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The recent reunion of the Eagles thrilled a disturbingly large number of the nation's music lovers, who gladly handed over wads of bills for the privilege of seeing the outfit play note-for-note renditions of its Seventies staples. Not everyone jumped on the band's wagon: Glenn Frey's suggestion (in Rolling Stone) that the $100-plus ticket prices some fans paid were reasonable if prorated over twelve or thirteen years won him deserved derision from critics and listeners turned off by the greed of the entire spectacle. But the Eagles '94 didn't seem to care. After all, the tour and a subsequent CD (the ultrasuccessful Hell Freezes Over) raised them several tax brackets in a matter of months.
For these and loads of other reasons, bassist Randy Meisner deserves to be the angriest man on the planet. You see, Meisner was a co-founder and full member of the Eagles, and he contributed to each of the act's discs through its biggest smash, 1976's Hotel California. But when the gravy train pulled out of the station last year, he was not on board. Frey and co-conspirator Don Henley didn't even bother to inform him that they were putting the group together again.
In conversation, Meisner doesn't seem all that mad. His tone betrays hurt and frustration, but he does his best to convey that he has accepted the situation and is looking toward the future. There are only a few instances that hint that Meisner is what most of us would be in his circumstances: deeply pissed off.
During one such moment, Meisner says, "What bothers me is the way they're lying about everything--about nobody else having anything to do with the Eagles except them. That's just a lie. I mean, they're getting all this money anyhow. The least they could do is tell the truth."
This reaction was precipitated by a series of Eagles-oriented programs aired on the VH-1 cable channel late in 1994. Meisner, perhaps feeling a bit masochistic, watched many of these at his modest home in Studio City, a not-very-trendy suburb north of Los Angeles, and he was not pleased by what he saw as an almost Orwellian effort to rewrite history.
"The first night they had something from the BBC, some kind of TV show we did over in England," he recounts. "And then they showed this Don Kirshner's Rock Concert episode we did, and we had Linda [Ronstadt] and Jackson [Browne] and J.D. [Souther] and I think even David Lindley on with us. But then Wednesday night it was the Don and Glenn show. And they were supposedly giving the history of the group, but I think my name was only said once--like, `In 1977 Randy Meisner left the band.' Like I didn't collaborate on anything. And that's just so wrong."
As Meisner tells it, the real story of his career goes something like this:
A native of Nebraska, Meisner cut his musical teeth in groups such as the Dynamics--"I think they still exist in Scotts Bluff," he says. He left this combo to join the Soul Survivors. According to Meisner, "They were really successful in Denver. I met them when the Dynamics were in a Battle of the Bands contest with them, and when they lost their bass player, they asked me if I wanted to join and move to L.A. with them."
The Soul Survivors didn't exactly take the West Coast by storm. The players were befriended by the members of the Backporch Majority, a group that was in something like vogue during the mid-Sixties, but, Meisner admits, "We didn't realize how much competition there was out here. We ended up all living in a one-bedroom apartment that cost $80 a month and sleeping on the floor. My jacket was my first pillow. We really had nothing at all." Changing the band's name to a more appropriate moniker, the Poor, didn't help matters much; Meisner and company cut a handful of singles for a tiny label called Loma, but they earned little notice.
Things began to improve after Meisner became acquainted with the players in one of the last configurations of the Buffalo Springfield, best known for the track "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" and a lineup that included future stars Stephen Stills and Neil Young. When the Springfield broke up in 1968, two of the departing musicians, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, decided to form a country-rock group they eventually dubbed Poco. When Meisner arrived at an audition for the act, he says, "Timmy Schmit [who replaced him in the Eagles in 1977] was just walking out. But I got the job."
It didn't last long. Meisner played on Pickin' Up the Pieces, an album generally regarded as a country-rock landmark. But during the final stages of the recording, Meisner remembers, "I called down to the studio where Jimmy and Richie were mixing the songs down, and I asked if I could listen to the mixes. And Richie answered, `No, we don't want anybody to hear them.' And I said, `I'm not just anybody, I happened to play on them and sing on them.' And I said, `Gosh, if that's the way it's going to be, I really don't feel that it's a group. Maybe I should leave.' And Richie said, `Okay,' and that's all there was to it." Meisner adds that he blamed Messina for the argument until he arrived at sessions for a Poco reunion album cut several years ago: "I said, `Here's what happened,' and he said, `God, I didn't know that.' It turns out that it was Richie, not Jimmy, who didn't want me there that day--and we didn't talk for twenty years because of it. We had a good laugh over that, and now Jimmy and Richie and I are good friends again."