born on 19/7/1947 in Minneapolis, MN, United States
Bernard Mathew "Bernie" Leadon, III (born July 19, 1947, in Minneapolis, Minnesota), is an American musician and songwriter, best known as a founding member of the Eagles. Prior to the Eagles, he was a member of two pioneering and highly influential country rock bands, Dillard & Clark and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, mandolin, steel guitar, dobro) coming from a bluegrass background. He introduced elements of this music to a mainstream audience during his tenure with the Eagles.
Leadon's music career since leaving the Eagles has been decidedly low-key, resulting in merely two solo albums with a gap of 27 years in between. Leadon is, however, a noted session musician who has appeared as a guest on many other artists' records.
Leadon (pronounced "led-un") was born in Minneapolis, to Dr. Bernard Leadon, Jr. and Ann Teresa Sweetser Leadon, devout Catholic parents of ten children. His father was an aerospace engineer and nuclear physicist whose career moved the family around the U.S. The family enjoyed music and, at an early age, Bernie developed a keen interest in folk and bluegrass music. He eventually mastered the 5-string banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar respectively.
As a young teen he moved with his family to San Diego, where he met fellow musicians Ed Douglas and Larry Murray of the local bluegrass outfit, The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. The Barkers proved a breeding ground for future California country rock talent, including shy, 18-year-old mandolin player Chris Hillman (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, The Desert Rose Band), with whom Leadon had a lifelong friendship. Augmented by banjo player (and future Flying Burrito Brother) Kenny Wertz, the Squirrel Barkers eventually asked Leadon to join the group, upon Wertz's joining the Air Force in 1963.
His stint in the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers did not last long. In late 1963, his family once again relocated to Gainesville, Florida, when his father accepted a position as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. Leadon attended Gainesville High School, where he met classmate and future Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder. Felder's band, the Continentals, had just lost guitarist and future Buffalo Springfield & CSNY superstar Stephen Stills. Upon Leadon's joining the group, rechristened Maundy Quintet, they gigged locally, even sharing the bill with future Gainesville legend Tom Petty and his early band the Epics (a band that also included Bernie's brother, musician Tom Leadon).
A call from ex-Squirrel Barker Larry Murray in 1967, to join his fledgling psychedelic country-folk group, Hearts & Flowers, was enticement enough for Leadon to move to California, where he quickly fell in with the burgeoning L.A. folk/country rock scene. Leadon recorded one album with the band: their sophomore effort, Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women for Capitol Records. The record was a local hit but failed to make much of a dent on the national album charts. Discouraged, the group disbanded in 1968.
By late 1968, Leadon had befriended bluegrass/banjo legend Doug Dillard, late of the Dillards. While crashing at Dillard's pad, informal jam sessions with prolific songwriter and ex-Byrds member Gene Clark began to take shape, and morphed into what eventually became Dillard & Clark, a seminal country-rock band who laid the groundwork for the country-rock sound that dominated the L.A. music scene for the next decade. In 1968, the group recorded their classic and highly influential LP, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. The album featured Leadon's warm and distinctive backing vocals and impressive multi-instrumental work. The album's highlights include several compositions co-written with Clark, most notably the future Eagles staple (and somewhat of a signature song for Leadon) from their debut album, "Train Leaves Here This Morning".
Leadon left Dillard & Clark in 1969, eventually reconnecting with ex-Squirrel Barker (and ex-Byrd) Chris Hillman, who asked him to join his fledgling country-rock outfit, The Flying Burrito Brothers, a band that Hillman had formed a year earlier with fellow ex-Byrd, Gram Parsons. Leadon recorded two albums with the group: Burrito Deluxe and the post-Parsons LP, The Flying Burrito Bros. After the latter album's release in 1971, Leadon had tired of the band's lack of commercial success and decided to leave the band to pursue an opportunity to play with three musicians he had gelled with while moonlighting in Linda Rondstadt's backing band that summer. He struck paydirt with this next band, the Eagles, which launched his career and the country-rock genre into the stratosphere.
Leadon was the last member to join the Eagles, a band initially formed by guitarist/singer Glenn Frey, drummer/singer Don Henley, and former Poco bassist/singer Randy Meisner. Leadon is often credited with helping shape the band's early country-rock sound, bringing his strong sense of harmony as well as his country, bluegrass and acoustic sensibilities to the group.
