Jack Tempchin - "Peaceful Easy Feeling"

by Bruce Pollock

They're Playing My Song is a column by Bruce Pollock, where he gets the story behind the one song that had the greatest impact on a particular artist or songwriter's career. Here, he speaks with Jack Tempchin.

"Peaceful Easy Feeling"

Artist: Eagles
Writers: Jack Tempchin
Album: Eagles
Year: 1972
Chart Position: #22 US
Label: Geffen Records
One of the guiding precepts in my theory of making it in the arts is that success depends largely on who you're in the room with. Outlining the plot of your latest movie idea while in the same room as a famous director who takes a shine to it is a lot different from chatting with your friends who think it's the greatest thing since Jaws. Obviously, the challenge is to find that room and get into it.

Songwriter Jack Tempchin has been in enough of those exclusive rooms to immediately pick up on this analogy. "That's right," he said. "If you're in the room with the right person, at the right time, you can get something to happen. And wherever that room is, it turns out there's a bunch of people waiting outside who haven't been able to get in. They're waiting. And you're in there smoking dope with the guy."

Right at the top of the list of the right rooms Jack's been able to inhabit would be the Troubadour in Los Angeles, in the late '60s. The Troubadour would define that 'peaceful, easy feeling' of LA in the '70s, much like the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village defined the 'times they are a-changing' era of the mid to late '60s, with some of the same players emigrating across the continent when the earlier scene wore out its welcome. With Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and even Bob Dylan joining forces with the ensconced regulars like Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, J.D. Souther and Tempchin, the scene at the Troubadour became the hub of a songwriting universe that would dominate the decade.

"Yep, I knew them all," said Jack. "Well, not Dylan. But I knew all those other people, and certainly saw them all play and hung around with them. I was in the right place. And you know what, I recently got a new record deal and they threw a party for me at the Troubadour about two weeks ago. That doggone Troubadour is still the same."

The album is called Room to Run, out on the Blue Elan label, and it's made up of new songs by Tempchin, who comes across a little like Guy Clark meets Warren Zevon at Jimmy Buffett's house, especially on the winning title song.

Jack spent 1980 to 1994 writing tunes and producing albums with his buddy Glenn Frey after the Eagles broke up. "We recorded four or five albums and I co-wrote almost every song on all those albums," he said. "Plus I was in the studio for those albums learning how to record. But then the Eagles got back together and I had to figure out some other work for myself, so I started going to Nashville and writing for other people. Then I started making my own records."

With a catalogue that includes "Already Gone" for the Eagles, the Top 10 single "Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin')" by Johnny Rivers, and tunes recorded by Emmylou Harris, Glen Cambpell, George Jones, and others, there's still a special place in his heart for "Peaceful Easy Feeling," which he wrote at several locations around San Diego, adding the finishing touches at a place called Der Wienerschnitzel, where they finally put up a metal plaque on the outdoor table where he was sitting when he wrote it.

"The mayor declared 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' Day here two years ago," said Jack. "So, they brought me back to the place and presented me with a solid gold wiener. Lots of people have Grammys. But they don't have a solid gold wiener."
Jack Tempchin:
A friend of mine made an 8½ x 11" poster to advertise me around San Diego. The poster found it's way out to El Centro and I got a gig out there in a coffee house that was part of a mini mall. After the set I was kind of getting ready to go home with the waitress I had met. So, I told the other two guys to go back to where we were staying, because I wouldn't need them. But the waitress left without me and she never came back so I ended up in El Centro sleeping on the floor of this little club. All I had was my guitar and the piece of paper that had this poster on it. So, I turned it over on the back and I started writing this song because I couldn't sleep. And that piece of paper's in the Grammy Museum, along with my $13 Stella guitar.

Actually, the song only started in El Centro. Then I came back to San Diego. I went down to a street fair and saw a woman with these beautiful earrings. So I put her in the song. And then my friends and I were on Park Boulevard, where we used to just look out the window at the bus stop and fall in love with women who came by. So, I put them in the song. And then I finished the song at the Der Wienerschnitzel restaurant on Washington Boulevard, waiting for a Polish dog.

I know it came out in '72, but I probably had it in '68 or '69. I liked it, but it was just my new song. I didn't think it was going to be a hit. I didn't think it had a hook. It's not a love song exactly. The guy's going, "Hey, either way it's going to be fine." Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther were friends of mine already from the Troubadour. I was staying with Jackson and Glenn Frey came over to Jackson's house and heard me playing this song. I put it down on a cassette for him, and he came back the next day and said, "I've got a new band. We've been playing with Linda Ronstadt, but now we're putting together our own band. We've had it together for eight days. We worked up your song and here's how it sounds." And that's as far as it went.

