Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Take It Easy. This is a great ‘country-rock’ song that first appeared in the early 70s. We will start with the original version by the Eagles, and then discuss covers of that song by Jackson Browne and Travis Tritt.
Eagles and Take It Easy:
In 1971, Linda Ronstadt assembled a group of musicians for a touring band to promote her Silk Purse album. Among them were Don Henley from Texas, Glenn Frey from Michigan, Bernie Leadon from the group Flying Burrito Brothers, and Randy Meisner from Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band.
The group actually performed live on only one occasion, but all four musicians played on Ronstadt’s album Linda Ronstadt. The group then formed a band, Eagles (specifically not “The Eagles,” just as the sibling duo “Carpenters” was not “The Carpenters”).
The Eagles’ first eponymous album was released in June, 1972 and immediately made a splash. Their first big hit was Take It Easy; although it reached only #12 on the Billboard pop charts, it made the group instantly famous for their country-rock sound. Two other singles from that album subsequently charted in the top 25.
The group’s second album Desperado did not achieve the same commercial success as their first; however, it set an important pattern. Nearly all the songs were co-written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The pair turned out to be a powerhouse song-writing team. Over the years they churned out hit country-rock tunes – featuring lovely melodies coupled with terrific, memorable lyrics, and outstanding arrangements.
The song Desperado is one of my personal favorites, but Henley and Frey co-wrote at least a dozen classic songs that defined the country-rock genre.
Below is a photo of the original lineup of the Eagles. From L: rhythm guitarist and vocalist Glenn Frey; lead guitarist Bernie Leadon; drummer and vocalist Don Henley; and bassist Randy Meisner.
The song Take It Easy has a fascinating back-story. Jackson Browne initially wrote the song, intending to include it in his first album. However, Browne got stuck on the lyrics for the tune. He discussed it with his neighbor Glenn Frey, who urged him to complete the song.
Eventually Browne gave the song to Frey, who added his own lyrics and completed the song. Frey’s band the Eagles then released a single of that song in May, 1972. Take It Easy rapidly became one of the Eagles’ signature songs.
Take It Easy is a light-hearted song urging people to relax and not get too uptight. The song describes a person who is trying to remain calm throughout his travels.
Well I’m a runnin’ down the road tryin’ to loosen my load
I’ve got seven women on my mind
Four that want to own me, two that want to stone me
One says she’s a friend of mine
Take it easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy
The final songwriting credits for Take It Easy are attributed to Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. One might expect that Browne would not be happy that the Eagles released a song he had intended for himself. However, Browne is remarkably gracious about this. He has stated that Glenn Frey
“finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what’s more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written.”
Glenn Frey’s most notable contribution was to a stanza where Browne pictured himself “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” Frey completed the verse as follows:
Well, I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl my Lord in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me
Come on, baby, don’t say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me
What great lyrics! Take It Easy has become sufficiently famous that Winslow, Arizona actually has a “Standin’ On The Corner Park” that commemorates the song. They have erected a life-size statue that depicts a man with a guitar standing beside the road. A photo of that park is shown above.
Here is live video of the original lineup of Eagles singing Take It Easy.
The video begins with a short selection featuring their signature four-part close harmony. They then segue into Take It Easy. This is a terrific country-rock classic, featuring the Eagles’ memorable lyrics and classy musicianship. The end of the song features a guitar solo by Bernie Leadon; his playing is a bit rough, but it’s still an enjoyable bit of country-rock music.
The record of this song also includes Meisner playing banjo at the end of the tune. What an upbeat, catchy song!
After their first big hit record, the Eagles became an unstoppable musical juggernaut. They were probably the greatest country-rock band of the late 20th century. The Eagles also enjoyed great success as a touring band. Their ability to reproduce the harmonies from their records made them a major draw on tour.
In 1974 the group added guitarist Don Felder to their band. Felder’s arrival coincided with the band’s adding more hard rock songs to their repertoire. However, Bernie Leadon strongly preferred the group’s original country-rock music, and as a result he left the Eagles at the end of 1975. Leadon was replaced by Joe Walsh, who had been the lead guitarist with The James Gang before embarking on a solo career.
