In the minds of many, the Eagles were the first band to successfully fuse the strains of country music with the relentless appeal of rock 'n' roll. In truth, that's a false assumption, one that runs contrary to pop music realities. Let's begin with a little history lesson. Chapter 1: Rock's earliest pioneers were direct descendants of the classic country crooners of the '40s and '50s. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, and Buddy Holly all saw country music as the launching point for the revolutionary sound that jump-started rock 'n' roll in the mid- to late '50s.
Nevertheless, rock and country remained strange bedfellows, mostly at odds until the late '60s. Though rock bands on both sides of the Atlantic — the Beatles, the Beau Brummels, Moby Grape, and, most prominent, Buffalo Springfield — dipped into country music with some degree of regularity, the divide between the two styles couldn't have been more pronounced. Each side looked at the other suspiciously, a relationship exacerbated in no small measure by Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee," a barbed putdown of the counterculture that set up the battle lines between the hippies and the harbingers of conservative, all-American values.
When Bob Dylan went to Nashville at the invitation of producer Bob Johnston in 1966 to record his epic album Blonde on Blonde, the relationship between the sides thawed to a certain extent, but it wasn't until later, when the bard returned to Music City to make John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline that the two entities finally found common ground. Under the auspices of Johnny Cash, the relationship thawed further. It eventually took the Byrds to plough the differences entirely, courtesy of two classic albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. In short order, other outfits took a similar tack — Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, the Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco, and the Flying Burrito Brothers chief among them.
The Eagles were the beneficiaries, not the benefactors, of those influences, as many assume. Founding Eagles members Glenn Frey and Don Henley had worked together as part of Linda Ronstadt's solo backing band after she took a leave from the Stone Poneys. Henley's previous group, Shiloh, had been produced by none other than Kenny Rogers, even then a contemporary country superstar. Frey's early outfit, Longbranch Pennywhistle, also rode the wave of the initial country-rock crossover. Eagles bassist and back-up vocalist Randy Meisner was once a member of Ricky Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, and Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon carried the most credible credentials courtesy of his stint in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Later, when Timothy B. Schmit joined the band, he brought an impressive resumé, having been with Poco, still considered one of the most illustrious groups in terms of rock and country's collision.
The fact that the Eagles scored the first big country-rock breakthrough in the early '70s — via signature hits "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Already Gone," "Desperado," and "Best of My Love" — led many to credit them with instigating the Americana movement. And indeed, many of today's most successful so-called country bands — Big & Rich, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, the Dixie Chicks, the Band Perry, Brooks & Dunn, Lady Antebellum, and even Miami's own Mavericks — owe much of their commercial success to the Eagles' early endeavors.
To borrow the title of a song once sung to exploit this union, they're "a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll," and — thankfully — nowhere near as annoying as the Osmonds. It's no surprise, then, that amid this flock, the Eagles still fly high.
The Eagles 8 p.m. Friday, July 10, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 8007453000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $90 to $670 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.