All I seem to be doing with this blog lately is write obituaries. This week we lost two more from the 1970s rock scene, with the death of Mott The Hoople’s drummer Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin at age 69, followed by the loss of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey at 67.
‘Buffin’ (or Terence Dale Griffin, to give him his full name) had been ill for several years, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at just 58 years of age. He was a founding member of Mott The Hoople, a British glam rock outfit who were a major influence on many bands who followed. Mott The Hoople scored several UK hits in the 1970s including ‘All The Young Dudes’ (written by the recently-passed David Bowie) and ‘All The Way From Memphis. Buffin and Mott bassist Pete Overend Watts later went into production, notably working with 80s glamsters Hanoi Rocks on their ‘Back To Mystery City’ album.
Mott The Hoople played a series of reunion shows in 2009; Buffin’s place was filled by Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, although he was still fit enough then to be able to perform during the band’s encore.
Bands such as Queen, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe all cited Mott The Hoople as a band who influenced their own careers; Queen even namechecked them in their own song ‘Now I’m Here’ (‘Down in the city, just Hoople and me’) while Def Leppard’s vocalist Joe Elliott has gone on to cover several of their songs with his occasional band Down n Outz.
Perhaps the last word should go to Buffin; in an interview with Classic Rock magazine some years back he said he was unsure if he had been an influence on any drummers, “but if I have, I feel sorry for them!”
The announcement this week of the death of Glenn Frey did catch many by surprise (myself included). It was reported that he had also been ill for some time, having undergone surgery for a long-term intestinal problem. However he had not long completed a mammoth world tour with the Eagles, which concluded in July 2015. A year previously, he and the Eagles had played a series of UK dates including a stop at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. I attended that show and would never have thought that he was ill at all, as he performed a long set and fronted the veteran band through their back catalogue of hits.
The Eagles formed as a result of a decision by Frey and fellow founder Don Henley to start their own band, after having backed singer Linda Ronstadt on her 1971 tour. Alongside guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner, they became one of the biggest-selling bands of the 1970s, with Frey co-writing many of their best-loved songs. Guitarist Don Felder joined the band in 1974 and was soon accompanied by Joe Walsh, as Leadon dropped out of the band before they recorded their signature album, ‘Hotel California’.
After ‘Hotel California’ the group were superstars, but the success took its toll on the band who were by this time in the grip of substance addictions, and it would be three years before they released their follow-up album ‘The Long Run’. In those days, bands were expected to issue at least an album a year, and the lack of a record to sell hurt their label badly. When ‘The Long Run’ finally came out, it was critically panned, but still sold. By this time the members were at each others’ throats, with one notorious incident on stage between Frey and Felder where they were threatening each other, even as they played and sang in close harmony. They eventually broke up in 1980 after issuing the ‘Eagles Live’ album, with both founding members enjoying solo hits. Frey also starred in an episode of 1980s crime series ‘Miami Vice’, which yielded the hit single ‘Smugglers Blues’.
In 1994 the Eagles reunited and issued the part-live, part-studio album ‘Hell Freezes Over’. The title referred to a quote from Henley that the group would reunite ‘when Hell freezes over’, and in the live section of the album, Frey famously introduced the band by declaring on the record that they had merely taken ‘a fourteen-year vacation’. The group toured once again, and enjoyed some years of success before problems between Frey and Felder again reared their head, resulting in Felder’s departure in 2001. The group continued as a four-piece backed by additional musicians, and recruited guitarist Steuart Smith to play in Felder’s place for the road. In 2007 they issued a new studio album ‘Long Road Out of Eden’, and embarked upon another mammoth world tour. Following that tour, Frey issued his first solo album in 20 years (‘After Hours’) which featured a selection of covers.
In 2013 the documentary ‘History Of The Eagles’ was released, featuring interviews with band members past and present (including Don Felder). The band then went on the road one final time, with the show opening with the two founders coming on stage to play acoustically, gradually joined by the rest of the band. For that tour, former guitarist Bernie Leadon was tempted out of exile and played alongside his former bandmates while between songs, Frey and Henley offered explanations on how the band came together.
Frey was scheduled to appear at the Kennedy Center Honors in November 2015 but his illness prevented that, with the group postponing that appearance. Following his death it is unlikely the Eagles will continue, and tributes have flooded in during this week – including one from his former bandmate Don Felder.
As stated in the post title, with so many legends being lost to us already this year it does feel like an era is coming to a close, but the music made by these greats will be listened to for many years to come.