We have two girls to thank for this. Go figure. Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther met one fateful day in a Los Angeles coffeehouse, introduced by their girlfriends, who were sisters. Before long, these "Detroit Brothers" (J.D. was born there, but only lived there in infancy, and most recently had hailed from Amarillo, Texas) would have music in common as well.
Early on Longbranch Pennywhistle played at McCabe's Guitar Shop, with friends Bryndle often opening for them. Feeling confident, they approached Tom Thacker to get a record deal at his label, but when Don Lanier heard them, he brought them to Thacker's old roommate, Jimmy Bowen, who had just taken over running Amos Records. In his book, "Rough Mix", Bowen says their sound reminded him of the early Everly Brothers, and he wanted them so badly in fact that he offered Thacker a GM position at Amos, and a piece of Amos' publishing rights in return for allowing them to sign with Amos. In addition, he allowed Thacker to produce their eponymous debut LP.
Plagued by the typical problems that any new record label endures until it gets on it's legs, Amos would not prove to be the vehicle by which either J.D. or Glenn would reach a mass audience, despite the opportunity to tour as opening act for Poco.
|Just as disappointing, despite setting them up in an apartment in West Hollywood because they were both broke, Longbranch Pennywhistle would not prove to be the hitmaker necessary to get Amos going and keep them going.|
After the first album was released, they ran headlong into that old demon, creative differences. The label wanted them to cover well-known songs by established writers; J.D. and Glenn wanted to become established writers, whose songs would be covered by other people. The first option just wasn't an option. Longbranch Pennywhistle would not make the album that Amos wanted, and Amos would not fund the rock-oriented album that Longbranch Pennywhistle was intent upon making, having begun to work with David Briggs, producer of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's album, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere.
Astute enough to recognize raw talent but not smart enough to develop it, Amos Records eventually folded. (Well, they signed two guys who would eventually be counted among the best songwriters of their genre, and then try to make them record covertunes.) After a protracted period of waiting and uncertainty, Glenn and J.D. were eventually released from their contractual obligations with Amos, and were given their publishing rights for 7,500.00 each, "whenever they could come up with the money." (Thacker was given 12,500.00 as compensation because he was so angry at the decision to release them.)
With their acoustic duo seeming to go nowhere, both J.D. and Glenn were seeking and making other contacts, and would eventually split up Longbranch Pennywhistle. J.D. wanted to go solo, Glenn wanted a band. Glenn got his band, and history does record at least one appearance on stage of J.D. as a member of the Eagles, very early on. However, the arrangement was really not ideal for any of the parties involved, although everybody got along just fine. It was simply a matter of preference, and so J.D. was a constant, but not a member.
He would collaborate on subsequent Eagles albums up through 1979's release, The Long Run, and appear on Eagles Live in 1980, on a version of "New Kid In Town" (originally recorded in concert in 1976.) Glenn has been quoted as saying that J.D., "...gave away all his best songs. He would start things and we would finish them. When we would bog down we could always call him because he's always been an inspiration."
J.D. would go on to record as a solo artist and act as producer for some of the most notable artists of the Seventies, and also formed the Souther Hillman Furay Band with Chris Hillman, formerly of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Stephen Still's Manassas; and Richey Furay, formerly of Buffalo Springfield and Poco.
J.D., like Glenn, has also undertaken acting projects, appearing in television and on film, most recently a starring role in the movie To Cross The Rubicon.
Their personal and artistic friendship continues to this day, with Glenn dedicating, "The Girl From Yesterday" to J.D. during the Hell Freezes Over MTV Show, because, "he turned a Detroit boy onto country music." And when John David Souther did that, he set the stage for all that would come next.
Why "Longbranch Pennywhistle"?
It seems they couldn't have possibly picked a more cumbersome title, but this webmistress has her suspicions (entirely unconfirmed) as to the genesis of the name:
The pennywhistle is a classic instrument in Irish Folk Music, and was enjoying a resurgence in popularity at that time within the West Coast Folk Scene. As for "Longbranch", one of the most popular television shows at that time, Gunsmoke, (remember Marshall Dillon? Miss Kitty?) centered loosely around the goings-on at the Longbranch Saloon. This, and the fact that it has a definite "Buffalo Springfield" ring to it will go far toward explaining J.D. and Glenn settling on that particular name.
Interestingly, according to an interview with Glenn in the book, Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins (Citadel Press, 1995 ppg. 75-76) J.D. and Glenn almost called themselves Double Eagle, because they are both Scorpios and the Eagle is the one of the symbols of that Astrological sign. According to Astrological tradition, Scorpio experiences three phases: the Eagle symbolizes a Scorpio who has attained his highest spiritual aspirations. Glenn must have really liked the imagery, because the name came up again a few years later and that time he got to use it. In 1976, when old friend Joe Walsh joined the Eagles, there was yet another Scorpio on board, and so Double Eagle turned out to be a fairly prophetic name after all.