Timothy B. Schmit on First Eagles Show Without Glenn Frey: Son Deacon ‘Up to the Task’

After 40 years, Timothy B. Schmit is finally no longer “the new guy” in the Eagles. That honor will be going this summer to Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, who will be taking over some of the late Glenn Frey’s vocals at a pair of gigs by the reconstituted group: Classic West at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium July 15 and Classic East at New York’s Citi Field July 29. At least one of these fill-ins has been quietly in the works for quite a while, Schmit tells Variety.

“Don [Henley] recently revealed that, indeed, Glenn’s son, Deacon, will be one of the guests for our two summer shows,” he says. “In fact, Joe [Walsh], Don, and I had already gotten together with him shortly before we all got busy again with our solo shows. He has been diligent in studying what needs to be done, and we’re confident this will work out nicely. Before we started playing a note, I asked him directly if he was up to the task, and he replied that he was.” It’s not necessarily just a one-time thing: “It seems like enough time has passed that we can try this out as an experiment, I suppose, and see how it works” as a prelude to doing more down the road.

But Schmit was assuming Frey’s vocal part on “Peaceful Easy Feeling” himself recently, every night, as part of a recently completed solo tour. It was a rare chance for fans to get a full helping of Schmit. If the Eagles were Beatles, then he would be “the quiet one,” if not for his unmistakably sweet voice, then by virtue of seemingly being the humblest personality among a group of decidedly forceful ones. With his latest solo album, “Leap of Faith,” as well as the spring tour of theaters and clubs, Schmit’s asserting himself to appreciative fans who’ve long wanted the man who sang “I Can’t Tell You Why” to tell more.

Schmit recently spoke with Variety about his initially uneasy move into the solo spotlight, reassessing his life in the wake of some losses, and just what to expect — or not — from the Eagles now that hell has frozen over, again.

You have a song on your new album called “All Those Faces,” which alludes to the faces in the audience. But you probably have a hard time making out any faces in the venues where the Eagles play. Is it unnerving or exciting to have that closer contact?

It’s definitely more intimate doing this. I play some places where the people are right at my feet, and you can see their expressions. It’s kind of more like playing in your living room. It’s almost easier to play in front of thousands of people in an arena scene, in some ways, but you don’t get the personal contact.

Your image among fans is as a humble, unassuming guy, at least within the context of the Eagles. Is there any part of you thinking, “Wait, I have to fill two hours all by myself?” Or is it nice after all this time to get to hog the glory for an entire show?

Well, I think that anybody who gets up on stage, even as a little kid, on up through adulthood, if they pursue that, they’re basically saying, “Look what I can do.” Let’s not be fooled and think it’s anything else. I don’t feel like I’m hogging all the attention. The fact is, my name’s up there, and people are coming to see me because they want to, and nobody’s making anybody do that. They’re small crowds of pretty hardcore fans of mine, and I do feel pretty comfortable talking to them, as I would anybody else. But I was a little nervous about it when I first started doing it. I didn’t start [solo touring] until I was in my sixties, so I was still intimidated, because I had always been in a band situation previous to that. I’m getting used to it.

There are probably a lot fewer creature comforts than on an Eagles tour, with its jetliners. But manager Irving Azoff probably isn’t sending you out to sleep in a van outside the clubs or anything.

Actually it’s all up to me as to how I want to do it. It’s definitely not like an Eagles tour, and it’s true that I’ve been really spoiled, but I’m not suffering. I stay in good places. And I’ve always enjoyed traveling. I drove the SUV from Annapolis yesterday with one of the band members, and it was kind of fun. I don’t mind this, at all. It’s a smaller level, that’s all. I am really pleased, and maybe a little surprised—not so much anymore—that the people who come see me at these smaller venues are pretty big fans; otherwise they wouldn’t come. I’m doing what I want to do, and people seem to be enjoying it, and what more could I want? Tonight I know we’re gonna play in this beautiful theater and I’m going to see some old friends. I have a really upbeat, no-drama bunch of people surrounding me in this band that are very dedicated to doing what I want out of this. And we actually have a lot of fun, which is why any of us musicians ever started in the first place.

On your previous album, you have a song called “White Boy From Sacramento” where you poke fun at the ordinariness of your upbringing in California, and your essential whiteness. But with “I Can’t Tell You Why,” you were associated with the most R&B-based hit of the Eagles’ career. 

