One-On-One with JACK TEMPCHIN
Some of the most memorable songs of the 1970s still in heavy rotation today and performed live in stadiums all over the world are songs JACK TEMPCHIN wrote. Becoming so widely known as the writer of five Eagles hits sounds a bit crazy for guy who dropped out of UCSD’s Science Department and ended up with a triple major from SDSU in Psychology, English and Music. Tempchin has also written tracks for Glen Campbell, Emmylou Harris, the Eagles’ Randy Meisner and of course, famously with his dear friend Glenn Frey. Still collaborating with his peers, he recently co-wrote ‘It’s Your World Now’ and ‘Somebody’ for the Eagles’ latest release Long Road Out of Eden. A musician himself, he played in various bands throughout his career and lately decided to go solo; his latest release Live at Tales from the Tavern contains new material as well as stripped down and delightful versions of hits he has written (including ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling,’ ‘You Belong to the City,’ ‘Slow Dancing’ and ‘Already Gone’). He donates some of his time performing for fundraisers including Wounded Warrior and recently contributed to recording a Christmas album to benefit The Humane Society of San Diego. After his family relocated from Ohio right after he was born, they moved to San Diego and the city adores one of its more decorated residents. Peaceful Easy Feeling Day was declared last year in America’s Finest City (where he wrote much of the song) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release date. Tempchin also appears in the hugely successful documentary History of the Eagles currently airing on Showtime and will be playing a very rare live show at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad on Saturday, Nov. 9.
What got you interested in music?
I heard a Bob Dylan record at a party in San Diego while in high school, started playing harmonica and teamed up with a guitar player doing blues. My friend and I would go down to the beach and make up songs for hours. Finally I started playing guitar and got gigs at coffee houses. For a while I just got up there and made stuff up then I actually wrote a song or two. After a while I was playing at The Heritage and the doorman was a guy named Tom Waits. The club bought an old piano and he started staying up all night playing it. I booked him at the Backdoor at SDSU then we got together and wrote the song ‘Tijuana.’
The Candy Club by SDSU was pivotal for you.
I was making a living hosting all the open mic hoot nights around San Diego, headlining a lot and opening for people like Jackson Browne and Jennifer Warnes. Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther had a duo called Longbranch/Pennywhistle, came down to play the Candy Club and I invited them to stay at my house near Balboa Park. After that they always stayed at my place whenever they came to San Diego, which they did a bunch while playing at Peterson Gym and other gigs. We became really good friends and remain friends today. I love those guys.
How did you write ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’?
A friend created a poster about me consisting of quotes from famous people saying how great I was and he made them all up. (Laughs) A [club owner] in El Centro didn’t know that and he hired me to come out and play. This waitress said she’d take me back to her place so I told the guys I was with that I didn’t need a ride home then she flaked out so I had to sleep on the floor of this tiny club in a mini mall. I took one of those posters down, turned it over and started writing the song (you can view this at PeacefulEasyFeeling.com). I wrote some lyrics that weren’t any good, then I wrote a verse and somehow worked out this phrase, “It’s a peaceful easy feeling … I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight with a billion stars all around.” I came back to San Diego, saw this girl with beautiful earrings at a street fair in Old Town, put her in the song and finished the last verse waiting for my order at Der Wienerschnitzel on Washington Boulevard. It was basically about trying to get the girl, but then you realize: hey, if I don’t get the girl I’m still fine. That’s really the essence of the song; it’s only when you decide to let go of something that it’s going to drop in your lap because you’re not ready otherwise. I never thought of it as a love song and it never occurred to me that it was going to be a hit.
Within a week of the Eagles forming they had that song … how did that happen?
