Timothy B. Schmit: Up & Down The Highway

40 YEARS INTO LIFE ON THE ROAD WITH THE EAGLES, POCO & JIMMY BUFFETT, TIMOTHY B. SCHMIT PULLS OFF TO RECORD EXPANDO, HIS STRONGEST SOLO SET YET
By Brian Fox ,

40 YEARS INTO LIFE ON THE ROAD WITH THE EAGLES, POCO & JIMMY BUFFETT, TIMOTHY B. SCHMIT PULLS OFF TO RECORD EXPANDO, HIS STRONGEST SOLO SET YET

Timothy B. Schmit knows the road. From his childhood years tagging along with his musician father in the family’s “Expando” trailer home to his seven years in the saddle with Poco (country-rock’s boldest pioneers), Schmit has logged more miles than even the toughest road dogs. Of course, most know him as the high-tenor-voiced bass man for the Eagles. Timothy got his Eagles wings in 1977, on the tail end of the band’s blockbuster Hotel California tour, and went on to record 1979’s The Long Run, the last before the band split in 1980. The Eagles re-convened once in 1994 for Hell Freezes Over, again in 2007 for Long Road Out of Eden, and has just wrapped a summer tour with Keith Urban and the Dixie Chicks. In October, Timothy and the boys will play the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Schmit’s varied career goes far deeper than just the Eagles or Poco. In his 1980s downtime from the Eagles, Schmit hit the road with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band [Note: it was Schmit who first dubbed Buffett fans “parrotheads”], and he has worked as a session vocalist for artists as wide-ranging as Steely Dan, Toto, Bob Seger, Poison, Tim McGraw, and Spinal Tap.

None of that has kept Schmit from consistently delivering highquality solo albums, starting with 1984’s Playing It Cool, and continuing with last year’s Expando, certainly Schmit’s most selfassured, mature offering to date. Featuring guests Keb’ Mo’, Kid Rock, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Dwight Yoakam, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Graham Nash, the album is in fact the clearest demonstration of Schmit’s under-celebrated talents as a multiinstrumentalist and vocalist.

How do you view your position as a bass player and singer?

It still amazes me that I get to do what I do. I consider myself a singer first, and a rather basic bass player. I’m not an improviser— I’m really an accompanist. There are guys who play bass like a lead guitar, but that’s way beyond my comprehension and abilities. Sometimes they go so far that it doesn’t even seem like bass anymore. To me, the bass should hit you low; it’s the foundation. You can make a mistake on a piano or guitar riff. But if you’re off by a fret on bass, everybody turns and looks at you. So it’s pretty important. There are a lot of non-musicians who may know nothing technical about music, but who will certainly know it if you take the bass out of a piece of music.

Do you have a hard time playing when you’re singing?

No, I don’t. I’ve been doing it a long time. If I’m learning a new piece or working something out for the first time, I’ll work on it until it becomes second nature. I have a pretty good work ethic, because I don’t want to appear like I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to be confident when I do something, so I usually take the time to work it out.

For instance, in 1992 I got a call from Ringo Starr, who wanted me to play in his band. We had a long list of tunes to learn, but nobody knew which ones we were going to actually play. So I learned them all. I just sat in my little music hour upon hour for a week or two learning these songs and picking out the parts I would probably be singing.

Poco is often cited as being the first authentic country-rock band. In terms of your own contribution, how do you view that legacy?

We were really known as a live act; the live stuff didn’t translate that well on records, and we never had a hit record until after I left. With Poco, there was a great energy onstage, but there was some weirdness offstage. But that’s like every band, right? Towards the ends of our shows we used to stretch out and do some actual jamming. I always really enjoyed that.

It’s very hard for me to listen to old Poco now. It feels really young and unsophisticated, at least in terms of my contributions. I was young, and that’s how it sounds to me. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s like going through an old photo album. It can be a really strange experience and you can get hung up on it. But I don’t want to do that with music. I really try to look forward. I’m proud of most of the things I’ve done. I’ve had a really exceptional career, which I’m still pretty mystified about and grateful for.

How have you managed such a long and successful career?

People want to talk about this a lot. In some ways, I have no idea. That would be my honest answer; I’m not trying to be overly humble. I have talent, but there are people out there with way more talent. So there’s a certain element of serendipity in how my career has evolved. But as far as work goes, I think I have more hustle in me than I sometimes realize. I might also be a bit more aggressive than I sometimes realize. Because if somebody hands you something, you have to take it in order to see what it is. So I didn’t play a totally passive part in this. When I got these opportunities, I took them.

How did you come to record this new solo album, Expando?

