Ex-Eagle explains benefits of making music here

Friday, June 3, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 22
By Tim Ghianni

Bernie Leadon

A founding member of one of the most-influential American rock bands reinforces the notion that Nashville was and remains the place for musicians and creative people to live.

Bernie Leadon, who joined with drummer Don Henley, guitarist Glenn Frey and bassist Randy Meisner for the first and arguably best incarnation of The Eagles, exited the fast lane decades ago.

The writer of such Eagles masterworks as Witchy Woman was part of the lineup that produced the group’s self-titled debut album in 1972, followed by 1973’s Desperado, 1974’s On the Border and 1975’s One of These Nights.

But the stringed-instrument master – he played acoustic, electric and pedal-steel guitar, as well mandolin and banjo – tired and left the band.

As a former member of the first country-rock group, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and its Eagles offspring, Leadon would be a natural fit in Nashville.

But he didn’t know it when he left the band.

“I started coming to Nashville about once a month in 1985 to do session work for a couple of producers I knew in town,” Leadon explains. “I was still living in L.A., and in January of 1987 I joined the (Nitty Gritty) Dirt Band and played with them through the summer of 1988.

“I had known those guys for a long time, and playing with them was a nice way to get plugged into Music Row.”

Again, he was plagued by success. “They were having top 10 country hits, doing the country circuit, doing fairs. We would go out and open for Reba and headline other shows,” he says of his Dirt Band experience.

“But after a year of that, I decided getting off the road would be a better move.”

By then, though, he knew where he wanted to move and in 1989, Nashville – actually, a farm on the edge of town – became home.

“I’m a guitar player and a musician, and when I moved to L.A. in 1967 and started doing sessions for people there, it was the old-time music business,” he says. “You went into a studio and had a band, a drummer, guitar player, singer and some other instrument. You sat in the studio and came up with an arrangement for a song.

“A lot of times, you’d do two or three songs in a three-hour session.”

He’s pretty much settled down now to occasional banjo jamming with heroes like Earl Scruggs and just enjoying life on his farm.

Leadon, who did spend time as a label exec here, knows that Nashville remains a special place for creative people.

Though the music business and its technology continues to change, but the elements that helped draw Leadon to Nashville – recording studios, engineers, musicians, songwriters – remains.

“It is a place where musicians can come and it has the infrastructure you need. That’s why musicians still come here. That’s why they stay.”

And there’s another key element.

“It’s such a nice place to raise a family. There’s only three cities where all the multi-national music companies have operations: L.A., New York and Nashville.

“And Nashville is the easiest place to get around, the best place to live.”