J.D. and Glenn were sharing an apartment in Silver Lake and there was a little cubbyhole downstairs where Jackson was living. They invited me up there and I hung around there quite a bit. Then while I was staying at Jackson’s house that he moved to in Hollywood, Glenn came over, I was playing and he asked me, “What’s that?” I told him it was my new song and he asked if he could put it on a cassette recorder. “I’ve got this new band we just put together, we’re rehearsing right now so do you mind if I take it over to them?” I said great, the next day he came back and played me what they had worked up — it was just incredible! I had been through a bunch of incarnations of the song; I strummed it with a flat pick then turned it into a ballad with finger picking, which is what I was doing when Glenn walked in. He changed it back to the strumming. (Laughs) He took me to meet the band in a tiny rehearsal facility in North Hollywood. I had never met Don Henley and he’s there playing drums and singing at the same time, “You don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry” and I’m thinking, “Who is this guy?!” It was the most incredible thing I’d ever heard.
You also co-wrote ‘Already Gone’ and gave it to them.
I was trying to write a country song but didn’t know how so I enlisted the help of my friend, Robert Strandlund, a country singer. One night we got drunk at the Backdoor, wrote ‘Already Gone’ in about 25 minutes and just went (sings) “Woo hoo hoo”! I made a decision about people that don’t do right by you, who aren’t stand up people and don’t follow through with their promises … What do you do about that? I’m going to give everybody a chance then when they let me down I’m just gonna cross them off my list and never deal with them again. Once I decided that, I felt this freedom: I’m already gone so you can’t affect me anymore; it’s over, I’m moving on. A few years later, Glenn heard it, called me from the studio where they were making [On the Border] and said, “You know that country song that you have? I think it would make a great rock song,” and he just rocked it out! I also think [choosing that song] is a measure of Glenn as a guy; others would want to write their own songs. I notice this over and over – the guys with true greatness are always very, very generous with everybody else. Others don’t do that because they can’t get past themselves….
And you wrote the hit ‘Slow Dancin’ (Swayin’ to the Music)’!
I was in The Funky Kings signed with Arista Records in 1978; my version got to #60 on the charts then Johnny Rivers heard and recorded it. He was able to make it a big hit that is still being played today and he’s been my good friend ever since!
You have toured a lot with very famous musicians. Which was your favorite experience?
Christopher Cross! After ‘Sailing’ came out it was really interesting because he had been playing in Texas bars for years, made the record with his same band and it was huge. They were having the time of their lives because every concert was like, “Oh Paul Simon’s coming backstage!” Everybody wanted to meet them!
Why do you think Glenn Frey chose you to co-write with when he made his solo records?
I gave him a tape of ‘I Volunteer’ backstage at an Eagles concert at the Santa Monica Civic [in 1980]; he liked it and decided he wanted it on his first solo album. He called and asked if I wanted to come over to write some songs. I think after a while with him and Henley it was really difficult; they are both such perfectionists whereas I’m just a free-flowing guy. The first time I went over we wrote ‘I Found Somebody,’ the next time we wrote ‘The One You Love.’ I love co-writing and I’m working with someone who turned out to be one of the greatest writers of our time! You’ve got The Beatles, The Stones and the Eagles….
You also penned the huge #2 hit ‘You Belong to the City’ together.
Glenn sat next to Michael Mann [producer of Miami Vice] on a plane ride, they started talking and we got a script about Crockett [played by Don Johnson] going back to New York. He’s walking around town so we thought – you belong to the city….
Tell me about your Peaceful Easy Feeling Wine.
I was sitting outside Whole Foods and a guy comes up to me and says, “I love your music.” He was their wine buyer and put me in touch with South Coast Winery in Temecula; they’ve won Winery of the Year in California three times over the last five years! My wife is an artist; she’s done my album covers and she designed the label. Right now we have a cabernet; the chardonnay will come out next year.
What’s next for you?
I’m signing wine bottles at various locations and I am getting ready to do another album with all these songs I’ve written that no one’s ever heard hoping to do a great job of recording them.
Tempchin’s Live Performance on 11/9/13 info at NewVillageArts.org, call (760) 433-3245.
Peaceful Easy Feeling Wine is available at Whole Foods, select Sprouts and Costcos, online at PeacefulEasyFeeling .com.