The Eagles keep Schmit busy, which may be why he's just now getting around to touring in support of his 2009 solo album, Expando. He gave us some insights on what it's like playing "Hotel California" for the gazillionth time, why the Eagles broke up, and the rumor that he was the one who coined the term "Parrotheads" to describe Jimmy Buffett's fans.
Timothy B. Schmit: I don't know. It's a flattering comparison. Someone once called me the Ronnie Wood (laughs) of the Eagles. I don't really think about any of it in those terms. I have a certain job with the Eagles I try to fulfill and certain commitments to myself on all kinds of levels, and try to do my best. And that's it, really.
Songfacts: It's interesting; you're touring in support of an album that came out in 2009. You must be a really busy guy that it's just hard to find time to focus on supporting your own music.
Timothy: Well, yeah. I do have a lot going on and a lot of it is band related. But it's kind of lightening off at the moment, so I'm able to do this. And I'm also able to commit a little more time to writing the next album. I like to keep busy. I don't like to have too much downtime. I need to rest, like everybody else. But then enough's enough, and let's try to do something that might be meaningful, you know?
Songfacts: I want to talk a little bit about your work with the Eagles and probably the most familiar song of yours is "I Can't Tell You Why." Is that based on a personal experience of your own?
Songfacts: When I hear that, I just wish there were more Eagles songs that featured your vocals. I didn't realize, until I prepared for this interview, all the great songs that you've sung on. Are you as in demand, do you think, for your vocals as you are for your musicianship, your bass playing?
Timothy: I used to sing on a lot of records and a lot of different projects, more in the past than I do now. I'm still available. But I don't get as many calls, which is fine. And I can tell you that it was always 99% asking for my vocals, not to play bass or guitar or anything. That's a fact.
Songfacts: Some of the Toto songs that you sung on, the Crosby, Stills & Nash stuff that you've been associated with, it's just wonderful stuff. Some of my favorite songs.
Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic, The Royal Scam, Aja
Randy Newman - Little Criminals
Joe Walsh - But Seriously Folks
America - Alibi, Perspective
Bob Seger - Against the Wind, Like a Rock
Crosby, Stills & Nash - Daylight Again, Carry On
Toto - Toto IV
Songfacts: You still sound very young.
Timothy: Oh, thanks. It was very fulfilling to hear it. Steely Dan's a real feather in my cap to be able to have worked with them.
Songfacts: My understanding is that they only worked with the best, so I think that says a lot about you.
Timothy: It's quite an honor, really.
Songfacts: When you think about playing with the Eagles, do you have any favorites that you enjoy playing on?
Timothy: Meaning during the show, my favorite songs to play?
Timothy: Well, yeah, there's several. Some of the songs, there's a reason why they've been around so long, because they're really good. And that's the very reason why they had such longevity - it's in the songs themselves. I always like to play "The Long Run," even "Hotel California," which I've played a gazillion times, it gets such a great audience response, it's still pretty much fun to do. And then there's a couple of new ones that we play when we do our really long set, which we haven't done in a while. One of my favorite songs off The Long Road Out Of Eden album is "Waiting in the Weeds." A sweet song, really, a jewel of the album, I think. There's plenty that I still enjoy.
Songfacts: The song "Hotel California" has become almost a story unto itself. You joined the band shortly after that came out, right?
Songfacts: Did you have any idea that it would take on a life of its own and become an allegory for California at the time?
Timothy: I knew that I was joining this band at a peak moment and I was very excited and happy to do so. That album had just won Album of the Year, and in fact that night of the Grammys we were rehearsing. They were rehearsing me into the band and we watched the band get that award on TV. Nobody from the band was at the ceremony - we were rehearsing. We turned it on to see who won.
It's a great song. It doesn't surprise me that it's been around and it's going to stay around for a long time, I think.
Songfacts: Were you a part of the Poco reunion that played at Stagecoach?