A day or two later, he took me over to meet the guys and see them playing in a very small rehearsal hall. I heard Don Henley sing for the first time, and it was by far the best thing I had ever heard. They were trying to get a record deal and Glenn was going, "Okay, right here in that chair we're going to put David Geffen. This chair here, we're going to put this other guy." It was a tiny place and these people were going to be right in front of the band. He had it all figured out. I think they got signed up within a month or so.

The next thing that happened was they went to England to make a record with Glyn Johns. When they came back Glenn Frey came down to San Diego with a two-track tape. Of all the people in San Diego I was the only guy who had a machine that could play it. I remember meeting in this place and everybody listening to the first Eagles album on this tape. The first song was "Take It Easy" and I just went, "Oh my God. That's the best thing I ever heard." The next song was "Witchy Woman," and I'm going, "Oh man that is the best thing I ever heard." And then they played "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and I'm going, "Well, this is the best album that I ever heard." But of course, anything could've happened to it or not happened.

That was the summer of '72. I started traveling with my wife in our Volkswagen bus up the coast of California. We met a guy who managed a rock and roll band and he took us to the band house. There was a little radio on top of the refrigerator and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" by the Eagles came out of that radio. It was the third single from the album. Later, we were walking through the huge farmer's market downtown in LA and I heard it again. I didn't know if it was a hit, I just knew I started hearing it, and it sounded awful good when I heard it on the radio. And that feeling never has really gone away.

We traveled for about eight months, then I came back to San Diego. I said, "Yeah, I gotta go up to LA to make something happen now." And very soon I was playing with the guys that formed the Funky Kings. All three of us had gone to LA to get our own deals. We weren't trying to put a band together, but somehow, after two months, we started playing together. I had already been talking to Clive Davis a little bit and he called one night and said, "Well, I'm coming to LA tomorrow." So, I had the Funky Kings together for about two days. Just the day before, we actually got a bass player and a drummer, and a guitar guy. So I said, "Well, come on in tomorrow and hear us." I showed up that day at rehearsal and said, "Let's get three songs down, because Clive Davis is coming to hear us." I didn't even know these guys. They said, "Really?" But we got three songs together.

Clive came in with a couple people and he sat on this barrel and we did the three songs. And then Clive got up and said, "Okay I like it." And I went over to him and said, "Well, I don't have an attorney right now, but do I need to get in touch with somebody?" And Clive Davis just said, "No, I like it, you've got a deal." That's when I realized we were in the right room again. This is the guy who doesn't have to ask somebody else for advice.

The Funky Kings released one of the songs we did that day, "Slow Dancing," and we went on the road. I think our version got up to #60 or something and that was as high as it got [It peaked at #61 in January, 1977]. But Johnny Rivers heard it on the radio and he thought it was a hit. When someone told him it wasn't a hit, he just said, "Well I'm gonna cut it." And then he made it a hit by cutting a great radio version of it and then going to work. He toured the South. He went to all the radio stations and made it a hit. So I'm very thankful for that.
I've had offers for other songs that I approved for commercials, but I just didn't want to dilute "Peaceful Easy Feeling." But there are so many videos of it on the Internet. The one that keeps coming back to mind has these Japanese businessmen in it. It's this group that meets on Thursdays to have a giant hootenanny where they all play acoustic guitars and sing the songs together at the same time. All these guys are playing it. They're singing it in English. They're totally enjoying it. They're doing a great job. And whenever I see it I'm just struck by the distance between where I was when I was writing that song, and how the song grew up and went out on its own.

It's like that line in the song "The Road" that Danny O'Keefe wrote: "A good song takes you far." That line has been in my mind all these years whenever people say things to me like, "I was hiking in Tibet and I was around a campfire and everybody was playing that song."

June 10, 2015
Photo: Joel Piper

More They're Playing My Song

Comments: 3

  • Joe Rosenberger from Fremont, CaA genius song that has the wonderful effect of becoming interwoven with the culture.
  • Joe Rosenberger from Fremont, CaLove this story
  • Rj Jay Johnson from Planet EarthGreat story of how a song was born and then made it into our collective consciousness
see more comments

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