The Timothy B. Schmit Interview
When you think about it, Timothy B. Schmit has led a truly blessed existence. Which isn't to say the veteran bassist and vocalist hasn’t pay his dues, because he most certainly has and then some. But then things started happening when he replaced Randy Meisner in Poco. And then he replaced Meisner again, this time in the Eagles. On his first Eagles album, 1979's The Long Run, he managed to snag the lead vocal spot for "I Can't Tell You Why," the album's second Top 10 single. He went on to lend his unique voice to records by Crosby, Stills & Nash and Steely Dan.
Schmit spent the 80s making solo albums, touring and collaborating with others, but he's been the rock solid foundation on bass with the reformed Eagles since 1994. And by the looks of things, he's not going anywhere. Of course, being in the Eagles affords you certain luxuries, one of which is making solo albums more organically and personal than to the demands of a record company who took you in after your band broke up (that happened a lot in the 80s).
These days, with the Eagles as his top priority, Schmit took on the task of piecing together his most recent solo album, 2009’s Expando, when ever time allowed. Surprisingly, the album does not have a disjointed feeling of being recorded in steps; rather, it carries a consistent, upbeat tone throughout, enough to warrant random solo tours in between Eagles commitments. The most recent, as of press time, is a three-week jaunt through the southern and eastern regions of the U.S., beginning May 18 (2012). During the following conversation with Timothy B. Schmit, we talk about the tour, Expando, the Eagles, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and Jimmy Buffett.
You’re hitting the road on May 18 for three weeks. Tell me a little about what you have planned.
Well, I’m going on the road. I’ve been really busy with the Eagles and I just did our second to last show of the year in New Orleans at the Jazz Fest. We just played for 55,000 people. I’m going to go out and do some shows for 300 to 12,000 viewers. We’re going to do three and half weeks and I think 13 shows and I’m really looking forward to it.
So you're covering parts of the midwest and the east?
You can go to my web site, timothybschmit.com, and see the whole thing. I do three shows actually in Texas, and then I shoot over to Florida. Then I go up and do New York and Jersey.
Is going on these smaller tours sort of a break for you from the Eagles?
Well, yes, of course it is.
A nice break, I should say.
It’s just an extension of what I do. I never really did solo tours until a couple of years ago, so I really started late in my career. I think it’s a combination of me not being sure about it and also, honestly, the material that I thought would be worthy of a really good show. I wrote and recorded my last album, Expando, and I’ve been ready to do this. I have a bunch of songs that are worthy of a show. Do most of that album and sprinkle it with some of my history and I think we could do good. I put together a really good band; we really have fun. The whole thing is different from the Eagles, and that’s not to imply it’s not fun to do Eagles shows because I really enjoy that too. It’s just different. The buck stops with me. I get to be the one who decides everything rather than it being others or some kind of compromise. So yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.
So you said you’re going to be mostly doing stuff from your new album Expando. Are you going to be doing stuff from your other solo albums? Like any of your 80s stuff?
I do one from my previous album, a song from the Feed The Fire album. Honestly, back when I did my first three albums, I was all over the map. I was not, as a solo artist and as a writer, I was really…I mean, if I go back and listen to any of that stuff, some of it I really like. Some of it, I’m not sure what was going on. Except for the fact that I used to collaborate a lot. I had a lot of writing partners because I wasn’t even strong myself as a writer I feel back then. I would prefer other ideas, They always seemed a little bit foreign, but I went with them anyway. Not in every case, but in a lot of cases.
The songs I really liked the best, really inside, deep inside, were the ones that I wrote myself on this past album. So, it’s kind of cool to have these revelations so late in my career because it makes it feel not so late. It makes me feel like there’s an energy that’s usually associated with someone earlier in their career and younger. So it’s really nice. I’m really sort of driven now more than ever to keep doing this. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of work. It takes me a long time to do an album because I do it all myself and writing it all myself. Some songs come quicker than others, like anything, but normally it kind of takes me a while to do another one.
Expando is something you worked on between your Eagles touring commitments. You have some incredible musicians on this album: Garth Hudson, Graham Nash, Van Dyke Parks, Benmont Tench, Kid Rock, Jim Keltner. What inspired you to bring in these particular players to perform your songs?
I didn’t start out any of these songs with that idea of having. These songs were not written around any of these people. There were some vocals I didn’t want to do myself because it’s too much of me. I wanted different textures. I would think, “Who would be the best one for this?” I would really think tall, I would think high. I would think, “I wonder if so-and-so would want to do this,” and I would find their phone number and call them up. In most cases, people accepted. I would say 95 percent of people I called to do certain things accepted my offer and came over to my studio.
For instance, there’s a song called “Parachute.” To me, it was really effortless in writing it. I thought this really sounds CSNish, you know. So I just embraced that image and called Graham (Nash). Why not get the guy, you know? I’ve been a fan of Keb' Mo' for a long time. I didn’t know him but I got him on the phone. I had no idea if he’d be interested at all. And he came over too. We’ve become friends since then. I knew Kid Rock somewhat because I run into him all the time in Malibu, ran into him once in London. We started talking, exchanged phone numbers; we’ve been to each other’s houses. I just asked him if he was interested in singing one and he said, “Yeah, sure let’s do it.” Same with everybody, that’s how it went.
I would think that you are writing songs constantly; not only for yourself but for the Eagles. Do you have a method of choosing? “OK, this one would work for the Eagles, this one I want to save for myself.” Do you have that kind of process?
Uh, no. (laughs) I just write. I just write what comes out of me. There are certain songs that would be best for the band, but it’s not necessarily a shared thought (laughs). I just write as much as I can, and like I said, it’s kind of a slow process for me. So, I don’t have a big backlog of written songs. But I have started my new record.