Now, here is “bonus video” of the new lineup of the Eagles performing Take It Easy live in 1977.
This is a slightly different take on Take It Easy from the first one, but to my mind it is equally enjoyable. At the end of the song, Joe Walsh produces a really impressive guitar solo. You can see that even on a country song, Walsh and Felder have shifted the group’s sound in the direction of a somewhat harder rock beat.
At the end of 1976, the Eagles released their blockbuster album, Hotel California. The title cut from this album was a gigantic hit for the group, became their signature song, and has been voted “best guitar solo ever” in several polls. Don Felder produced the melody for the song, and the lyrics were co-written by Felder, Henley and Frey.
During the tour for this album, bassist Randy Meisner left the group and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit. This lineup persisted until 1980, when the group disbanded after particularly nasty and lingering disagreements amongst the members.
The individual Eagles members then embarked on solo efforts or joined other bands, with varying degrees of success. Don Henley had a most impressive solo career, with a number of acclaimed individual hits.
The group re-formed in 1994. When a band names their reunion tour the “Hell Freezes Over Tour,” you know the dissolution was a contentious one! After their reunion, the Eagles once again became one of the highest-grossing touring acts, in part because of the astronomically high ticket prices they charged for their concerts.
The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. In a classy move, both the group’s original lineup and their current lineup performed at the induction ceremony. In terms of record sales, they are the best-selling American band in history. Their Eagles: Greatest Hits album alone has sold over 42 million copies.
When the Eagles started out in the early 70s, there was a distinct difference between their country-rock music and the Nashville-dominated “country and western” sound. However, in the intervening decades, country music has become much more diverse. The ‘outlaw country’ genre begun by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others has more or less eradicated any division between ‘country’ and ‘country-rock.’
If they appeared on the scene today, the Eagles would almost certainly be marketed as a country music group. But who cares about labels? The Eagles have now produced terrific music for over 40 years.
Jackson Browne and Take It Easy:
Jackson Browne is a singer-songwriter, who has been a major figure in folk-rock music. He was one of a group of musicians who came to prominence in Southern California in the late 60s and early 70s. Among this group were Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Here is a photo of Jackson Browne performing in 1976.
Immediately after graduating from high school in 1966, Jackson Browne joined the country-rock group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. After leaving that group, Browne headed east to Greenwich Village, where he joined an active folk-rock scene.
After a couple of years on the East Coast, Browne moved back west to L.A. There, his initial success was as a songwriter. In 1971 he landed a recording contract with his manager David Geffen’s Asylum Records.
His first single hit was Doctor My Eyes, from his first album. That song made it into the Billboard Top Ten singles. Following this initial success, Browne toured with upcoming stars Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell.
In the preceding section we mentioned that Jackson Browne had initially begun writing what became the Eagles’ first breakout hit Take It Easy. However, Browne got stuck on the lyrics for that song, and eventually gave the song to his friend Glenn Frey, who completed the lyrics.
So here is the audio of Jackson Browne’s version of this song.
This song features David Lindley on electric guitar, and Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar. Both Lindley and Kleinow have really enjoyable solos on this tune. The musical accompaniment gives the song a cool, funky hillbilly sound.
And here is a live video of Jackson Browne singing Take It Easy.
Here Browne is accompanied by David Lindley on violin. By the way, David Lindley is an acclaimed musician who can play nearly every stringed instrument known to man. Lindley was in Jackson Browne’s band from 1972 to 1980. He is famous as a session musician, and he appears on records and in live appearances with an incredible array of artists, including
Warren Zevon, Linda Ronstadt, Curtis Mayfield, James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Terry Reid, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Joe Walsh.
Below is a photo of David Lindley playing guitar at a performance from 1976.
Jackson Browne’s version of Take It Easy has a really sweet melodic quality, and I enjoy seeing Browne’s take on what was initially a song intended for his first album.
Jackson Browne has had a long, successful career. His songs are marked by deeply personal lyrics, with memorable phrases and impressive production values.
In 1975 Jackson Browne married his long-time girlfriend Phyllis Major, who was a model and actress. Their son Ethan Browne was born in 1973. Less than a year after their marriage, Major committed suicide. Browne’s next album, The Pretender, contained several songs that dealt with interpersonal issues and problems of communication.