Timothy: I was, yes.
Songfacts: What stands out in your mind as far as that experience?
Timothy: Well, I had been asked if I was interested in doing different projects with those guys quite a few times in the past, and I always said no, just because I was more interested in moving forward. And this time what really sparked me to do it was the original drummer, George Grantham, and it was the fact that he was going to do it. A few years prior to that - I think about 3 years - he had a really massive stroke, on stage, actually. And it really debilitated him for a long time. When I found out he was well enough and could function well enough to actually be a part of this reunion, I said, "Man, if George is going to do this, I think I'm going to do this."
They were just waiting to see if I wanted to do it, too, everybody who had been in the band, including Jim Messina and Paul Cotton, and of course Richie Furay and Rusty (Young). So what stood out is just the fact that we were all there, we're all still alive, and we were all onstage together. That's it.
Songfacts: I want to talk a little bit more about time management. You must have new music that you've written since Expando came out, right?
Timothy: Yeah, I'm starting to write some songs again. I'm not incredibly prolific, meaning I don't do it very fast, so it really is work for me. Some things come easier than others; it's like all facets of life. So I don't have a ton of excess music, I don't crank out a song a day. I have to work at it to get things how I want it, and sometimes it takes a long time. So that's what I'm doing now. And I may have a lot of next year to be doing that, because I'm not sure how much the Eagles are going to work next year. So we'll see.
Songfacts: We talked about reuniting with the guys of Poco. What's it been like to be able to tour again as the Eagles? I imagine there are people that didn't get to see the band the first time around. Has it been gratifying to be able to give the fans those shows with all those hits?
Timothy: Yeah, it really is. It's very obvious to us that people do want to hear the hits; they're not as interested in newer music. But we do do some new songs, because we have to keep interested, too. We have to have our carrot dangled in front of us. But we know what they want and we try our best to give it to them. And it's very satisfying. We just played a show last weekend in Las Vegas that was really a lot of fun. We hadn't been on stage for two or three months prior to that. We just had a sound check and did the show. It was really fun to have been away from it and to see an excited audience again.
Songfacts: The reunion tour was called Hell Freezes Over, the joke being that the guys said that you wouldn't reform until hell froze over. So I wonder if you could just comment on how maturity has just played a role in making it so that you guys can just step on stage and so easily go into performing. Do you feel like you've reached a point now where you've kind of put all those things behind you and you can just be musicians playing together?
Timothy: Yeah. We know we have a viable product, for lack of better words. And we know that we do it well, we know that there's a demand, and we get together and we go to work. I think maturity has a lot to do with it. We're smart enough to know that we need breaks, and sometimes long breaks, from each other, as well as to be with other parts of our lives, mainly family. I think it was key. I think one of the reasons the band broke up in the first place was that we very rarely took breaks, we were just going all the time and pressuring ourselves. And plus we were young. We were a lot younger and didn't know any better.
Songfacts: On another topic, is it true that you came up with the term "Parrotheads" to describe Jimmy Buffett fans?
Timothy: That would be true.
Songfacts: What sparked that inspiration?
Timothy: I did a little bit of touring with Jimmy a couple of summers, a couple of years on and off after the Eagles had broken up in the '80s. I was sort of in the background all of a sudden, but happy to be working. He was a friend of mine, still is. And we were going to a show, and I was in his car. We were going to one of those outdoor summer shows, and we had to drive basically through a lot of people who were going to the show, and they saw him and they started getting excited. And he started waving. I said something to the effect of, "Man, these are your own Deadheads. They're not Deadheads, though, they're Parrotheads." And he ran with it. It's too bad I didn't license that. (laughs)
Songfacts: That's what I was gonna ask, have you profited from it? But you haven't.
Timothy: No. Only by word of mouth.
We spoke with Timothy B. Schmit on November 10, 2011, and again in 2016. Get more at timothybschmit.com.
More Songwriter Interviews