WATCH: 8 Times Country Music Embraced the Eagles
On May 27, 1994, the Eagles reunited for the Hell Freezes Over Tour -- the band's first gigs together since an acrimonious 1980 breakup. But without an invitation from a country star, the trek may never have happened.
Travis Tritt, in fact, was instrumental in bringing the Eagles back together. The country star had recorded the band's hit "Take It Easy" for the star-studded tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, and asked the members who had played on the band's last studio album, 1979's The Long Run, to be in the song's accompanying music video.
The country music world has been a near-constant presence throughout the Eagles' career, though. That kinship starts with the band's sound, of course: In the 1970s, the Eagles and several other acts -- including Jackson Browne, Poco, Pure Prairie League, and Linda Ronstadt -- performed an easygoing, country-tinted style of rock 'n' roll.
That artistic decision led to several charting country hits, including "Lyin' Eyes" (No. 8), "New Kid in Town (No. 43) and "Seven Bridges Road" (No. 55). Country-rock had a profound influence on country artists of the '80s and '90s, even if that didn't become obvious until endeavors such as Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.
However, the Eagles' influence on country (and vice versa) has become more pronounced in recent years: Co-founder Don Henley dueted with multiple country stars on his 2015 album Cass County and, in late 2017, the blockbuster Eagles album Hotel California even re-entered Billboard's country albums charts at a new peak of No. 5.
"The impact they’ve had on all of music didn’t miss me," Vince Gill, who joined the Eagles after the death of Glenn Frey, told Rolling Stone in 2017. "It scarred me real good. A record of mine like When Love Finds You sounds like an Eagles record. They’ve been as big a part of my learning curve as the greats of the country and Western world.
"We all talk about our history in country music and we respect Merle Haggard and George Jones. And I mean no disrespect when I say this, but the Eagles had a bigger impact in that more people chose to emulate them," Gill adds. "You take any of the bands from the '80s, '90s or even solo artists, and you don’t find many of them emulating George Jones or Merle Haggard. I find it interesting in that country music never embraced the Eagles, yet they had as profound an impact as anybody that’s ever been in country music."
Here's a look back at the Eagles' history with country music that confirms the group's major impact on the genre.
The Eagles had earned multiple pop hits (including two No. 1 singles) before the release of 1975's "Lyin' Eyes." However, this easygoing song, which was co-written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, introduced them to an entirely different audience, as it hit No. 8 on Billboard's country singles chart. The crossover made sense: The song featured Frey's keening lead vocals; Bernie Leadon contributing twangy guitar and mandolin; and the entire band unfurling gorgeous multi-part harmonies.
"Lyin' Eyes" nabbed a Grammy for Best Pop Performance By a Group and was also nominated for Record of the Year. In the years since, the song has been covered by Lynn Anderson, Diamond Rio and even Dolly Parton, who performed it on her variety show, The Dolly Show. "Lyin' Eyes" was also part of the blockbuster Urban Cowboy soundtrack.
Over the years, Don Henley has collaborated with many artists, including Kenny Rogers, Patty Smyth, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow. In 1992, however, he teamed up with Trisha Yearwood for the massive country hit "Walkaway Joe," which reached No. 2 on the country charts and was nominated for a Grammy, for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Thanks to its success, Henley and Yearwood appeared together on 1992 CMA Awards to perform the song. This performance was fateful: According to a 1993 Entertainment Weekly piece, multiple country artists praised the influence of the then-dormant Eagles to Henley, which got the latter's wheels turning about a benefit collection he and Irving Azoff had already been pondering.
Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles was envisioned as a benefit album for the Walden Woods Project, which Don Henley founded to preserve the area around Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond. Henley and manager Irving Azoff also decided to have country artists cover Eagles songs, which proved to be a popular move.
"Everybody wanted in. Once we started, the phones lit up," producer James Stroud told Entertainment Weekly in 1993. Artists who ended up on the compilation include Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Suzy Bogguss and Lorrie Morgan.
"The Eagles were just downright damn cool!" the latter told Entertainment Weekly. "Even back then there was a little country in ’em."
Common Thread was a runaway success, selling over 3 million albums and topping the country charts. Appropriately, the full-length also won Album of the Year at the CMA Awards.
Despite the rousing success of Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, the Eagles themselves might not have reunited without the urging of Travis Tritt. The country star, who covered "Take It Easy" on the compilation, asked the band to be in the video for his cover. Five members -- Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Don Felder, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit -- obliged.
Being together again sparked good feelings, and Frey and Henley met with management within months to patch up differences and solidify a reunion. A live album, Hell Freezes Over, and a tour of the same name followed in 1994. The song "The Girl from Yesterday" even peaked at No. 58 on the country singles chart.
“After years passed, you really sort of remember that you were friends first,” Frey said in a 2013 documentary, History of the Eagles. “You have a lot of common history together and a lot of shared experiences. I remembered mostly the good stuff … I just remembered how much we genuinely had liked each other and how much fun we’d had.”
Once the Eagles reunited, touring came easily, although new music didn't arrive right away. Still, in 2007, the band released Long Road Out of Eden, their first studio album since 1979's The Long Run. The album was an immediate success, topping the country charts and spawning two country Top 40 singles, "How Long" and "Busy Being Fabulous." Long Road Out of Eden also topped the Billboard Top 200 and was certified seven times platinum, while "How Long" won a Grammy for Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocals.
Although Don Henley appeared on the CMA Awards in 1992 with Trisha Yearwood, the Eagles themselves debuted on the show in 2007. "From the early '70s, this group has defined country rock, and more than three decades later, they are still creating music that resonates with our audience," CMA chief operating officer Tammy Genovese said at the time.
The group performed their then-country hit "How Long," which was written by J.D. Souther and dates from the '70s. In a neat coincidence, the group was introduced to the stage by none other than their future bandmate, Vince Gill.
Don Henley pulled out all the stops for his 2015 solo effort Cass County. More specifically, the record was dominated by duets with country stars past and present. Women were especially prominent, too: "When I Stop Dreaming" features Dolly Parton; "Train in the Distance" boasts a Lucinda Williams appearance; and "Bramble Rose" kicks off the album with a Miranda Lambert performance. Legend Merle Haggard appears on "The Cost of Living," while Henley's future bandmate, Vince Gill, is on "No, Thank You." And, in a nod to past successes, Henley even re-teamed up with his "Walkaway Joe" duet partner Trisha Yearwood on two songs: "Where I Am Now" and "Words Can Break Your Heart."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cass County reached No. 1 on the country charts.
When Glenn Frey died in early 2016, it looked iffy in regards to whether the Eagles would ever perform together again. However, the group ended up having a vocal savior in Vince Gill, who joined the band in 2017, along with Frey's son Deacon.
"I’m beyond flattered that of all the people who play and sing music, that they’d think enough of me to do this," Gill told Rolling Stone. "I feel like I’m a great fit. The things I can do and the gifts I’ve been given really marry well."
Gill played his first concert with the band on July 15, 2017, at Dodger Stadium, and has remained a part of the Eagles since.