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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Adam Sweeting

Randy Meisner obituary

Randy Meisner, far left, performing with his fellow Eagles Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon on Dutch TV, 1973.
Randy Meisner, far left, performing with his fellow Eagles Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon on Dutch TV, 1973. Photograph: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

One of the trademark sounds of the Eagles in their heyday was Randy Meisner’s high, yearning vocal performance on the band’s 1975 hit Take It to the Limit. It was one of several songs that Meisner, who has died aged 77, wrote or co-wrote for the group. Prior to his tenure with them, he had been bassist and vocalist with Poco, and then a member of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. After leaving the Eagles in 1977 he released five solo albums, as well as working with the groups Black Tie, Meisner, Swan & Rich and the Roberts-Meisner Band.

However, he will be best remembered for his work with the Eagles (usually billed as “Eagles”), the bestselling American band of the 1970s. Meisner became one of the group’s founding members after he had been recruited into Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. At a Ronstadt gig at Disneyland in California in July 1971, Meisner appeared alongside Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Bernie Leadon – and the quartet formed the Eagles later that year.

Signed to David Geffen’s new Asylum Records, the Eagles released their debut album in 1972 and immediately enjoyed chart success with their first single, Take It Easy (it stalled just outside the US Top 10, but its infectious tune and the group’s sophisticated vocal harmonies made it one of their trademark songs). The album reached No 22 on the American chart and delivered further hits with Witchy Woman and Peaceful Easy Feeling. Meisner composed the tracks Take the Devil and Tryin’, and co-wrote Earlybird with Leadon.

The follow-up, the cowboy-themed Desperado (1973), was initially less popular, but the Top 20 success of their third album, On the Border (1974) – which yielded the first Eagles chart-topping single in Best of My Love – pulled Desperado up in its wake, and both albums sold double platinum. Meisner had co-written a couple of songs on Desperado and penned Is It True? for On the Border; but when he co-wrote and sang lead on Take It to the Limit, from One of These Nights (1975), it brought him a new prominence in the group. The third hit from the chart-topping album, it reached No 4 in the US and No 12 in the UK, and Meisner’s performance of the song became a regular highlight at live shows.

Meisner pictured in London, 1973.
Meisner pictured in London, 1973. Photograph: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The Eagles’ compilation album Their Greatest Hits (1971-75) would become the biggest-selling album of the 70s, and the release of Hotel California in December 1976 found the group reaching the summit of their powers. Meisner’s only writing contribution was Try and Love Again, but that was a valuable commodity on an album that would sell more than 30m copies.

However, Meisner was finding it hard to cope with the group’s extensive touring schedule, as well as the now total dominance of Frey and Henley. A self-effacing character, he disliked being given a personal spotlight for his performances of Take It to the Limit, and a backstage fight with Frey at a gig in Knoxville, Tennessee, when Meisner claimed he felt too ill to perform an encore, sealed his fate. After the Hotel California tour ended in early 1978, it was announced that Meisner had quit the band after suffering from exhaustion. “Those last days on the road were the worst,” he later said. “I was made an outcast of the band I’d helped start.” He was replaced by Timothy B Schmit, who had also taken over from him after he left Poco in 1969.

Meisner was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, the second child of sharecroppers Emilie (nee Haun) and Herman. When he was 10, Randy saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show on TV, which prompted him to start learning the guitar. “I didn’t graduate from high school and didn’t go to college,” he recalled. “I was a dropout, and so music was the only thing.”

While still in his teens, Meisner married his childhood sweetheart, Jennifer Barton (they would divorce in 1981), and set about making a living as a musician. He formed a band called the Dynamics, then played with numerous groups across the midwest before being asked to join the Soul Survivors. They headed for California to seek their fortune, but found the going tough. The band fell apart and Meisner assembled a new outfit, which he aptly named the Poor. They recorded several singles for the Loma, York and Decca labels, without success.

Then Meisner was recruited to the country-rock band Poco being formed by the Buffalo Springfield veterans Jim Messina and Richie Furay. Poco immediately signed with Epic Records after their rousing debut at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles in November 1968, but Meisner became disillusioned when Messina and Furay treated him as a mere hired hand. When they would not allow him to attend mixing sessions for the band’s debut album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces (1969), a peeved Meisner promptly quit. In the painting of the band on the album sleeve, he was replaced by a dog.

However, Meisner was soon hired to join Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, with whom he appeared on the albums In Concert at the Troubadour (1969) and Rudy the Fifth (1971). In between, he temporarily returned to Nebraska to try to save his marriage, and worked in a local John Deere tractor dealership. Back in LA and pondering his career options, he was contacted by Ronstadt’s manager, John Boylan, who asked him to join her band.

Meisner’s post-Eagles career made a solid start with the album Randy Meisner (1978) and peaked commercially with the LP One More Song (1980), which produced the hits Deep Inside My Heart and Hearts on Fire. Another album called Randy Meisner (1982) contained strong material but failed to sell. With the band Black Tie – which later evolved into Meisner, Swan & Rich – he had a one-off hit with Learning the Game. In the late 80s he toured with the Roberts-Meisner Band, featuring Rick Roberts, a former member of Firefall. He also rejoined Poco for their Legacy album and tour (1989-90), and took part in the Eagles’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

He retired from touring after a heart attack in 2004, and suffered intermittently from drug and alcohol addictions. In 2015 he was placed under court-ordered supervision after he allegedly threatened to commit murder and kill himself with an AK-47 rifle (he had by then been diagnosed with bipolar disorder). In 2016 his second wife, Lana Rae (nee Graham), whom he had married in 1996, died in an accident with a rifle at the couple’s home in Studio City, California.

He had three children, Dana, Heather and Eric, with his first wife.

• Randy Herman Meisner, musician, singer and songwriter, born 8 March 1946; died 26 July 2023

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