I love a good quitting story. And Bernie Leadon, the man who formed and quit the Eagles, probably has the best one ever.
I started looking into Leadon because I found out he was a member of Gram Parson’s band The Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons, like The Dude, fucking hated the Eagles, man. Some of that hate must have stemmed from professional jealousy. While Parson’s “cosmic American” mix of rock, R&B and country never gained any significant traction with record buyers, the Eagles enjoyed immediate, immense commercial success with their country rock mix. Also, he probably genuinely thought they were soulless and lame, too.
I love the Burrito Brothers. Nothing would make me happier than to report that the first four Eagles albums have hidden gems written or co-written by Leadon. With one notable exception, this is not the case. The Leadon songs are every bit as forgettable as the ones written by Frey and Henley. Like, he co-wrote “Witchy Woman,” a song that has never failed to make me feel tired.
But that’s OK. Leadon didn’t have to make great music with the Eagles. He had already made great music with the Flying Burrito Brothers, a band that will surely be cultishly adored by crate digging rock nerds for the rest of time. And, anyway, he left the Eagles like a fucking hero.
For the impact of this to make sense, you have to understand that Glen Frey and Don Henley, the men who implored America to take it easy, were neurotic control freak cokeheads. When they started out, the Eagles were supposed to be Leadon’s band. Frey and Henley edged him out and took over. The band increasingly strayed from its country rock roots and Leadon wasn’t into doing arena rock, so one night after a show, he quit.
Well, he didn’t exactly say he quit. What he actually did was pour an entire bottle of Budweiser on Glen Frey’s head without saying a word and calmly walked out. I like to think they maintained eye contact the whole time. In his autobiography, former Eagles guitarist Don Felder said Frey didn’t say anything until Leadon was safely out of the room. That’s some real straight up cowardice right there. I hope somebody revoked his “Desperado” license.
With Leadon out of the picture, the Eagles and their management panicked and put out a greatest hits album that would go on to sell 42 million copies. That album incidentally includes “Witchy Woman.” Let’s assume Leavon gets a penny per album, which is a crazy low estimate. That’s $420,000 for an album he didn’t have to lift a finger to make. Leadon didn’t make another album until 1985.
And, as I mentioned earlier, there is a notable exception to the mostly undistinguished songs Leadon wrote with the Eagles. And, man, is it notable. Leadon wrote “The Journey of the Sorcerer,” which would later become the theme for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and be the only song that ever made me say “holy shit, that’s the fucking Eagles.
Also, Ron and Nancy Reagan disowned their daughter Patti Davis over Patti’s out of wedlock living situation with Leadon. I don’t know if Leadon ever poured any beer over the Gipper’s head, but I’d like to think he would have if the situation called for it.