Timothy B. Schmit has been blessed with an extraordinary voice capable of profound expressiveness and he’s a damn fine bass player to boot, so it’s no wonder that the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductee was destined for greatness, both as a member of Poco and later with Eagles.
With the tragic passing of founding Eagles member Glenn Frey earlier this year, that legendary band is no more and Schmit is focusing his energies on reigniting his solo career.
Leap of Faith, Schmit’s first solo album in seven years, is a splendid affirmation of his prodigious gifts as a singer, songwriter and top flight musician, seamlessly mining a diverse stew of influences numbering R&B, country, folk and bluegrass. We spoke with the music icon …
Rock Cellar: When did you first take a leap of faith, abandoning other ambitions and throwing it all in for a career in music?
Timothy B. Schmit: Well, when I first got the bug as a teenager and started strumming ukuleles and learning folk songs, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had no idea if it would go past that.
My friends and I evolved through folk music together and then into plugging our guitars in. We started learning things we heard on the radio and studying it all. I always knew that was what I wanted to do. I wasn’t a great student because my mind wasn’t there; I was usually listening to music inside my brain. So I wasn’t a particularly good student but I went to college anyway, because that’s what I needed to do. But I lived for the weekend to play music.
When I first joined Poco, when they first had me come down and learn their music and they learned one of my songs, I was sent back to Sacramento. They said they were gonna call me in a couple of weeks and it just baffled me because I wasn’t sure what was going on. I never got the call, so I came down to Los Angeles a month later with my girlfriend. I was sitting in the kitchen of my girlfriend’s house and her father was talking to me. He said, “What’s going on?” And I said, “You know these guys said they were gonna call me back but they haven’t.”
And then he said something really simple and clear, “Well, have you tried calling them?” I had sort of a “duh” moment and I gave them a call. They happened to be playing in a club fairly close to where my girlfriend’s parents live. So I went down there and sort of took the leap then. I said to myself, This is now or never. If I don’t do this I’m gonna go back to Sacramento and I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do.
So it was around that time that I realized I wanted to do this really badly and just needed to get a decent chance. I don’t really know to his day why they waited and didn’t call me one way or another but it was my calling them that sort of sparked it all up again.
Rock Cellar: When was the first time you realized you had a good voice or had people telling you that?
Timothy B. Schmit: That began to happen in maybe early high school when I started really singing folk songs with my friends. I had two friends who were into folk songs, the Kingston Trio and stuff like that. They had three guys and we all went over to that third guy’s house. So I’m there for the first time and I sang some harmony and that’s the last time they used that third guy. (laughs)
I replaced him. It wasn’t really a band, those guys just wanted to sing with me. From what my still good friend from Sacramento tell me is that I all of a sudden started singing harmony; the other guy didn’t have a clue about that and they went, “Wow! (laughs) Let’s start singing with this guy.” That’s what he tells me anyway.
Rock Cellar: Did singing harmony come naturally to you?
Timothy B. Schmit: Yeah, it comes very naturally to me. When I started telling people, “Hey, if you ever want someone to sing on your record, I’d love to” they started taking me up on it. That’s how I started singing on a lot of people’s records because that stuff to me is a no-brainer. I don’t have to think too much about that. I kind of know what to do and it’s a joyous thing; I love to do it.
This new solo album has been a long time coming. Had it been in the works for a while or did it come together pretty quickly?
Timothy B. Schmit: No, these things do not come together quickly for me. (laughs) I’m not particularly fast; some songs come quicker than others. But it mainly took so long because I was touring a lot with the Eagles. I’d try to get in a little writing and recording in between tour legs. When we sort of abruptly stopped in mid-summer of last year I said to myself, “I can’t let all these strange things that are happening around me affect my own life. I can’t let that stagnate me, I’ve gotta move forward,” which I think everybody in the band did, Don (Henley) and Joe (Walsh) and I. We kept moving forward; everybody was on the road or recording so I was able to finish it then.
Were there any particular themes or pressing subject matter that you had to get into your songs?
Timothy B. Schmit: Well, I think it all came naturally. When I look at these songs and look at the lyrics I seem to be doing a lot of contemplating about the nature of a lifespan and what’s important and what’s not and how to look at things and how to try and not miss the most important things in your life and not dwell too much on any kind of negativity or things that don’t really make any difference. So it was that kind of thing.
