Glenn Frey, guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and founding member of the Eagles, died on Monday. Frey and the Eagles are deeply associated with the culture of the American West Coast of the 1970s, as evidenced by their centrality to the country-rock scene that emerged from Los Angeles at that time, as well as the huge hit "Hotel California" and the album of the same name, which included lyric imagery of freeways, Hollywood parties and "tequila sunrises."
However, it was in Colorado that the Eagles actually became the Eagles.
Formed in 1970 as a kind of supergroup backing tour band for Linda Ronstadt, the group quickly secured management with David Geffen. Using the name "Eagle," the original lineup included Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. In 1971, Geffen sent them to Aspen to complete a month-long residency at the Gallery Club. There the musicians honed their chops and collaborative songwriting, as well as their cohesive performance style. As Tom Murphy wrote in his obituary for Frey, "Even with its collective pedigree, it was during that month in Aspen that the Eagles evolved from a group of talented musicians into a very tight band."
In a way, Frey and Henley never really left. Both founding members purchased houses around Aspen, and Frey visited his home there a few times a year for the rest of his life. According to Colorado's Rock Chronicles, by G. Brown, published by the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, Frey said, "After the shows at the Gallery, I swore if I ever made a dime in the music business, I wanted to have a house there. It’s a good place to practice. If you can sing in Aspen’s thin air, you can sing anywhere.”
Okay, the rock stars loved Aspen. We get it. But what's up with Frey's affinity for University of Colorado T-shirts (in more than one color)?
Turns out CU holds a special place in the band's history. In December 1971, "Eagle" left Aspen and played a five-night stint at Tulagi, the now-defunct "3.2 beer nightclub on Boulder's University Hill," according to Chronicles. The shows were booked by Chuck Morris, now the CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains, who at the time was a student at the University of Colorado. The band was paid $100 per night, and the finals-week crowds for the relatively fledgling band numbered between eight and fifty people. Still, the bandmembers were confident they were on their way to major success.
"We had it all planned," Frey said. "We’d watched landmark country-rock bands like Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers lose their initial momentum. We were determined not to make the same mistakes. This was going to be our best shot. Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good and write good. We wanted it all. Peer respect. AM and FM success. No. 1 singles and albums. Great music. And a lot of money.”
According to Brown's book, one "beered-up patron kept screaming, 'Play some Burritos, ma-a-a-an!'" — referencing Leadon's previous stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Soon after these early shows, the band flew to England and produced its first record — and what followed was all the success Frey had predicted. The Eagles returned regularly to play in Colorado, including more performances at CU. According to a 2013 blog post by David Plati, CU associate athletic director and sports-information director, the band would often trade tickets and backstage passes for university-branded gear.
Perhaps Frey just liked how those CU tees fit, perhaps wearing the logo served as a shout-out to the many Colorado friends the band made over the years. And perhaps the CU shirts were a reminder of the moment just before the Eagles became one of the biggest bands in the world. The moment when a few musicians played for a nearly empty room and some dude hollered for Flying Burritos Brothers tunes — to which Frey reportedly replied, "We're a new group with our own songs."