Timothy B. Schmit is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, enjoys a solo career and of course, joined the Eagles on the now classic “The Long Run” album in 1979. He made his mark almost instantaneously with the hit single he co-wrote, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and is still with the band to this day. Timothy had already been a seasoned vocalist and bass player, performing not only in Poco but on classic hits from other performers like Steely Dan, Bob Segar and Toto. He is in the lucky position of being in one of the biggest touring bands in the world while simultaneously having an artistic outlet for his own music. I talked to Timothy recently while the Eagles were on break and he was getting set to go out on the road for a string of intimate spring shows beginning May 19th in Texas. We talked a little bit of everything, read on……
Legendary Rock Interviews: I know you had already built up a resume prior to the Eagles and of course stayed busy when the Eagles weren’t active. You and Joe Walsh played with Ringo Starr’s band and I was wondering, how important were the Beatles to your musical beginnings?
Timothy B. Schmit: The Beatles were a total inspiration to so many people of my generation. They just upped the ante on what could be done on all levels, it was big (laughs). I was actually able to see them twice, both times in San Fransisco.. The show at Candlestick Park turned out to be their last concert and I am really happy that I was able to do that. I don’t know any Beatles songs I don’t like, they’re pretty much all just amazing. I pretty much learned to sing from listening to the radio and they were of course, all over the radio. I would listen and I started getting a lot of my vocal stuff down from listening to those guys and some others but the Beatles were BIG.
LRI: Was the music you were writing in your earlier bands different from the country-rock style that Poco became known for?
Timothy: At that point I really wasn’t that much of a songwriter, I was kind of a late bloomer in that regard. I did write some things but I was very green. When I auditioned for Poco the criteria was that they were looking for a bass player who could sing, preferably in a high register and preferably also write. I told them that I could cover all three bases and then shortly after I pretty much wrote my first real song (laughs). I kind of backed myself into a corner and had to do it.
LRI: So you kind of fibbed a little bit (laughs).
Timothy: Well, you know, I really wanted it and I knew I had it in me so it wasn’t exactly an untruth. I had every intention to try and start writing some good songs but now I had to so I did. That early song I wrote was actually recorded too so it sort of all worked out.
LRI: I’ve talked to a bunch of different writers and they all sort of agree that it is something of an acquired talent. Is there an element of self-confidence involved as well?
Timothy: Hmmm, that’s an interesting question actually. I think yes and no. Yes, in that you learn to understand that it’s okay to write about whatever you want and get it out there. There have been times, for instance, where a lot of my songs have been very private. I will write them by myself and play them myself and think about it like “I really like this and I think it’s good, maybe even very good but it’s too private or personal”. Then I will inevitably rethink it and realize that if it’s obviously ringing a bell with me then it very well might resonate with somebody else. So, yeah, I think you have to be a little bit brave and able to sort of stand naked with your wares.
LRI: Was the job description to join the Eagles fairly similar to that of joining Poco, as far as the singing, playing and writing?
Timothy: Yeah. I actually knew the Eagles guys when I was still in Poco. We actually did shows together before they were known as the Eagles. The original four guys in the Eagles used to back up Linda Rondstadt and we did a show or two with them. Later on, after they became the Eagles, we were on the same bill with them again. So I knew them and they knew about my musicianship and my style prior to me joining them.
LRI: Is it true that Don Henley looked at you while listening to the final mix of your song “I Can’t Tell You Why” and said “That’s your hit single Timothy”?
Timothy: Yeah, he actually said that to me (laughs). Yeah, that was on my first Eagles album, “The Long Run”. We had a listening party for some friends and people who helped us out and we put it on, turned down the lights and cranked the whole record and had everyone listen to it. When “I Can’t Tell You Why” came on he actually said those words to me (laughs).
LRI: I realize it’s been a long time since the late seventies and you’ve written a catalog of songs since but do you recall what part of the song structure you contributed? Was it that bassline that coincides with the melody?
Timothy: Yeah, you know, it’s very fuzzy (laughs) as far as what exactly went down. I do remember I had some writing sessions with Don and Glenn and I threw out a bunch of my ideas and that one stuck. I had a pretty good part of it, not a huge part but enough for them to think “That could be good” and go with it. So, Don, Glenn and I finished it over a few all night sessions. I can’t really say for sure who contributed that bassline, I would guess that might have been a Glenn thing, but I don’t really remember.
LRI: It seemed to me that there was something of a changing of the guard somewhere in the mid-seventies and the band started going towards more of a hard rock sound rather than the laid back country California sound. Is that accurate or is there a little more to it?
Timothy: I think the seeds were planted earlier even. Bernie Leadon, one of the original members was very into country and bluegrass and Don and Glenn wanted to go in more of a R&B type of direction, for lack of a better term. I shouldn’t really speak for Bernie but I think he just didn’t like the new direction and then when he was replaced by Joe that sort of really sealed the deal as far as going into new directions musically, a much more rock direction. So by the time I was there I was really ready to contribute however I could. I was very happy to be there because, like I said, I grew up on rock and roll and all that stuff on the radio. I did listen to some folk and stuff because those were the days when everything would be on radio, everything from Motown to surf music to hard rock but my leanings were already a little towards rock. It wasn’t anything new to me, when I was in bands early on in Sacramento we played all kinds of music, including a lot of rock. We even recorded some stuff which can be found out there.
LRI: I’m sure some will disagree but to me my favorite Eagles album is the original Eagles LIVE album that you played on. That was back in the classic days when LIVE albums were just huge, was that a difficult undertaking?