Rock Cellar: Is there a song on the album that best sums up who Timothy B. Schmit is in 2016?
Timothy B. Schmit: (long pause) That’s hard because they all have kind of similar themes one way or another. If I had to pick one I’d probably pick the song “All Those Faces”; it’s the third song on the album.
I was sort of free-form thinking when I wrote that; I guess I wasn’t really thinking. I wasn’t really being extremely careful and I wasn’t even sure what I was saying for a while but I just let it come and said, screw it, this is what I’m gonna do. Then it became clear as to what I was talking about. It’s kind of what was going on in my brain at the time. That’s the song that has the leap of faith phrase in it.
Rock Cellar: What piece of advice would you tell the guy who did his first solo album, Playin’ It Cool, back in ’84?
Timothy B. Schmit: (laughs) Wow…I have to think about that. I would say, “Are you sure you wanna do this now?”
Everybody has to do what they wanna do when they think they’re ready. That guy thought he was ready to do a solo album and I’m not sure in retrospect whether he was. I’m just so much more prepared these days than I was back then. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve really learned a lot about my craft. I have learned that in a solo situation I really don’t have to compromise anything. There’s no time clock ticking. That guy was probably in too much of a hurry to get something out. I think there are some good songs on my first album. But I’ll tell you one thing, if I go back and check out all the songs on my prior records, in most cases my favorite songs are the ones I self-penned without collaborating.
I don’t know that I’ll never collaborate again but right now I’m into making these records myself. What I decided to do starting with my last album and with this new one as well, however long it takes I’m gonna do this myself. I’m gonna write these songs and produce them how I want to do it.
Rock Cellar: You’ve earned being able to do things on your own given your membership in collective like Poco and the Eagles. Is it more freeing to work without having to compromise?
Timothy B. Schmit: Oh yeah. There are only self-checks and balances. It’s definitely freeing. I’m free to play lead guitar if I want. Nobody ever asks me to do that. So yeah, it’s very freeing.
Rock Cellar: What did you learn from being in Poco that you were able to apply to being in one of America’s biggest bands, Eagles?
Timothy B. Schmit: I learned a lot. I would say that Richie Furay really took me to another level. First of all, when I first went to audition for Poco, it just seemed so right and so perfect. I sounded good with them. I knew I was gonna sound good with them and I did. I was nervous and all that. Richie mentored me. He didn’t sit down and say, “Do this or do that.” I just listened to him and watched how he worked and did things.
He’s still a great friend of mine: He is a good man. He’s a lifetime friend of mine and he really helped me. In fact, there was a short period of time after I joined Poco where it was doubtful if I was gonna stay because there were some other internal problems. I started to have self doubts and wondered “what am I gonna do if this doesn’t work out?”
Richie said, “Don’t worry; you are the guy. You’re the one that needs to be here.” He really helped me. Then going to the next level with the Eagles, when they asked me to join I had never sang a note with them. They knew that I was the one they wanted and I don’t wanna sound cocky; it was perfect. It was right on. I thought it was ideal for me and it was a really good choice for them. I knew I could fit in and do well.
Rock Cellar: Upon joining the Eagles in the late ’70s, you hit it out of the park with “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Did you have that song completed before you joined the band?
Timothy B. Schmit: I had a portion of that song in my back pocket, yes, and then I took it to them and Don and Glenn (Frey) helped me to finish it.
Rock Cellar: What did it sound like before Don and Glenn got a hold of it?
Timothy B. Schmit: I honestly don’t remember. It definitely had the same kind of feel. I was really glad they chose that one and that I wasn’t the one who was gonna do a country rock song. I didn’t want to do a country rock song; I loved R&B but nobody kind of knew it until they heard part of that song. I had a quarter or a third of that song finished and as I recall I played them bits and pieces of other songs that I had written but they kept zeroing in on “I Can’t Tell You Why.” And that’s the one we finished.
Rock Cellar: A lot of people may not know this, but that magic guitar solo on “I Can’t Tell You Why” was not played by Don Felder but Glenn Frey.