It was something I wanted to do for fun. Because there was no pressure from a record label, I could do whatever I wanted. So I asked myself, What do I do best? I thought back to when I first started strumming ukuleles and tenor guitars, singing folk music. I went to my home studio, and when I was ready to record, I would get my engineer and put down an acoustic guitar track. Then I would sing the song and edit it to however I wanted, so I’d end up with a final vocal and an acoustic guitar. I built everything from there. I’m really happy with that album and I’m really anxious to see what comes out of me next.

You play fingerstyle with the Eagles. Did you do anything differently on your solo album?

I pretty much always play with my fingers, except that on the Beatle Bass and the Kay—which both have flatwounds—I either use a pick or I play with my fingernail.

You also played guitar, baritone guitar, and a bunch of other instruments.

I played as much as I could, until it just got out of my league—like tuba or vibes. My engineer, Hank Linderman, is really talented. He’s a great guitar player, but I stopped putting a guitar in his hands for my stuff because he’s too good. For a lack of better words, I needed something dumber— that’s me—on guitar.

How do you work out your vocal harmonies?

I just hear it in my head and I try it out. I might not know a couple passing notes, but those are easily worked out by recording them. I layered my voice on a few things, but in other places I didn’t want that same sound. For a song like “Down Time,” I wanted voices that sounded different. I actually recorded all the parts myself to see what all the parts were, but it was too smooth— it was too pretty. I really wanted something that sounded more like The Band. They had all these different singers that blended in an odd way. They weren’t smooth, and that’s what I liked about it. For “Down Time,” I got Kid Rock and Dwight Yoakam to sing background. Those guys sound like night and day, which is exactly what I wanted. That was a lot of fun.

What drew you to your current SWR rig for the Eagles tour?

It’s durable, and I just like the way it sounds. I just need it to sound like a bass. So I turn off all the tweeters. As I’ve said, I’m really basic. In fact, when I first started building a home studio I hired Hank to help me learn about using all the gear. But after a few days it started to get in the way of my music, because my head doesn’t work both ways. I know I could run the equipment, but I think my music would suffer because it takes a lot of energy. That’s why I still document all my ideas with an old ’70s Sony boom box.

How did you first get the call to join the Eagles?

Poco had leveled off in popularity, and I was becoming a little disenchanted with it all, so I began to put out feelers to determine my next move. I had met [Eagles manager] Irving Azoff through things like working with Steely Dan, and I think he brought my name up to Don Henley and Glenn Frey when things with Randy Meisner started to fall apart. A little while later, I got a call from Glenn asking if I was interested in joining the band. I just said. “Where do I sign? How soon can we do this?” Here they were asking me to join the band outright without playing one lick of music with them. I was ecstatic.

I was really happy when we had our first rehearsal, just because I wanted to really feel it. Up to then it had all felt like science fiction. Right from the time I heard of the possibility of my becoming an Eagle, I thought that it was an ideal fit. It was obviously the perfect for me. But it was also the perfect for them, too. And I don’t mean that in a cocky way.

To your ears, what were some of Randy Meisner’s strongest moments in his tenure in the band?

He’s on their first six albums; he’s the one that was in the trenches. I was in the trenches, too, just not with the Eagles. He obviously had a beautiful voice, he was a real decent bass player, and he was just part of that whole movement. I have a lot of respect for him because of that. When the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, I felt a little funny, like, should I really be here?

When you first joined the band, how did you adapt to your new surroundings?

I really was careful. I knew there were some pretty large egos in the band … and bviously huge talent. I watched gingerly for a while to see where I’m going to fit in sociologically, and as a player. And I’m pretty good at that—I’m perceptive about people and situations, and I’m not a big troublemaker. I’m the guy who wants things to work out, so we didn’t have any problems.

In what ways, either general or specific, have you come to put your own stamp on those bass parts that were there before?

The Eagles have always been sticklers for making things sound just like the records. So I didn’t have too much wiggle room when I joined, because I pretty much copied parts. I knew I was copying them, and that I didn’t make them up. But later on, when I did my first studio album with the band, The Long Run, I got to run with my own ideas. That was really satisfying. But I have no problem with playing Randy’s parts, and I have no illusions.

Do you have a warm-up routine?

My warm-ups have more to do with my voice than playing, but I do a bit of playing. It’s usually to accompany myself when I’m warming up my singing. I have this whole exercise routine I do with my voice.

Of the many sessions you’ve done as a singer, do any stand out as supremely satisfying?

I would say Steely Dan—almost anything I sang on there. That was the first time I ever heard myself on the radio nearly every hour with that song “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Those sessions were great because their music is so truly awesome—and I don’t use that word lightly. Another highlight would be Randy Newman. That was the first gold record I ever got, for the song “Short People.” But I’ve done a lot of stuff I’m really happy to have been a part of. I love to sing, and I’ve always been thrilled when somebody calls on me to do it. Of course, there have been jobs I probably shouldn’t have taken! [Laughs.]

