Choking up as he reflected on a deep, abiding 50-year friendship, Bob Seger paid tribute to Glenn Frey, who died Monday after a series of medical complications.
“I just want the world to know he was a truly great artist and a truly great guy,” Seger told the Free Press. “He was a joy to be around. He had a fantastic sense of humor. He was whip smart, just brilliant, even at 18 years old when I met him.”
Seger last saw Frey, a fellow Detroit native, when the Eagles played Joe Louis Arena in July: “He was in a great mood. His voice sounded great,” Seger recalled. “(The song) ‘Saturday Night’ — when you hear that harmony, it’s still mind-boggling how truly wonderful it is. And he created that.”
Backstage at a previous Eagles show at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Seger chatted with Don Henley and Joe Walsh as they awaited Frey’s last-minute arrival direct from L.A., where he’d stayed for one of his children’s graduations. Seger recalled Frey’s words as the latter got to the Palace by the skin of his teeth: “Well, I guess I win Dad of the Year!”
“He loved his family,” Seger said of Frey, who is survived by his wife, Cindy Frey, a daughter and two sons. “He loved those kids. He was devoted to them. He was so much more than people knew he was.”
The pair became tight in the mid-’60s, when 18-year-old Frey — three years younger than Seger — was working the Detroit scene with the rock band the Mushrooms, playing the Hideout clubs operated by Seger manager Punch Andrews.
“The most important thing that happened to me in Detroit was meeting Bob and getting to know him,” Frey told the Free Press in 2003. “He took me under his wing.”
Seger and Frey quickly took to one another, sharing musical discoveries, trading songwriting tips, and forming a bond that would endure as both blossomed into household names in the rock world.
“We (realized) that songwriting was essential: It makes you original. That was the bottom line,” Seger said Monday. “We were both going to be original songwriters, so that nobody could compare us to anybody else. Songwriting was key to the whole operation. And obviously he was very good at it.”
“He was so successful, and I was so happy for his success,” Seger said. “And he was always positive about my career. He was the first guy to come see me when I was writing (1975’s) ‘Beautiful Loser’ — ‘Oh, that’s good, that’s good, keep at it, keep at it!’ He was a cheerleader for me. He was always a positive influence for me, throughout my career.”
Often pausing to choke back tears as he spoke, Seger brightened as he expounded on Frey’s musical gifts.
“He was classically trained as a kid on piano, and those chords you hear on ‘Desperado’ and ‘The Last Resort’ — those are Glenn’s chords,” he said. “Henley wrote probably 60 to 70 percent of the lyrics, but those are Glenn’s chords. If you can judge songwriters by the cash register, they don’t get much better than Glenn Frey.”
Seger emphasized that Frey’s skills extended well beyond songwriting, vocals and guitar.
“Ask Henley, ask any of them: Glenn was the leader of the Eagles,” he said. “Throughout the Eagles’ career, they had a nickname for him. He was the Lone Arranger.”
Like Seger, Frey was drawn to soul music as a youngster. That influence ran through Frey’s work, Seger said: “You can kind of hear it on ‘Heartache Tonight,’ a lot in ‘The Long Run,’ and a whole lot in ‘One of These Nights.’ That’s why ‘True Love’ is my favorite song from his solo career — it’s so Al Green.
“He loved Marvin Gaye, he loved Otis Redding. He named his youngest son Otis. He loved Al Green, he loved Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You.’ He drove me crazy with that record!” Seger continued. “He was in a country-rock band, but he loved soul music.”
As the Eagles’ tour wrapped up in the summer, Frey had begun work with New York writer Robert Wuhl on a play to be titled “Hotel California,” Seger said. They’d planned to meet up in Ann Arbor, where Frey would be working out the production with an area theater group.
But then Seger got the grim word from Henley in November: Frey, plagued by lifelong colitis and a diminished immune system, was in New York’s Columbia University Medical Center having suffered from a virulent bout of pneumonia. Frey had been “a workout warrior from his 30s to his 60s,” as Seger put it, but rheumatoid arthritis and other complications had taken their toll.
“He was in a coma, and he’d come out, but then he couldn’t breathe. They’d put him back into the coma,” he said.
“They were trying like hell to keep him alive,” Seger said. “He’d been at Columbia University Medical Center since November. (Eagles manager) Irving (Azoff) pulled every ace out of the hole — he had the eight best specialists working on Glenn. About a month ago, they had to throw up their hands.”
Seger broke down as he recounted the words of Frey’s daughter, Taylor, leading into the musician’s final month: From here out, she said, her father could be supported only by prayer.
For Seger, the bond with Frey will go on, built on a lifetime of memories — and a towering body of musical work.
“He would never fail to start with telling me how grateful he was that audiences were still there,” Seger said. “He loved the band. He loved the fact he could keep doing this. And he kept doing this until six months before he died.”