Timothy B. Schmit: Yeah, that’s right. It’s Glenn playing the solo; he’s the one that did that. Glenn worked everything out. We used to call him “The Lone Arranger.” He was so good at that, so good at figuring out parts and what should lay there. When you were comparing Poco and the Eagles earlier, that’s the difference.
With the Eagles they had a craft of writing radio-friendly songs and they were brilliant at it. Poco had some really good songs but they weren’t of the caliber of songs by the Eagles, at least for the most part, for radio purposes.
When Poco had a hit with “Crazy Love,” I suspect a lot of people have thought that me singing it. But it wasn’t. In fact, I wasn’t even in the band then; I was already in the Eagles.
So what happened was, with Poco, we kept working as hard as we could and trying and trying to get a hit record. Then I left the band and joined the Eagles where I had a hit song where I sang lead vocals with “I Can’t Tell You Why” around the same time that Poco finally had a hit song, which was “Crazy Love.” That song was written and sung by Rusty Young.
Rock Cellar: We tragically lost Glenn recently. What are your most indelible memories of him?
Timothy B. Schmit: Glenn was hilariously funny when he wanted to be. There were times you’d belly laugh. I used to joke on stage when I introduced him because he was the one who introduced everyone on stage. So when it came to him I’d introduce him and one of the things I’d say was “he was the man with a thousand jokes,” and that was so true. He had a laugh that was so large that he often would go into coughing spells. He had a belly laugh that was that big.
Also, Glenn, along with Don, taught me a lot about focusing and discipline. Regarding songwriting, like Glenn says in the History of the Eagles documentary, it’s all about elbow grease. It’s all about rolling up your sleeves and sitting down to work. That’s a great thing he taught me. Going back to your question of what I would told myself back in ’84 when I was doing my first solo album is I’d let too many things go in the past where I didn’t take enough time to totally work things out and now I’m more disciplined enough to know how to do that now, even though it’s so frustrating sometimes.
Songwriting is not digging ditches but it’s work. It’s really a lot of work.
Rock Cellar: The History of the Eagles documentary was a powerful and riveting film. Watching it, were there any revelations you had seeing it?
Timothy B. Schmit: Yes, definitely. I was already two years in Poco when the Eagles began so I was very busy doing my thing when they were developing and up and coming and, eventually, surpassing us. So I can’t think of any specific things off-hand but I learned a lot of little details here and there of what went on. Being with those guys for so long myself there were occasionally stories about how things were and the relationships within the band and the earlier members so I was given a little more insight into all of that. Just the same way when Bernie Leadon came out to play the first half of each show on the History of The Eagles tour.
Standing next to him and playing those earlier songs and hearing him play those guitar parts that he made up really showed me how influential he was as a member. I didn’t fully get that until I was playing those songs and listening to him onstage. He was playing the parts that he made up.
Rock Cellar: In 2016, the music industry remains in flux with artists in control of their destiny and wrestling control back from the big movers and shakers. How has that impacted on you as an artist in how you create and deliver your music to a wide audience?
Timothy B. Schmit: Well, it affects me a lot. In fact, this album Leap Of Faith, is garnering more attention now than any of my other solo albums; I’m self-releasing it. It’s my own record company so I’m doing it all by myself. Well, I guess I can’t say I’m doing it completely by myself; I’m funding it myself. I’ve got a lot of help from management.
There’s some young blood in Irving Azoff’s stable that have really got the social media thing down and are really on top of it. Irving and his staff pretty much said, “We could find you a label but we’re gonna do all the work anyway so why don’t you just self-release it?” We’ll do the work and we’ll have more control. So that’s what we’re doing.
In the old model before social media and before iTunes I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this, because you have to deal with much more difficult distribution but now that the physical distribution can be done out of your own store, online or Amazon makes it doable. iTunes is by far the biggest vendor selling music. So I’m doing it myself and it totally affects me.
Should this album do well, it’s mine, I own it, I own the whole thing. I know the odds are against me of getting in the black but I’m not really doing it for that reason. Thank God I’m able to do this because I want to do this and I’m able to do it.
I’m doing it really for the music and feel I can self-express way better than I used to be able to musically and I’m gonna keep doing it.