What’s the best thing about this new album and what it represents to you?

I feel like there’s a new energy. I’ve done a few solo shows for the first time in my career where it’s me with my own band, doing my songs. That is so exciting. It doesn’t make me feel younger, but there’s a young energy about it. It’s very energizing, and I really love being able to reenergize after all this time—to have something new in my life.

GEAR

Basses 1962 Fender Jazz Bass (sunburst), 1962 Fender Jazz Bass (black) tuned EbAbDbGb, 1964 Fender Jazz Bass (white), 1964 Fender Jazz Bass (refinished brown), 1965 Fender Jazz Bass (sunburst) tuned EbAbDbGb, Pedulla Buzz Fretless Bass tuned DbAbDbGb, Rob Allen MB-2 Fretless Bass tuned EbAbDbGb

Rig Shure U4D wireless, Countryman DI, two SWR 750x heads, SWR Son of Bertha 1x15 cab, SWR Goliath III 4x10 cab, SWR Goliath Jr. 2x10 cab (all tweeters turned off)

Effects Boss BF-3 Flanger

Expando Gear 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, 1977 Ernie Ball Earthwood bass Kay 162 bass, ’60s Hofner “Beatle Bass”, Ernie Ball baritone guitar

Strings Ernie Ball Roundwounds on Jazz Basses, tapewound strings on the Earthwood, old flatwounds on the Kay and Hofner basses

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

(“v” indicates vocals only)

1970 Poco, Poco
1971 Poco, Deliverin’; Poco, From the Inside
1972 Poco, Good Feelin’ to Know
1973 Poco, Crazy Eyes
1974 Poco, Cantamos; Poco, Seven; Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel; Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic (v)
1975 Poco, Head over Heels
1976 Poco, Live; Poco, Rose of Comarron; Steely Dan, Royal Scam (v); Roger McGuinn, Cardiff Rose (v)
1977 Steely Dan, Aja; Poco, Indian Summer; Randy Newman, Little Criminals (v)
1978 Joe Walsh, But Seriously, Folks… (v)
1979 The Eagles, Long Run
1980 The Eagles, Eagles Live; Elton John, 21 at 33 (v); Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Against the Wind (v); America, Alibi (v); Boz Scaggs, Hits! (v)
1981 Joe Walsh, There Goes the Neighborhood (v); Crosby, Stills & Nash, Daylight Again (v)
1982 Steely Dan, Gold (v); Don Henley, I Can’t Stand Still; Toto, Toto IV (v)
1983 Joe Walsh, You Bought It: You Name It (v)
1984 Timothy B. Schmit, Playin’ It Cool, J.D. Souther, Home By Dawn (v); Poco, Inamorata; Dan Fogelberg, Windows and Walls (v); Carl Wilson, Youngblood (v)
1985 Joe Walsh, Confessor; Jimmy Buffett, Last Mango in Paris (v)
1986 Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Like a Rock (v)
1987 Timothy B. Schmit, Timothy B.; Dan Fogelberg, Exiles (v); Richard Marx, Richard Marx (v)
1988 Jimmy Buffett, Hot Water; Boz Scaggs, Other Roads (v); The Jeff Healey Band, See the Light (v); Glenn Frey, Soul Searchin’ (v)
1989 Sheena Easton, Lover in Me; Junian Lennon, Mr. Jordan (v); Jimmy Buffett, Off to See the Lizard (v)
1990 Timothy B. Schmit, Tell Me the Truth; Dan Fogelberg, Wild Places; The Simpsons, The Simpsons Sing the Blues (v)
1992 Jimmy Buffett, Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads; Spinal Tap, Break Like the Wind (v)
1993 Steely Dan, Citizen Steely Dan (v); Vince Neil, Exposed (v) Poison, Native Tongue (v); Clint Black, No Time to Kill (v)
1994 The Eagles Hell Freezes Over; Ringo Starr, Live from Montreux, Vol. 2 (v)
1995 Nelson, Because They Can (v)
1997 Tim McGraw, Everywhere (v)
1998 Crosby, Stills & Nash, Carry On (v)
2001 Timothy B. Schmit, Feed the Fire
2002 Tim McGraw, Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors (v)
2003 Dwight Yoakam, Population Me (v); Warren Zevon, Wind (v)
2005 The Eagles, Farewell Tour: Live from Melbourne; Dwight Yoakam, Blame the Vain (v)
2007 The Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden
2009 Timothy B. Schmit, Expando