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 after learning he was a member of Gram Parson’s band The Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons, like the Dude, fucking hated the Eagles, man. His “cosmic American” mix of rock and country never sold well and the Eagles enjoyed immediate and immense commercial success with a similar mix of ingredients country rock mix. Also, he probably thought they were soulless and lame.
I love the Burrito Brothers. I’d be delighted if Leadon wrote gems hidden on the first four Eagles albums. But with one notable exception, the Leadon songs are as forgettable as Frey’s and Henley’s. The best known is “Witchy Woman,” a song that always makes me feel tired and a little dead inside.
But Leadon didn’t have to make great music with the Eagles. He made great music with the Burrito Brothers, a band that will be cultishly adored by rock nerds for the rest of time. And he left the Eagles like a fucking hero.
Glen Frey and Don Henley, the men who implored America to take it easy, were neurotic control freak coke-heads. The Eagles were supposed to be Leadon’s band but Frey and Henley edged him out. 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 quit. He poured an entire bottle of Budweiser over 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 was quiet until Leadon was safely out of the room. That’s some 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 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 is the only worthwhile song in the Eagle’s catalog.
Also, Leadon had a relationship with Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis.Ron and Nancy Reagan almost disowned their daughter over it. 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.