Jack Tempchin on Writing Songs with and for Glenn Frey

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Once The Eagles recorded his song “Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” life was never the same.

Jack Tempchin met Glenn Frey before Frey became a famous rock star. When first forming his  band, The Eagles,  Jack’s beautiful song “Peaceful Easy Feeling” gave Glenn and his new band a hit. It was that song that forever bonded them, and forged Jack’s pathway as a seriously successful songwriter. 

Jack had another song Frey brought to the Eagles. It was called “Already Gone,” and also became another immense Eagles hit by Tempchin. There was something magic there between Frey and Tempchin. Something about Glenn’s voice, especially luxuriously wrapped in rich Eagles harmonies, on Jack’s songs just worked so well. Both haunting and inviting, it was the start of a songwriting team.

So when The Eagles broke up for the first time, it made sense that Frey would turn to Tempchin to co-write what became his first solo songs. When Frey signed up to create some hip songs for a new TV show called “Miami Vice,” with Jack he cooked up a chain of decade-defining hit records, all spiked by the styling “Miami Vice” connected. There was “You Belong To The City,” which was the theme song and a hit, as well as “Smuggler’s Blues,” “The One You Love,” “I Found Somebody” and “True Love.”

Jack and Glenn, 1982. “There’s really nothing in the world like songwriting. It has given me this wonderful life. To spend your days writing songs that the world can share, that is a good life.”

 

Jack Tempchin was born in Ohio, but raised mostly in California. He lived in a big house  in San Diego near Balboa Park. With a famous candle factory in its garage, this house became a beloved hippie crash pad. Frey, who was in a duo then with J.D. Souther called Longbranch Pennywhistle, spent the night at Jack’s house. It’s there Jack played him his newest song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Glenn so loved it right then that he insisted on taping it.  The next day Frey told him he had a new band that had been together eight days, and they wanted to record the song. Tempchin’s reaction: ““Whoa, yeah!”

Tempchin wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” during a gig in El Centro. “The waitress I was gonna take home changed her mind,” he says. “So I just picked up my guitar and wrote some really stupid lyrics. You have to write a lot of really bad stuff before you come up with good stuff. I was falling in love with every woman I saw, even from a distance and put them into the song. I wrote the final verse at the Weinerschnitzel on Washington Avenue waiting for a Polish hot dog. If you were a woman in San Diego around that time, you could be in this song. But you’d never know.”

Frey and The Eagles went to England to record the first album. When they came back, Frey played it for Tempchin who was overwhelmed: “I told him it was the best thing I had ever heard! I had heard Glenn play solo, but I had no idea he was such a great arranger, and harmony singer … I felt it was the best album ever.”

Given his great songwriting and closeness to Frey, I asked why is it that Jack wasn’t part of the Eagles? 

He answered immediately. “Because I wasn’t good enough,” he said. He was a strong songwriter, he knew, but they were a vocal band as well, with beautiful voices and harmony skills. He was not at their vocal level.

As for “Peaceful,” he was happy Glenn loved it, but did not consider it a hit song. “It is not a normal love song,” he said. “But the Eagles, with their arrangement, breathed all this life into it. I remember when Glenn first heard it, he suggested I make it a little more vague, so more people could relate to it.”

It was with his pal Robb Strandlund that Tempchin wrote a country song that became a pop hit: “We got drunk in a back room in a coffee house at San Diego State,” remembered Jack, “and wrote ‘Already Gone.’ In about fifteen minutes. It just kind of came right out.”

When it came time for the third Eagles album, Frey turned again to Tempchin for material. He called and said, “You know that country song? I think we want to make it a rock song.” That was “Already Gone.” As Tempchin recalled, “I thought this is gonna be a piece of cake, this songwriting thing! Glenn and I called our songwriting method ‘El Blurto.’ Just blurt out anything. Then type it up.”

“You Belong To The City” was blurted out when Tempchin and Frey were sent a tape of a new TV show called “Miami Vice.” “The sax,” he said, “the whole feel, was inspired by the style and vibe of that show. We wrote it quickly.”

His biggest non-Eagles hit is “Swaying To The Music (Slow Dancing).” Recorded first by his own band The Funky Kings, which also featured Jules Shear, it later became a hit for Johnny Rivers.

It was born at a San Diego club upon recognition that people waited for the slow dance, so as to get close to the girl they loved: “I thought, there needs to be a slow dancing song. And also I was just falling in love with the woman who became my wife, and it all ended up as ‘Slow Dancing.’”

Johnny Rivers heard the Funky Kings version on the radio, and discovering it was not a hit yet, recorded it and made it a hit:  “[Johnny] has a way of interpreting a song where you don’t think he’s a great singer, you just think, ‘Wow, that is a great song.’”

Besides writing classic songs for and with others, Tempchin continues to seriously write ones for his own, and his most recent album is Learning To Dance, filled with beautifully crafted and inspired songs.

“There’s really nothing in the world like songwriting,” he said. “It has given me this wonderful life. To spend your days writing songs that the world can share, that is a good life. And, to this day, there’s nothing I love more than being in my car and listening to what I call Jack radio, all my demos and recordings of my songs. I never get tired of hearing them.”

Asked how he first started writing songs, he said, “I heard a Bob Dylan album at a party. Everyone was saying, ‘Nawww – that guy sounds funny!’ And I thought, ‘Whoa – that’s it.’ So I tried to be Bob Dylan over and over again in my life. And it always never worked. ‘Cause I am not him.”

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