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Timothy B Schmit: From the Inside
Country Music

Timothy B Schmit: From the Inside

Posted 05 June 2017   |   825 views   |   Music   |   Comments (0) As Timothy B. Schmit releases his sixth solo album, he tells David West of Country Music magazine about why The Eagles had all the radio play instead of Poco, having the luxury to do what he wants with his own music, and why he’s not quite ready to just sit back and swing in a hammock…

"I don’t know,” is Timothy B. Schmit’s honest reply when asked what made this the right time to make a new record. “It’s not like I said, ‘Oh, it’s time to start an album.’ I just try to write and record and I just put them away. When I get to a place where I’ve got a few songs, then I start thinking about an album. But I never write conceptually, it’s not like I go, ‘I’m going to write an album about this’ or have this theme. I write songs and then when I have enough songs that seem to work together, that’s when I start putting an album together.” It’s a cold, grey February day in London when Country Music meets the famed singer and bassist whose latest release, Leap of Faith, arrives in wintertime warmed with the promise of summer days to come. The album is infused with country and Americana – there’s the jaunty lilt of My Hat, the sweet singing pedal steel on Goodbye, My Love – all of which point to Schmit’s time in Poco and the Eagles. But despite his prominence in two pillars of country rock, Schmit didn’t grow up listening to country as a kid in Sacramento. “I remember my mother really hated it. She would make fun of it,” he says. “My father was a musician all his life and I know that he used to play in country swing bands way before I was born, and then later on, he played in clubs doing standards of the day. Just before I left Sacramento, the band I had been in for many years morphed into a lot of different stuff and we were starting to do a lot of country stuff, which fit right in for me going off with Poco. But it wasn’t something I had a huge passion for.”


STRUMMERS AND SINGERS

In fact, Schmit’s childhood musical heroes were The Kingston Trio, the group that spearheaded the folk revival of the late 1950s. But his earliest influence was closer to home. “I used to watch my dad’s rehearsals sometimes,” he says. “I’d stay and watch because I liked it, it intrigued me. Later on, when I really started becoming conscious of music and the possibility of actually being able to sing was probably during that 60s folk thing. I had a band, my friends and I who eventually made records together, we started copying a lot of those songs, especially The Kingston Trio. That’s when we first started going on stage as strummers and singers. It was early high school, maybe as 13 or 14 years old.” In 1969, Schmit joined Poco, the band formed by Richie Furay following the demise of Buffalo Springfield. The albums that Poco released in the 1970s were keystones of country rock, although Schmit doesn’t see himself as an integral player in that movement. “The truth is I was on the coat sleeves of that,” he says. “Something was already going and I grabbed on. And I was able to do that and I was happy to do that because it was a great vehicle for me and whatever it was I had to offer, especially vocally.´ Unfortunately, Poco’s influence outstripped their commercial success, despite the band’s insatiable appetite for recording and touring. “In my early 20s, I was on the road all the time, almost into my 30s,” says Schmit. “And we had a great following. We started to become known as a great live band, but we weren’t on the radio that much and that was frustrating to us. Then we would see these new bands like the Eagles, we’d hear them all over the radio. It was kind of frustrating, but I knew why. They had songs. They had great, crafted radio songs and we weren’t quite there.” Isn’t he being a little hard on the band, though? For example, the group’s fourth album, 1971’s From the Inside, has no shortage of great tunes. “Interesting you should say that,” replies Schmit. “I think that’s a really good collection of songs. It lacks in production. Oddly enough, we went to Memphis to record that album with Steve Cropper and he’s a great guy, he’s really tuned in to the Memphis thing. It wasn’t a particularly great match for us. We didn’t butt heads or anything, he kind of let us do our thing. When I came to Richie with that song From the Inside and he made it the title of the album, I was thrilled. It was really great.” 


