Interview: Bernie Leadon (The Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, solo)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: July 2011. Bernie Leadon is one of the greatest musicians in country rock community and a fine person. He co-founded The Eagles and stayed with them for 4 albums: “The Eagles”, “Desperado”, “On The Border” and  “One of These Nights”. Ηe also played with Flying Burrito Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby and numerous others. When he left the Eagles, their label Asylum  Records released “Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975” best-of album. That is the biggest selling album of all time, selling over 42 million copies!! Honestly, he gave me the greatest answers I have ever got! Read below one of his very rare interviews:


Firstly it’s a great honour for me to contact with you. Which are the current projects you’re involved in?  Are you doing any recordings this period?

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I recently went to London to work on concert recordings for a charity benefit. The recordings are from concerts in Los Angeles in the year 2000. Other than that, I mainly play banjo around the house for enjoyment.


In 2009 you reunited after many-many years with one of your first band in your career, Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. How was the experience? Are you still doing gigs with them?

We have done that several times over the past 10 years or so. It was a lot of fun. The guys from that bluegrass band have all been important in my later career in pop and rock music. Chris Hillman was in the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Larry Murray was in my first major label recording band, Hearts and Flowers. Ed Douglas I have stayed in touch with through the years, and you got in contact with me through him. Kenny Wertz was the first great bluegrass banjo player I ever heard, and he got me hooked, and i learned a lot from him. Gary Carr was a great bluegrass singer, with just the right twang and delivery style. They are all still with us, except Gary. Another friend from San Diego in the 1960’s comes and fills in, Doug Jeffords.


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Your last solo effort in 2004 album “Mirror”. Are you satisfied by its result? Why it took you 27 years from your previous solo release?

Was I satisfied with the “Mirror” album? I don’t think we’re ever completely satisfied, and since we learn from doing it, there is always something we would like to do better, or again. But you have to do the best you can and let go of it. What happens after that is not up to me. Why 27 years? Well, its already been 7 more years since Mirror, it just goes by fast. I’m not out playing shows, and I have other things to do. The main thing is that you have to have the songs ready- I had maybe 50 songs to pick from for Mirror. I do have newer songs, but I don’t have the energy to do another one yet. But it would be nice to do at least one more.


You were always loyal to your country influences. How much “room” for experimentation do you think there still is in country music?

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I’m not sure about this. “Mainstream” country music, by which I mean records made for terrestrial broadcast country radio, over the airwaves, is pretty formulaic. I was even told by one of the record producers that I know, that the record companies would not accept any record which used a “shuffle” beat. That beat (dotted eighth note, followed by a sixteenth note, repeated over and over, instead of “straight eights”, which is eight even notes) in a 4/4 bar), was common in country music in the 60s. In the 1990’s it was out. Not sure if that’s still true. It all goes in cycles. You could hardly get arrested playing banjo in the recording studio in the 80’s and 90’s, the when the Dixie Chicks started having hits using the banjo, suddenly every record had to have a banjo. Then it will go away again. It is true, though, that less commercially rigid country music is being made, and some of it in Nashville. Austin, Texas is another great place for this type of music, which can have elements of blues, rock, folk, and country. One name for it is Americana Music.


How much more normal is life in Nashville, Tennessee after all these years in California?

I do think life is more “normal” in Tennessee for me now. Please notice that I put the word “normal” in quotations, since its really a relative term. But life in Tennessee is very nice. We have the four seasons, which I like, and I think helps humans to mark the passage of time. Tennessee has rolling hills and small mountains, and lots of water, trees and green fields. It’s very pretty.

In southern California, there are basically two seasons: in the winter, from December to March, it rains a lot, and all the hills are covered with green grass and wildflowers- it’s like Springtime. Then it dries out, and from April until the next December, its allbrown dead grass on the hills, and it’s called “Fire Season”. It’s very serious during fire season, and somewhere in California every year there is a brush fire that burns down a neighborhood. Southern California really is a desert, with water piped in. I once had an acquaintance say to me at the supermarket in LA: “I don’t know what happened- I just woke up old one day”. That person was stunned, and confused by the passage of time, which they had no way to mark.


Reading reviews and charts, I still can’t understand why “Desperado” received so lukewarm recognition from fans and press when it released. Do you have an explanation?

“Desperado” was the second album by the Eagles. We had three hit single records off of the first album, titled “Eagles”. Everyone in the industry, including the press, expected that we would follow the first album with more songs that could be hits. But I give a lot of credit to Glenn Frey (Eagles singer and vocalist) who insisted that we got commercial success with the 3 hits on the first albums, but we should immediately do an artsy album, and try to get critical success also as soon as possible. He felt that would help give the band enough weight to last for a while. The band has lasted for awhile, so maybe that was the right move. But we did not have immediate top ten hits from the “Desperado” album. Some songs have become classics, including the song “Desperado”, which I love. That was Don Henley’s (Eagles drummer and vocalist) first song, by the way. I think Frey is credited also, but it is mainly Don’s song, and it is a great song.


How strange (and even unfair) is that you brought Don Felder (Eagles guitarist during the period 1974-2001) to Eagles and he stayed many more years than you?

Not unfair. Don Felder was in my high school band, and I was helping him out. After he arrived, it did help the band move in a direction in which I was less comfortable, but that’s life. He lasted longer, but left in the end also.


With your (fellow Greek like me) friend Michael Georgiades you released in 1977, “Natural Progressions” album. Are you proud of this album? It has a strong cult following…Are you creating any music nowadays with Michael?

Yes, Michael is from a Greek background. He introduced me to feta cheese! His parents spoke Greek at home while he was growing up, so he understands the language, but has not used it much. He is my best friend in life, the one who knows everything about me. The “Natural Progressions” album we did in the year after I left the Eagles, in 1976. We then toured with Linda Ronstadt as opening act, for a whole summer. We wrote most of the songs over in Hawaii. Michael had lived over there before we met, and so the album as an acoustic beach vibe. Some have said it was one of the first “New Age” albums.


Who would you say influenced you the most in your life?

In retrospect, probably my dad, my father. He passed away in December of 2009, but I got to spend a lot of time with him the last 7-8 years. We went to Italy and Switzerland together in 2001, and on other trips closer to home. We got to talk a lot. He was a really solid guy, a real man. He was an aerospace engineer, and worked on aspects of the 1960’s space program. But his father was a railroad engineer, and that was a difficult working class job, although a prestigious one. So my dad was the first in his family to go to college, and he helped his brother and sisters to go to college. He raised 10 children, and chose very well when he chose to marry my mother. She was great, also, very kind. But boys need a role model, and my dad was mine.


Have you ever been to Greece? Send a message to Greek fans.

I have NOT been to Greece, which I regret! I have seen many photos of the Greek Islands, and I love Mediterranean food. It is on my list to visit, and I hope I can make it fairly soon. That would be fun.  Message to Greek fans?  Hey, we’re all in this together, right? The world is so much smaller than it was even 20 years ago. We can visit one another on the internet on our phones, and it is cheap to make phone calls to anywhere.  Be nice to one another, it doesn’t cost anything, and makes the day so much more pleasant. Don’t you think?


A huge “THANK YOU”  to Mr Bernie Leadon.

Thanks to Ed Douglas too!


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