we were when the discussion occurred. We had just played Mountain Stage in Charleston, West Virginia. It was, as usual, just the two of us, and we were on our way up and over the mountains to Washington D.C., to do a performance for Sirius Radio (I think — one of the digital services, anyway). I don’t remember how we got into it, but I do remember Bernie saying, “You would have hated playing with Henley!”

I laughed and said, “I’m sure I would have!” (I had heard plenty of stories about Henley). “But why?”

And he told me about how, back in the day (so to speak), if he changed ONE NOTE in a solo from how he played it on the record, Don would go nuts after a show. Around the time of the rehearsals for the Eagles’ 2015 shows, Bernie was over here one day, and we were talking about that moment. My wife, Elin, was curious what that was about. Bernie put it this way (paraphrased — his exact words are on the wind):

“For players like me and Dan, the opportunity to play live is a chance for everybody there to reach something new together. We approach the music as if it’s new – every time.” Conversely, the way Henley and Frey ran the Eagles, and with the addition of more musicians to fill out the recorded overdubs, Bernie described it as a revue of the hits; the same way, every time.

It’s a battle, or conversation, as old as recording: should live music be faithful to the recording or not? Obviously, with my love of the Grateful Dead, and early Weather Report, the wildness of some music as opposed to the heavily-rehearsed, I know where I come down. Give me the chance to fail; it’s the only way I know to guarantee the chance to soar.

[1] When Jack Casady visited me in 1993 to do an interview for Bass Player magazine, I played him a track from Jon Hassell’s City: Works of Fiction to demonstrate the effect of the first Hot Tuna album on me.