FLYING HIGH

During Schmit’s tenure with the group from 1969 to 1977, Poco released an album a year, sometimes two. “There was a lot of record company pressure back then,” he says. “You were at their mercy, really. They weren’t above taking songs and editing them themselves. It happened to the Eagles too early on.” Schmit joined the hugely successful Eagles in 1977. His first studio recording with the band was 1979’s The Long Run. Where Poco enjoyed only a passing relationship with the charts, the Eagles were giants of American music, coming off the smash success of Hotel California when Schmit joined their ranks. But he says he wasn’t intimidated about pitching songs to Don Henley and Glenn Frey. “I was careful about what and when I presented my ideas, but I can’t say I was nervous. What’s the worst that could happen? That they say ‘no, we’re not going to use that’, which happened a lot. That’s the way it was. I just accepted that. If I thought it was really good I put it in my arsenal for later.” With the record label waiting impatiently, the making of The Long Run wasn’t smooth sailing. “Nobody had any complete songs,” says Schmit, who contributed I Can’t Tell You Why to the album. “We chipped away at remedying that, but we were also maybe at the peak of party mode. There was a lot of drugs; that certainly didn’t help. We somehow managed to get through it. That album has some quirky songs. It’s kind of a bizarre album in a way. But I was happy to be there.” Being a bandmember hasn’t been the only thing keeping Schmit occupied. He enjoyed a prolific career as a session musician, lending his voice to everyone from Steely Dan to Toto, Don Henley’s solo records to Bob Seger. “I started doing that when I was in Poco. I still did it a little bit when I was in the Eagles but I was busier so it probably started tapering off ,´ he says. “I came to a Poco rehearsal one day in the afternoon, I had just done some singing for Steely Dan, they liked it, I was happy to do it and the song was incredible. I came back and told the guys what I’d done and how great it was, and I remember the drummer George [Grantham], he’s a singer too, said “How do you get this work? How does this happen?" I said, “You’ve got to let people know”. “Back then, I would say to people who I admired or maybe somebody who produced somebody I admired, if you ever need any singing help, I would love to do that. A lot of times they would go, “Really?" “Yeah”. And then people would started calling me and I would  go and they would like it. I got to sing with a lot of people.


THE VOICE

Schmit’s session career was built around his marvellous pipes, although he doesn’t believe that he’s been overlooked as a bass player. “People don’t call me for the bass, only once in a great while,´ he says. “I think I’m a good bass player, but I always looked at myself as a singer first. I don’t think I’m anything profoundly wonderful on the bass. I know what I’m doing with it, but it’s pretty simple, basic bass. whenever I’ve played in a situation with other people, I was freed up a little more because most of the other people weren’t as hard to please as Don and Glenn. They were taskmasters, but they didn’t take anything away from you. It’s just they knew what they wanted.´ Similarly, when the time comes to put notes to paper, Schmit doesn’t turn to the bass for composing. “I’ve tried writing on the bass, I don’t think I’ve ever been successful,´ he says. “I play guitar and that’s what I write on almost exclusively. I’m an old folk singer, so that’s my tool of choice. And that’s another thing, nobody has ever asked me to play guitar but I play it almost exclusively on my own records, because I like to and I can and nobody is saying no.´ Schmit released his first solo album, Playin’ It Cool, in 1984 and five more have followed at irregular intervals since then, with seven years separating Leap of Faith from its predecessor, Expando. “I’m not that fast or prolific,´ he says about making the latest album. “I take my time, plus I was really busy with the Eagles on the road, so some of these songs are fairly old, actually. Some of them are newer. It’s an ongoing process. I do have a lot of songs that nobody has ever heard, but not too many just penned by me. I used to collaborate a lot more than I do now. My livelihood doesn’t depend on my writing or my solo albums. Luckily, I have the luxury to be able to do what I want with my solo stuff and I’m choosing to write my own songs and do whatever the hell I want.’ He picks out Richie Furay as a song writing mentor, describing him as someone who “immensely affected my whole scene, my attitude, and started to show me how to do things. And then as that progressed into the Eagles, Don and Glenn were great teachers, they really knew how to do it and I was there to watch it and sometimes be a part of it.´


HAWAII AND HAMMOCKS

Schmit calls Los Angeles home, but he has a place on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and that spectacular ocean view on the inside of the Leap of Faith cover is what Schmit sees when he sits on the seawall at the back of the house, inspiring Red Dirt Road and The Island on the new record. “I didn’t write that song on Kauai, but I definitely thought about it when I started writing it,´ he says about the latter. “It’s about almost stereotypical stuff , laying back and sipping an umbrella drink. Honestly, its gorgeous and I love it there but after a certain amount of time, usually in a matter of weeks if I have the luxury of being there that long, I do have to leave. It’s too hammocky.´ Even after five decades in music, it seems he’s not ready to put his feet up and leave it all behind just yet, however comfortable that Hawaiian hammock might look. “I don’t like doing nothing for very long,´ he says. “You’ve got to keep moving. I’m getting older and I’m not interested in the rocking chair.´

 

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