One particularly poignant song from that album was Here Come Those Tears Again, which Browne co-wrote with Phyllis Major’s mother Linda Farnsworth.
Browne’s best-selling album was the 1977 release Running on Empty. Both the title track from that album and the single The Load-Out/Stay were major single hits for Browne.
Breaking the usual conventions for a live album, Browne used only new material and combined live concert performances with recordings made on buses, in hotel rooms, and back stage.
Jackson Browne has also been a life-long political activist. He was one of the co-founders of the anti-nuclear power group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), and helped organize the “No Nukes” concerts in the 1980s.
Browne’s 1986 album Lives In the Balance featured a few political protest songs, most notably the title track which was sharply critical of U.S.-backed military actions in Central America. Browne also
performed frequently at benefit concerts for causes in which he believed, including Farm Aid, Amnesty International (making several appearances on the 1986 A Conspiracy of Hope Tour), post-Somoza revolutionary Nicaragua, and the Christic Institute.
Browne is also a dedicated environmentalist. Apparently his farm runs on wind power and is completely off the grid, and he has received a number of awards for his environmental activism.
In 2004, Jackson Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, three of his albums were included in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 Best Albums of All Time.
Travis Tritt and Take It Easy:
Travis Tritt grew up in Marietta, Georgia and wanted to be a country singer from a young age. His parents were not very supportive – his father predicted he would fail at this, while his mother pressured him to go into Christian music rather than country & western.
Here is a photo of Travis Tritt performing in Mountain View, CA in 1993.
Despite his parents’ lack of support, Travis persisted at his music, playing in clubs at night while working at an air conditioning plant during the day. Eventually he submitted a demo tape to Warner Brothers Records, and was signed to a contract in fall 1989 by their Nashville division.
Warner Brothers hedged their bets – they agreed to produce six single records, but would not produce a full album unless at least one of the records made a splash. They need not have worried – Tritt’s first record went up to #9 on the Billboard country charts, while his second single hit #1.
Travis Tritt was named the 1990 Top New Male Artist in Billboard’s country music category. Both Tritt’s first and second albums were gigantic sellers, and both spawned a number of country hit records.
At this point, Tritt became a genuine country and western singer-songwriter superstar. He now cuts records with other C&W greats, appears as a headliner in country and western awards shows, and he has been a cast member in the legendary show Grand Ole Opry since 1992.
Tritt describes his musical influences as country, rock and folk. His music reflects the influence of all three strains. Critic Zell Miller states that Tritt possesses an
“unerring ability to walk the narrow path between his country heritage and his rock leanings to the acclaim of the devotees of both.”
Travis Tritt initially recorded the song Take It Easy in 1994, as one of the cuts on an Eagles tribute album, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles. That album featured country artists performing covers of Eagles’ tunes.
After Tritt recorded this song, a music video was produced. Travis requested that the Eagles themselves be featured in the video. The group agreed, even though they not appeared together since breaking up in 1980. It is said that their appearance with Travis Tritt was one of the defining events that convinced The Eagles to re-unite later in 1994.
So here is Travis Tritt with a live version of Take It Easy. This comes from an appearance at Grand Ole Opry.
Take It Easy is a great fit with Travis Tritt’s style. For someone who was inspired by the Allman Brothers and whose singing style has been compared to Bob Seger, Tritt’s down-home country vocals mesh perfectly with this song. He obviously has a classic voice for country music.
Travis Tritt continues to be one of the hottest acts in country music. Five of his singles have reached #1 on the Billboard country charts, several of his albums have been “certified platinum” by the Recording Industry Association of America, and he is in high demand as a touring artist.
Travis Tritt has also been a political activist, although he leans to the right. He was a supporter of George W. Bush in 2000. He has explained his opposition to gun control as follows: “Because you take away guns, and the next thing you know, stabbing murders are going to increase.” So you see, he is anti-gun control for humanitarian reasons.
Although we aren’t persuaded by Travis Tritt’s political arguments, he is an eminently successful country artist with some highly enjoyable records. Tritt has won a bunch of awards in the country music category, including two Grammys. He also has a number of acting credits, having appeared in movies with Steve Martin and Steven Seagal.