Still soaring after all these years, with the Eagles and without

Timothy B. Schmit is the first to admit he’s a lucky man. In 1977, after several years with the country-rock band Poco, the singer-bassist was invited to join superstar group the Eagles. Soon after he joined the band, founders Glenn Frey and Don Henley took one of Schmit’s work-in-progress tunes—“I Can’t Tell You Why”—and helped their new recruit turn it into a 1979 hit that today remains a staple of classic rock radio. From then on, he has shone as perhaps the sweetest voice in a band not lacking in harmonies. He has contributed his vocal, instrumental and songwriting skills to every Eagles project since 1979’s six-times-platinum The Long Run.

The Sacramento, Calif., native has taken advantage of the Eagles’ periodic breaks to build an impressive solo discography. His latest, Expando, is a homespun effort that harks back to his folk-pop and R&B roots. Schmit assembled an all-star cast for Expando. Bluesman Keb’ Mo’ pitches in on slide Dobro for the country-blues ditty “One More Mile.” Fleshing out the harmony-laden ballad “Friday Night” are Van Dyke Parks on accordion and the Band’s Garth Hudson playing organ. And in an unlikely pairing, Kid Rock and Dwight Yoakam provide harmony vocals for the spooky, after-hours jazz tune “Downtime.” Star power notwithstanding, Schmit himself handled most of the instrumentation on Expando, tracking bass, acoustic guitar, percussion and other instruments in his own studio.

Schmit, 62, still has time for the Eagles, of course—the group has been touring stadiums this summer. He spoke with us from his home outside Los Angeles about the new disc, his love of playing bass and the state of the Eagles.

What was your vision for Expando?

My intention was to start from where my roots lie, in folk music. Every song on the album began on acoustic guitar. I’d get a really good lead vocal, so that everything stood right there, by itself, with just the vocal and the guitar. Then I built on each song from there.

Which guests surprised you?

I was slightly surprised that Kid Rock said, “Sure, I’ll do this.” Because of scheduling conflicts, he and Dwight Yoakam weren’t able to do “Downtime” together. And I don’t think that would have been a good idea, anyway—each said they weren’t really background or harmony singers. But they hung in there. Everybody on the album was concerned about whether I was pleased with their performance. They were determined to get things to the point where I was happy.

How does making a solo album compare with making an Eagles record?

It’s definitely different. There are certain expectations that go with making an Eagles album. And there are compromises, because it’s a group. You don’t always get what you think is best, and vice versa. When you’re doing a solo album, the buck stops with you. I did whatever I wanted without having to answer to anybody. No discussions about whether or not I should do something. There were no parameters.

Did Henley and Frey ever explain why they invited you to join the Eagles?

They didn’t have to explain to me why I was a good fit. I think it was obvious to everybody. And I was delighted. I was ecstatic over the offer. At the time, I was becoming disenchanted with what was going on with Poco, and I was on the edge of figuring out what my next move might be. This opportunity came up, and I thought, “This could not be more perfect.” It was a great match for me—and I feel I was a great match for them. I don’t mean that in a cocky way. It’s just true.

Is it true the band pushed “I Can’t Tell You Why” to be more R&B than country-flavored?

Yes. But that was also because they knew I was into R&B, too. I had just come from Poco, but I’d had to sort of learn to get into Poco’s country-rock style. I love Al Green and Aretha Franklin, and lots of older R&B stuff. Don and Glenn and I had lots of discussions about that. I had this piece of a song that seemed to fit what everyone wanted. Eventually we worked out the song together.

Has having two headstrong guys in the Eagles served the group well?

Obviously it has. In any group, certain people tend to be leaders. There are stronger forces in some people than there are in others. That whole scene, with the Eagles, was already well in place before I joined. It wasn’t hard to figure that out. Obviously the Eagles have had an incredible run as a band, both before and since I joined. Something’s going right.

What’s the atmosphere like in the band now?

It’s pretty much a case of our getting together and going to work. We have a really strong following on the West Coast, where we’ve done a string of sold-out shows. That’s really nice, after all these years. It’s not like the old days. We were younger then and carried on more. Now we all have families, and

some of the guys still have young children. We get together, we work really hard, and we’re constantly polishing. We do soundchecks every day, and if something is wrong—or if something didn’t go well the night before—we figure it out and correct it. That’s true even with the old songs. You would be amazed how much we have to work on those, too. And when we’re finished, we all go our separate ways, back to our personal lives. It’s a working situation, and that’s fine.

What’s your go-to bass?

What I refer to as Number One these days is a ’62 sunburst stack-knob Fender Jazz bass. I acquired it within the last five years. As soon as I played the first notes, I went, “Wow, this is happening.” I have other Jazz basses as well, for use with different tunings. The two oddballs are a Pedulla fretless Buzz bass, which I use on “The Boys of Summer,” and a Rob Allen MB-2 bass for one of the acoustic songs, “Waiting in the Weeds.”

What first drew you to the bass?

When I was in my early teens, a couple of friends and I had a little folk group that we patterned after the Kingston Trio. Before long we found a drummer, borrowed some electric instruments, and everybody wanted to play lead guitar. It became obvious who should be playing what, and it was clear I should be the bass player. I was always attracted to that “low end” sound. I was also good at singing and playing the bass at the same time.

How have you kept grounded?

I try to keep things in perspective. Joining the Eagles definitely changed things in my life, and I no longer have to worry about certain things. I try on a daily basis to throw my gratitude up into the cosmos, corny as that sounds. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to many people. One of my big childhood dreams not only happened, but I’m still living it.

–Russell Hall

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