Timothy: Thank you. I think it was still pretty similar to how it’s done now, except of course the equipment has changed or been updated. There’s the big mobile recording truck and the same detailed soundcheck and all that. It’s great that people still enjoy that album!
LRI: On your last solo album “EXPANDO” you came up with the title based on a brand of mobile home you used to live in. That’s amazing to many of us who just can’t picture members of a group as massive as The Eagles coming from a mobile home. What does it mean to have achieved so much coming from such a modest or working class background?
Timothy: Oh, wow. It just means so much to me, my career has far exceeded any of my expectations as a young player trying to be heard. I did grow up in a trailer house and the reason I picked that name for the album besides it having something to do with my history is also because I just loved the connotations of that word. The trailer had a feature that it expanded, it sort of references growth. It’s so amazing to consider what it means to me. I still consider myself very fortunate as a human being to be able to do this, because I did come from modest means but I have been able to see and do so much. It’s been a great run and it’s far from over. The Eagles just played Las Vegas and it was completely sold out, just a fantastic audience. Career wise, I really couldn’t ask for it to be too much better.
LRI: You were able to incorporate a great deal of those influences you’ve mentioned onto the album as well as a few guest stars including your son Ben on drums. Is that fulfilling, does it help keep things fun while you’re working?
Timothy: Yes, it really is fulfilling even though it really is a lot of work. The way I’ve been doing it lately is I make it a complete song with just an acoustic guitar and a vocal and then just build on it from there at the studio in my house. I did the whole album in my house.
LRI: It’s cool that you can do that these days.
Timothy: Yeah, it’s very cool. I was a teenager when I did my first recording and what I have in my home studio now would have been like “The Jetsons” compared to what we did back then. The technology is just unbelievable, we’ve come such a long way. By the way, I know there’s a pretty impressive list of people on the record but to be honest I didn’t really set out to do it that way and didn’t write with that in mind. It was after a certain point that I started looking at the individual tracks and thinking “Okay, who would I like to include on this or who on that” and then I just started making phone calls. I also didn’t get people like Kid Rock or Keb Mo to make the record seem impressive but really just for what they could contribute sonically.
LRI: You’re sort of experiencing what I’d call a grand ride because you get to do these artistically fulfilling and more intimate solo gigs like your current string of dates while at the same time remaining a member of The Eagles. Is it really hard to NOT be grinning ear to ear?
Timothy: I don’t know but I really am experiencing a grand ride, I like the way you put that John. I really am experiencing the best of both worlds. I get to do these big, huge gigs with The Eagles and then I get to go and do these more intimate shows in much smaller clubs as a touring solo act. It’s very challenging and scary to me but I love to do it and that’s why I’m doing more of these shows. The band I’m taking out with me for these shows is really, really great and they all get what it is I am trying to do. So far, there hasn’t been any drama, everyone enjoys their work and we all have a lot of fun. It’s a different vibe than The Eagles, nothing at all against those shows of course, they are fantastic. The Eagles just played shows in Dubai to sold out crowds, we just get to do a lot of amazing stuff that I do not take for granted but these shows are fun in a totally different way.
LRI: Do you think those periods of downtime have contributed to The Eagles longevity?
Timothy: Yeah, I do, I really do. Since 1994, this band has had quite a bit of longevity but that would not have lasted as long as it has were it not for those breaks. That probably was part of our downfall that led to our 14 year hiatus. We were just working all the time, pressure, pressure, pressure and you can’t do that. You have to take time off and be with other people, be with your family and do your own thing in order to stay fresh.
LRI: I know that some of The Eagles have gone on record as saying that the band is aware that people will always prefer to hear the hits rather than new material but the LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN album sold more units than most bands could ever dream of moving in this day and age. People still turned out to buy the new Eagles, does that make it hard to resist doing a follow-up?
Timothy: Well, the buck doesn’t stop with me in the band, we all meet to discuss those things and while I have a voice, I’m hardly the only voice. It doesn’t make it hard to not attempt a follow-up because it’d be a lot easier to NOT do another record(laughs). It’s very difficult. I mean, there’s a lot of decisions to be made and a lot of personality input and everybody’s quite a bit more separate these days simply because we’re older, we have families, we’re not all running around together in a pack like bands tend to do when they’re young and hungry. It’s just a different vibe. I would love to do another one, I would endure that (laughs). It just takes so long that I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. I’m not gonna rule it out though.
LRI: Well congrats on the success of the Eden album, it’s such a major bright spot to hear of bands that can get people out to pick up an album.
Timothy: Thank you, it is, it really is, I mean nobody is really doing well as far as album sales. As far as the sales of my solo stuff goes, I don’t expect anything. I do that almost as a passion, it’s almost like one of my hobbies (laughs). I have time, I don’t have any parameters and I can make all my own decisions, they aren’t collaborations so it’s truly pretty fulfilling.
LRI: Before I let you go, there was just another class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees that were up onstage in Cleveland. What does that trophy mean to you now that you’ve had a few years to put it in perspective?
Timothy: It’s pretty amazing to me really. I have a few Grammys and AMA’s and it’s all great stuff. It means that you’re appreciated, everybody likes a pat on the back and that’s like a very large hug you know? It’s really, really great and I’m truly thankful to have it. It does amaze me sometimes when I see who’s finally been inducted since we were in 1996. I see someone like Donovan get in this year and it does make me stop and think like “How is it possible that I got inducted before someone like that who I used to listen to and really study the records of?”. It amazes me but I’m glad he’s in and I’m in good company. It’s all good.
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