“White Boy from Sacramento” is just sort of a tongue-in-cheek autobiography. I hoped it came out a little humorous, but it’s really all true. The school I went to, for instance, all through high school, I don’t think there was one black face in the entire school, and it was big. Things have changed since then. I have changed. I mean, I was playing surf music with my band when a girlfriend of mine who had come from Los Angeles took me to a James Brown concert. That show really changed my whole outlook and thought processes, especially about music and different cultures.

The song “I Refuse,” from your latest album, has prompted people to wonder whether it was written about being in a band. Because in the Eagles, people have thought of you as being the peaceful guy in a sometimes volatile situation…

You know, we all go through different mood changes. I’m just a person; I’ve got all those emotions going like everybody else, and sometimes it gets the better of you. It’s maybe a harsher way of looking at: What do I own, and what do I not own, as far as other people’s issues? If I’m directly involved, what’s my part in all this? And sometimes people around you can get holier than thou, and it can rub on you the wrong way, especially if you find yourself being dragged into it. But really, nobody’s doing that but yourself. I just think that’s part of the whole thing of figuring out what’s important and what’s not.

Those big questions figure into of a lot of the album. You do a lot of soul-searching on this record, almost like you’re having a conversation with yourself at times, grappling with how you’re going to be and what you want the rest of your life to look like. Was there any circumstance that prompted this amount of introspection?

I think it’s just a natural course of things as you get older. All the major questions that have been asked for eons are still being asked, and I’m just part of that, I guess. When you realize there’s a lot less in front of you than behind, it wakes you up to the fact that you should really lose all the trivial bullshit in your life that is meaningless or doesn’t have anything to do with you. Basically, the smell-the-roses kind of thing. Because we don’t really know what’s going to happen. You can hedge your bet by being healthy and treating yourself really good, but it’s still a crapshoot. Those are the kinds of things I think about. I want to hopefully leave some sort of mark for others when it’s all over, but that’s not the most important thing to me. The most important thing is to realize how fragile life is and how it’s really essential to live your life to the fullest and be grateful for it.

Given the timing, we can probably assume this album was written before Glenn died. It’s not as if there aren’t other things in life that can put you in the mindset that we’ve got a limited time here and what do we do with it. But that tone seemed particularly appropriate with your album coming out after that.

The album was pretty much written before Glenn’s passing. Yeah, there are other people who have died who were friends of mine, and more and more that’s happening. Also, if you’ve had a couple of health issues, they’re kind of waker-uppers, because they serve a greater purpose, I think. [Schmit announced that he’d undergone surgery for throat cancer in late 2012.]

In your shows now, you’re doing “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Did that feel like a obvious choice to incorporate into your set?

People seem to really like it. It’s a tip of the hat to my old friend and cohort. And it’s a song that everybody knows, at least within a certain age range, but I’m not just some guy in a club playing one of my favorite songs. It has a lot of meaning for me. I see all kinds of emotions from people out there when I sing that. I really feel a closeness to Glenn when I do sing that. I’m going to do it maybe for a little while longer, and then I’m gonna probably move on.

To talk about the Classic West and East shows: Last year you said you didn’t foresee a band resumption, and “if we did get together on some level and made some sort of show, I would be uncomfortable calling it the Eagles. It might have to be called something else.” But with you guys, as “Hell Freezes Over” proved, things have a way of turning around. What’s your feeling about going forward?

It’s all timing. Nobody was ready. We couldn’t fathom doing this anymore, for a while. It seems like enough time has passed that we can try this out as an experiment, I suppose, and see how it works. We have no intention of replacing Glenn. That’s not really in our thought process, or in our vocabulary. We will supplement a guest or two to help us out. We had one major pow-wow, Don and Joe and I, and we will start getting into the actual set very soon, actually.

So going forward, this could be it, after these two shows, or it could go on? You seem like you’re open to things, just as a person.

As time moves on, the most amazing things can happen—or not, you know. … People still want to hear these songs, and we’ll see how it goes. I feel good about it. I think how this goes will dictate if there’s anything in the future. I never know what’s gonna happen. We don’t ever know really what’s gonna happen. I try to stay open to everything. I mean, personally, my entire career is a godsend. There are a lot of talented people out there in the world that it just isn’t going to happen for. I’m one of the lucky ones, and if I have these opportunities, I try to go into them with open arms.

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