Upon the release of their debut album, Eagles, the group met with near instantaneous success, due largely to the strength of their hit singles, "Take It Easy", "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Witchy Woman" (co-written by Leadon and Henley), all of which highlighted Leadon's multi-instrumental talent on electric guitar, B-Bender, banjo, and harmony vocals. Their follow-up, Desperado, was another strong country-rock venture highlighted by the classics "Tequila Sunrise" and the title track, but was met by surprisingly lukewarm reviews and lackluster sales. As a result, the band attempted to distance itself from the "country rock" label for their third album On the Border. In doing so, Leadon encouraged the group to recruit his old friend, guitarist Don Felder, to the band. The result was the guitar-heavy top ten hit "Already Gone". The album also included "My Man", Leadon's touching tribute to his old bandmate and friend, Gram Parsons, who had died of a drug overdose the year prior at Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California.
With the wild success of On the Border and its follow-up smash, One of These Nights, tension within the band grew, as Leadon grew increasingly frustrated by the band's direction away from his beloved country and bluegrass and toward AOR stadium rock. He famously quit the band in 1975 by pouring a beer over Glenn Frey's head. He later cited a need to get healthy and break the vicious cycle of touring, recording and heavy drug use that was rampant within the band.
Upon his departure, Asylum Records released Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which highlighted the band's Leadon years and went on to become the biggest-selling album of all time for sales in excess of 42 million units, awarded to the band members by the RIAA. He was replaced by former James Gang guitarist/singer, Joe Walsh.
Upon leaving the Eagles, Leadon retreated from the limelight, only to resurface in 1977 with musician friend Michael Georgiades for his first solo album, Natural Progressions.
In 1985, he recorded an album of bluegrass and gospel favorites under the name Ever Call Ready, featuring Chris Hillman and Al Perkins, and also had a short stint with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the late 1980s. In 1993, he became a member of Run C&W, a novelty group singing Motown hits "bluegrass style", recording two albums for MCA Records. In 1998, Leadon reunited with the Eagles in New York City for the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All seven current and former Eagles members performed together on "Take It Easy," and "Hotel California". In 2004, he released his second solo effort in 27 years, Mirror.
He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a well-regarded and well-respected session musician and producer, considered by many as one of the early pioneers of the country-rock genre.
Leadon is currently on tour with the Eagles for the duration of their "History of the Eagles" tour.
Eagles songs written or co-written by Bernie Leadon
- "Train Leaves Here This Morning" from Eagles (co-written with Gene Clark)
- "Earlybird" from Eagles (co-written with Randy Meisner)
- "Witchy Woman" from Eagles (co-written with Don Henley)
- "Twenty-One" from Desperado
- "Bitter Creek" from Desperado
- "Saturday Night" from Desperado (co-written with Meisner, Henley, and Glenn Frey)
- "My Man" from On the Border
- "On The Border" from On the Border (co-written with Henley/Frey)
- "Hollywood Waltz" from One of These Nights (co-written with brother Tom Leadon and Henley/Frey)
- "Journey Of The Sorcerer" from One of These Nights. This piece was used as the theme music for the radio, television and film versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- "I Wish You Peace" from One of These Nights (co-written with Patti Davis)
Eagles songs with Bernie Leadon on lead vocals
- "Train Leaves Here This Morning" from Eagles
- "Earlybird" from Eagles
- "Twenty-One" from Desperado
- "Bitter Creek" from Desperado
- "My Man" from On the Border
- "On the Border" (co-lead vocal in the bridge ["Never mind your face, just show us your card"]) from On the Border
- "I Wish You Peace" from One of These Nights'
- Eliot, Marc (2005). To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, p. 131. Da Capo Press.
- Elliot, Marc (1998). To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, Little, Brown.
- Einarson, John (2001). Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, Cooper Square Press.
- Einarson, John (2005). Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds' Gene Clark, Backbeat books.
- Felder, Don with Holden, Wendy (2008). Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001), Wiley.
- Einarson, John with Hillman, Chris (2008). Hot Burritos: The True Story of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jawbone Press.
- The Complete Hearts and Flowers Liner Notes
- The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers
- Rock of Ages' Bernie Leadon Interview
|Glenn Frey | Don Henley | Joe Walsh | Timothy B. Schmit | Randy Meisner | Bernie Leadon | Don Felder|
|Studio albums: Eagles | Desperado | On the Border | One of These Nights | Hotel California | The Long Run | The Long Road To Eden|
|Live albums: Eagles Live | Hell Freezes Over|
|Compilations: Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) | The Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2|