Last night at Madison Square Garden in New York, the opening night of their farewell tour, the Eagles took a sobering pause in their usual airtight set of hits. Hushing the crowd, Don Henley began talking about longtime band friend Jimmy Buffett, who had died six days before, at 76, of skin cancer. After half joking that Buffett was clearly enjoying a cheeseburger somewhere, Henley added, “We always laughed and said, ‘We survived the Seventies together.’ Jimmy was one of the hardest-working men I ever saw, but he made work look like play. He brought joy to everything he did.”
To further salute Buffett, the band then played two of his songs, “Come Monday” and “Fins,” for the first time ever. (At another point in the show, Henley dedicated “Take It to the Limit” to the band’s original bass player, Randy Meisner, who died this summer as well.)
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The bond between the band and Buffett extended back at least to 1977, when Buffett opened some shows on their original Hotel California tour (including one at the Garden). Buffett joined in on “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” on The Long Run, and during the band’s lengthy hiatus, bassist Timothy B. Schmit was briefly a touring member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. Schmit talked with Rolling Stone about that back story and the decision to cover Buffett’s songs — for, it turns out, one night only.
What are your earlier memories of Jimmy?
When I was in Poco and we were on ABC Records, I had a friend there who eventually became a road manager, and he turned me on to Jimmy’s music — the A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean album. He always related to the common man. He just talked their language. People thought, “God, I can relate to this guy singing about me and what I would like to do.” I even read an article recently about how, even though the fashion world never said anything or talked about him, he actually created quite a style, fashion-wise, which was flip flops, shorts and flowered shirts.
I’m not really sure how Don, Glenn [Frey] and Joe [Walsh] met him, but we mainly started hanging out together after I joined the Eagles. We were recording the Long Run album in Miami . He dropped by because he had just finished an album. We were well into a year of recording that album, and I said, “Oh, you just finished an album? How long did that take?” He said, “19 days.” And I thought, “Oh my God, it’s not like that here.”
How did he end up on “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”?
That was probably that night when he was visiting. The memories are fuzzy, for obvious reasons. We were pretty much partiers, and there was a lot of substances and alcohol going around, and we just had fun. That was obviously a goofy song. It’s tongue in cheek, and we treated the whole record that way. When it was time to put in the background party atmosphere, there was no problem doing that. He just joined in.
You toured with Buffett for a few summers in the Eighties. How did that happen?
Well, the Eagles had broken up. And after I had confirmed that with Glenn, it seemed tortuously final to me, and I had to figure out what to do. I had already sung on a bunch of other people’s records, but I needed to do stuff. Out of the blue, we were at an afternoon party at the Chateau Marmont. I don’t remember the occasion. Jimmy was there and said to me, “What are you doing this summer? We’re missing a bass player and we could use another singer. Do you want to go out for the summer?” And I said I’d consider if the conditions are right. And the conditions were right. [Laughs] And so I said, “Sure, why not?” I got together with one of the other musicians, Vince Melamed, and woodshedded the songs. When I started learning them, that’s when I started getting into what he was all about. He was a good writer. He knew how to turn a phrase.
We had a lot of fun on that tour. It was pretty much party mode. I would marvel at the crowd he brought in. For me, personally, it was a lot different because I had been an equal member of a band, and here I was definitely in the background on this show. But Jimmy let me sing a song, [the Eagles’] “I Can’t Tell You Why.” He would just walk offstage and to give it to me. I didn’t ask him to do that. But I think it was right in that he was paying me a compliment and showing people, I guess, where I’d come from. It was generous. He didn’t have to do that.
How did you hear about his passing?
I’d been hearing he wasn’t that well for quite a while, but then I heard he was back home. And as often happens, I was going to call him up to see how he was doing. And other parts of my life kept getting in the way. I didn’t know how critical it was. Then I got on the plane about a week ago to come here to New York to rehearse for the shows, and Don said, “Buffett’s in really, really bad shape. He might have a day or a week.” I thought, “Shit.” And within a day, I heard he had passed. I’m really sorry I didn’t get to see him. I was saddened by that.
Between that and Randy Meisner’s passing, it must have been a rough summer in the Eagles camp.
Randy was an important part of my story. I was part of the private memorial we had for him at the Troubadour in L.A., just a small crowd of invited people. When my turn to say something came, I talked about the incredible professional karmic tie we had. I replaced him in Poco. And then I replaced him in the Eagles. I never worked closely with Randy, but we were always really friendly. We were glad to see each other when we did.
What made the band decide to do a two-song tribute to Buffett last night?
Well, Irving [Azoff, Eagles manager] and Don had a powwow about that and decided. They wanted me to sing because I had been musically involved with Jimmy. I helped write one song with him and sang on a two or three of his records as well as on tour. So they thought it would be appropriate for me to do one of the more serious ones. It was actually between “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and “Come Monday,” and we all decided that “Come Monday” might be a little more of a singalong. So I just started studying it. I don’t feel I did a great job. But I’m glad I did it. You know, people seemed to enjoy it.
Then we had Joe do “Fins,” because it’s one of the wackier, fun songs Jimmy wrote. And that is the definition of Joe. Part of his whole persona is fun and wacky.
Those songs showed me there are a lot of fans of Jimmy’s in our audience. They were singing along to “Come Monday,” and I saw some people be really moved. On “Fins,” they did that little fin dance. So it was a good reaction.
Given Buffett passed away less than a week before the show, how much time did you have to rehearse?
Two or three days, because we had to rehearse other stuff, too.
Will those songs be a regular part of the set now for the tour?
Our tribute now is done. We feel like that was adequate and honorable and respectful. And we’re going to just go be Eagles again. It was a one-off thing. We don’t feel we need to beat that into the ground. But it was a heartfelt tribute.
His passing has reminded people that you came up with the term “Parrot Heads.” How did that happen?
We were heading into one of those sheds on one of those summer tours [in the Eighties]. I can’t remember where it was, but I was riding in his car, which I often did. The only way you could get into the venue was to go through a crowd of people who were going to the venue too and walking, because they had to park far away.
People noticed the car, which was probably a stretch limo or something, and they were all trying to peek in, mostly from a distance. They weren’t crawling over the car or anything. And I said to Jimmy, “You should stand up through the sunroof and do the papal wave.”
We laughed, but more and more people were noticing the car going through, and I said, “Wow, you’ve got your own Deadheads. But these are Parrot Heads. You’ve got your own Parrot Heads.” I don’t remember his reaction. I’m sure he had that grin he always had. But he took it and ran with it [laughs]. It’s kind of a cool thing. It’s not anything I thought about at all. At that moment, it seemed obvious to me.
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