I was wondering about that.
Just barely, because I finally got a couple things ready to go. And then I went on tour. I started recording and then I went on tour with the Eagles. I’m calling from New York. I’ve got to go home next week and rehearse the band and then leave by the weekend to go do my first show. So I’m gonna have to quit this, halt this, for a little while so I can go do more writing and recording. I like to stay busy, it keeps me happy.
Sounds like you’re real busy. You know, I really like Expando. A fantastic bass player and a truly gifted singer too whose not only sang solo and on Eagles records, but with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Steely Dan. I was listening to one of the songs, “I Don’t Mind,” and was thinking how your voice reminds me of Carl Wilson.
Really? Wow (laughs).
I was just blown away, really. As a singer, how mind-blowing is it when you come into the Eagles and you sing a Top 10 hit like “I Can’t Tell You Why”? I mean, you’re brand new in the band and boom. What was that feeling like?
Well, you can imagine, you know, it was dreamy. I mean, this is the kind of thing I had envisioned or desired and for many, many years thought it was way out of my league completely as a teenager. You start playing, playing for people, you might get a gig opening up for somebody who comes through town, which the band I was in used to do a lot. Then you hear yourself on the radio and it doesn’t get any better than that. And then if your career keeps on going — not on a straight incline by the way, there are some definite bumps — but as your career continues and if it keeps getting better…you get asked to be part of one of the biggest bands in the world, and the first song you record is a song you helped write and you hear it on the radio, it’s good…it’s great. I’m really, really fortunate. There’s a lot of real talented people out there with much more talent than me who just don’t get these kind of chances.
You said earlier the Eagles have pretty much wound down for the year.
We only did a handful of shows this year. We finished two shows in Atlanta and then we did the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I think we’re only going do one more show and it’s way back, it’s far away, it’s in November and we’re going to go back to Vegas again.
There’s a two reasons. Both Glenn (Frey) and Joe (Walsh) have albums being released. I think Glenn’s album (After Hours) is being released today actually, and Joe’s got an album coming out (Analog Man), and they’re going to be out promoting. And Don (Henley) is in the studio finishing up his country record. So, I said, “I’m going to go out and do some shows again.”
I read a press release that said you guys were going to be hitting the road later, celebrating your 40th anniversary.
I think everybody thought we were going to go out this year and have this big deal. It’s not working out that way. But next year looks pretty good for a heavy Eagles year. There’s talk of revamping the show and having new production and maybe having a different slant at the show. I hope it goes as long as possible because it’s kind of a win-win situation for everybody. It keeps us out there and alive and we still have a really huge audience and everything to be grateful for.
You guys have been back together longer than you were originally together. I guess it’s kind of working out this time.
(Laughs) I think so.
Back in 2007, you made Long Road Out Of Eden. Is there any talk of doing a second record?
I don’t know. There’s not really much talk about recording again. It does comes up sometimes, but I have my doubts. But I’ve had my doubts before. So I have no idea.
In 1998, the Eagles were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I’m sure there’s been a lot of controversy about what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all means and why some acts are in it and others are not. Do you have any opinion about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Or as a member are you forbidden to comment? (laughs)
No, I’m not forbidden to comment. It’s a great concept and I’m honored to be in it. Honestly, I was a little conflicted. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was younger back then; it was fairly new. I was a little conflicted about whether I really deserved to be in it as the Eagles. I was not an original member and a lot of the big hits had already happened before I entered the Eagles. I questioned that and I talked to people about that. And their policy was any members of the band, past or present. Well…OK, I accept that. I’m not saying I’m not worthy or anything…maybe I am, I don’t know. I’m not saying that, I just questioned my eligibility. But then they said, “No, you’ve been a part of the band for a long time.” But I mean, what do you do with bands like Santana or even Fleetwood Mac? Some of these bands who continually changed members.
They’d have to rent a separate room just for all the former members.
It seems like they’d have to have a cut-off point at some level.
I’ve actually heard that they’ve tightened the rules up a little bit. Red Hot Chili Peppers were recently inducted and I think somebody who played on one of their records was not inducted with them. There was some rule set in place about that.
The way I resolved it for myself is, we all got a chance to speak and I just said the truth: “I was not in this band when it started and its rise to success, but this guy behind me, Randy Meisner, was,” and I thanked him for it. That kind of made it OK for me in my head. I don’t really know any of the other controversial stuff. I don’t really follow it.
Yeah, well there was big controversy this year about Guns ‘N Roses…who was going to show up and who wasn’t. A lot of that was all showbiz hype, and you just never know. I just have one more question for you Timothy, and I got this one from Wikipedia, so it might be BS, but when you played with Jimmy Buffett, was it you—
—Yes, it’s true.
So, you came up with Parrotheads?
Yeah, everybody’s asking me that now. Everybody waits to ask the important question until the end (laughs). I was in a limo with him. I played bass for him for a short while, when I wasn’t doing anything else. I didn’t want to flounder and I wanted to keep my foot in the music world. He offered me to go out for a week with him, and I ended up doing it for a couple of summers.
I was driving to a gig in his car, and it’s one of those outdoor sheds where if you come in later, you kind of drive through the people walking from the distant parking lot up to the show grounds. People started noticing that there was a big car coming through and they noticed it was Buffet. They all started going crazy — his audiences are really faithful and loyal and love to have a good time. I said, “These are like your own personal Deadheads.” (And then) I said, “No, they’re “Parrotheads. You’ve got your Parrotheads.” I guess he liked that and kept it.
And the rest is history.
There it is.