There are a thousand reasons why Jack Tempchin is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Of course, some of these reasons are tied to the timeless tunes he has written for the Eagles, like “Already Gone” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Then there’s the 14-year collaboration with Glenn Frey that produced hits like “The One You Love,” “You Belong To The City,” and “Smuggler’s Blues.” And let’s not forget how A-listers like Johnny Rivers, Tanya Tucker, and Sammy Kershaw found their way to his songs and made them into hits.
But the reasons that really matter are those tied to how great a friend and creative collaborator Tempchin has always been to the artists he’s worked with, and why his work is so well-received by so many. Jack’s an easy person to quickly connect with, and his style is exactly what you hear in his music. When you talk to him it’s like you just resumed a conversation with a lifelong friend, someone with whom you share so much history. Now, Jack is bringing new material forward with San Diego-based rock outfit Mrs. Henry. The band members met through a tribute show for the Band’s album The Last Waltz with Jack playing the role of Neil Young, and discovered a symmetry that they’ve taken forward with the release of a series of singles.
We had the opportunity to speak with this American music legend about his biggest hits, his longstanding friendship and collaboration with Glenn Frey, and why Mrs. Henry has lit a creative fire that has Tempchin writing in a way that has him excited and ready to do more.
Ray Chelstowski: How did you get introduced to the band, Mrs. Henry?
Jack Tempchin: Chad Waldorf is a guy who books shows at the Belly Up club where I’ve been playing for 30 years. He told me that Mrs. Henry was doing a tribute show for The Last Waltz and they just wanted me to play a couple of Neil Young songs with them. I didn’t know anything about them or The Last Waltz show that they do, but I told them that I’d do it. So, I went to their rehearsal facility down by the Mexican border where they have a giant warehouse with a big stage. We went through a couple of songs and then when they did the show, I played the part of Neil Young which was really strange for me because I rarely sing other people’s songs.
RC: The music you are making together is more straightforward rock than the Neil Young music you performed at that tribute show.
JT: Yes. Part of that is because for many years I haven’t had a band. I’ve had a lot of bands in my life, but I went solo about six or eight years ago when having a band was no longer practical. And I love that this isn’t just any old band. They’re incredible and while they are younger than me they are focused on the era of music that I come from. So, I wrote them a note after [the tribute show] and said that while I’m not Bob Dylan and they’re not the Band, we ought to get together and make some music. I played them a bunch of songs that we started to then learn together. For me it’s always a magical combination of people that make music together. You can’t engineer it. You have to get lucky and that’s what happened here.
RC: Did you write these songs with Mrs. Henry in mind or did you already have them in hand?
JT: I didn’t write with them in mind. The first song, “Waiting,” I did on an album years ago. The others were songs that I had written during the pandemic. I had them but didn’t know what to do with them. Then there are a bunch of songs that I had written in the past and I picked out the ones that I thought would be good for this band.
RC: You recorded the first single in one take. How did you know that you had it nailed after only one run-through?
JT: I’ve done all kinds of recording projects over the years, especially making albums with Glenn Frey. But for this we had a great rehearsal space with a big stage. When we rehearsed they had a PA set up and nowadays you can take one line from your mixing board and feed it to your computer and it will transfer every single track. So, they transferred all of the tracks into Logic (software), which made me think that we didn’t even have to go into the studio. We had one day there where we had three photographers, a lighting guy, and the sound was just being recorded. So, we just did the songs. We did them a couple of times and just picked the best [takes]. We also shot videos for each song and they ended up being completely live. No overdubs. People don’t do it like this [anymore] because they correct everything. They even put pitch correction on the bass! I’m not into that and the band isn’t either. We thought that doing something live would be refreshing for people because they could feel the energy of the performance.
RC: Do you have a certain kind of writing protocol where you commit to writing a certain number of songs each week?
JT: I don’t have anything like that. Over the pandemic I spent a lot of time writing over the phone with my friend, (singer/songwriter) Gary Nicholson. He’s an amazing fellow who’s written songs with Willie Nelson and John Prine. He’s had 600 songs recorded by other people. Everyone from Buddy Guy to Fleetwood Mac and Ringo Starr. You can’t even think of someone who hasn’t recorded a song by Gary Nicholson. One night he told me that Bob Dylan now has his own brand of whiskey. It’s called “Heaven’s Door.” So, we wrote a song about a guy looking to write a song that could change the world and gets inspired by drinking some Bob Dylan whiskey. So as far as the writing goes, I just do it all of the time and I’ve done it every possible way. The thing that appeals to me most is that I’m back to writing a lot of songs. I’m writing a couple of songs a week and I can’t keep up with myself. So instead of putting a 10-song album out every year and spending months in the studio we can do a couple of songs every week.
RC: People learned to work remotely during the pandemic. But you’ve done this for years.
JT: I have written a bunch of songs with Bobby Whitlock that went on to be recorded by a number of people. He called me “Jackie T.” One day he calls me and says, “Jackie T. I had this dream,” and as he’s telling me about it I’m just typing, and it’s the first time I remember writing over the phone like that. Even when I wrote with Glenn Frey we’d have a song going and maybe we’d get on the phone to talk about the lyrics.
RC: How did you come to work with the A-list names that have recoded your songs?
JT: A lot of the people who’ve recorded my songs weren’t people I wrote for [specifically]. I just wrote songs and somehow they found their way to these artists. The most “out there” ones for me were Coolio and Jay Z when they sampled songs that I wrote with Glenn Frey, “Smuggler’s Blues” and You Belong To The City.” That was pretty far afield.
RC: Your longest co-writing relationship was with Glenn Frey. What was that like?
JT: I met Glenn and we became good friends years before he put the Eagles together. Then he recorded two of my songs with the Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.” Then I didn’t seem him often because he was with the Eagles! Then they broke up and he called me and asked me to come over to write a song. We had never written together before. We’d just been friends. The first night I went over and we wrote “I Found Somebody” and “The One You Love”; they both became hit songs. That night that I went over to his house he had over a hundred candles burning and I asked if he had a date later that night. He said “no. These are for the Muse. We’re not the only ones trying to write a song tonight. We want her to come down and hang with us!” That night began our songwriting partnership which lasted for 14 years.
RC: I’m particularly partial to the Soul Searchin’ album that you and Glenn did together. His liner note comments for each track were really special, and his thoughts on the song “Livin’ Right” that reference you have really stayed with me.
JT: Glenn was such an amazing person. We came out of the era where you’d stay up all night. Then one day he said, “Jack, nothing happens now after midnight.” He hired a trainer and had the guy show up every day at a quarter to five in the morning and he’d work out. He changed his life with this “turn on a dime” decision. I ended up doing the same thing.
RC: So, you are making new music and performing it live. It must be different than playing your hits.
JT: As Van Morrison has said about performers from my era, “fans don’t care who you are. They care who you were.” They just want him to play “Moondance” for the rest of his life. I’m writing so many songs now that I don’t care about the fact that I’m not playing my hits. I’m playing songs that people have never heard before and it’s a huge thrill and it’s really working.
Header image: Jack Tempchin and Mrs. Henry, courtesy of Andrew Huse.