By Noah Hubbell
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By Dave Herrerra
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Upon leaving Poco, Meisner became part of Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, playing on and off with the former teen heartthrob for a couple of years. On a date in San Jose in 1971, Nelson's troupe was on the same bill with Ronstadt, whose sidemen at the time included Frey and Henley. "I mentioned to Glenn and Don, `This sounds pretty good. We ought to get a group together,'" Meisner recalls. "And Glenn kind of said, `Yeah, we should.' That's where it all started--although you won't hear that on TV.
"When the Eagles started, I was the best-known one in the band. I remember when Poco would play the Troubador, Glenn and Don would be in front of the stage, drooling and wishing they were in the band. But they'd never admit that now."
The Eagles' self-titled first album (recorded with Meisner, Frey, Henley and guitarist/former Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon) was released in 1972, and the song "Take It Easy," co-written by Browne, became a smash. It was followed by plenty of others: "Witchy Woman," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Already Gone," "Best of My Love" and, in 1976, "Take It to the Limit," which was sung and mainly penned by Meisner. But behind the scenes, tensions were rising. Leadon left in 1975, shortly after Don Felder came aboard as a second guitarist; he felt, according to Meisner, as if Frey and Henley were becoming too dictatorial. Joe Walsh replaced Leadon, and the country flavor that had been the Eagles' early calling card began to dissipate in favor of a rockier base. That was fine by Meisner--but what he didn't like was the increasing sense that he was being looked upon as nothing more than a sideman.
"Don and Glenn were taking over at that point, and all of a sudden it was, `We don't need you. You're just a player in the group,'" he claims. "I wasn't feeling part of it anymore. So finally, I just left."
Once on his own, Meisner signed a management contract with the Eagles' overseer, Irving Azoff, but that ended after about a year: "I heard through the grapevine that Don and Glenn had a problem with that, so Irving cut me off," Meisner says. Nonplussed, Meisner made three solo albums that spawned a trio of minor Top 40 hits--"Deep Inside My Heart," "Hearts on Fire" and "Never Been in Love"--between 1980 and 1982. After that, though, shifting musical fashion doomed his future projects. He drifted for a decade before hooking up with singer-songwriter Allan Rich, son of the eclectic country performer Charlie Rich, and Billy Swan, a critically praised artist who scored a number-one hit in 1974 with "I Can Help" before sinking into obscurity. As Meisner, Rich and Swan, the threesome--supplemented by guitarist Vern Monnet and former Dan Fogelberg drummer Ron Grinel--is working up original material and hoping to land a major-label contract. Thus far, no bites.
Which no doubt makes the Eagles slight even more annoying to Meisner. When word about Common Thread, an album-length salute to the music of the Eagles by established country stars such as Travis Tritt, began to circulate, Meisner and Leadon, who now lives in Nashville, hoped to participate in its recording. Because they were not invited, Meisner did his best to put subsequent rumors of an Eagles reunion out of his mind.
"I thought, if that's what they want, why push?" he says. "But then my accountant called and said, `I don't want you to go against what you believe in, but if you could just call, you should.' So I called Irving and said, `Hope everything's going okay.' And then I said, `Hey, I heard that the Eagles are getting back together.' And at that point he said, `Sorry, I've got to go. I'll say hi to Don for you,' and hung up."
The new Eagles, including bassist Timothy B. Schmit (who contributed to only one of the band's studio albums, 1979's The Long Run), played Los Angeles a few months after the brief chat with Azoff. "Stuff about the reunion was all over the TV all the time, and they were playing `Take It to the Limit' on the radio again," Meisner notes. "And I'm thinking, gee whiz, I wish they'd reunited with the guys who were actually in the group. And then they rerecorded all the old songs on that new CD, just to make sure that Bernie and I wouldn't get a penny of royalties from them."
This conspiracy theory aside, Meisner says he's happy with how things are going for him. He insists that he likes playing small venues because he can meet fans face-to-face, and that he doesn't mind lugging his own amp just like he did in days gone by. He's equally effusive about the music of Meisner, Rich and Swan, and asserts that it's only a matter of time before a record label will bring the configuration to a wider audience. He even allows that the Eagles reunion might bring him a few extra dollars as a result of listeners intrigued by Hell Freezes Over dropping by their CD store and picking up copies of discs Meisner does play on.