Timothy B. Schmit photo by Dove Shore
Timothy B. Schmit possesses one of the most distinctive voices with an imprint that stretches over the decades with such standards as the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” Poco’s “Keep On Tryin’” and the plethora of songs he sang background on: Firefall’s “Just Remember I love You,” Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross,” Toto’s “Africa” and a trio of Steely Dan albums. Schmit, who replaced bassist Randy Meisner not once but twice, first in Poco and then the Eagles, spent just a few years in the latter band before they broke-up. Ironically, Schmit has logged more years in the Eagles since they broke up and re-united nearly thirty years ago. Along the way, Schmit launched a parallel solo career releasing seven albums including his latest Day By Day. It features a stellar guest cast including John Fogerty, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jackson Browne, John McFee, Lindsey Buckingham and Beach Boys alumni Matt Jardine and Chris Farmer. Schmit’s single “Simple Man” can be added to the canon of his most memorable songs as the introspective song is overlayed with multi-layered harmonies and late life musings. We got together to speak with Schmit in between his ongoing travels with the Eagles who he playfully calls his “other band.” Schmit reflected on what life is like now versus then, the health struggles with throat and neck cancer he overcame, the mysterious journey of life and how songwriting takes it all in.
Americana Highways: Well, first of all, congratulations on the new album. I guess as a musician, it probably is a good feeling to have new music to talk about.
Timothy B. Schmit: Oh, yeah, it’s always good.
AH: How long did “Day By Day” take to do and what was your approach to it?
TS: Well, it took quite a long time because I’m busy with the other band quite a lot lately. So, I would come home from touring, rest up a little and then go to work on my own stuff, whether it be writing or recording something I’ve already written. There’s no big concept regarding the album, or I would say any of my albums. I just keep trying to write songs try to better myself and try to do things that keep me interested and hopefully others.
AH: I guess everybody has their own sort of approach to songwriting. Could you share yours? Do you tend to do it regularly? Or do you kind of tend to jot down ideas and come back to things over time?
TBS: I seem to go, well, I’m always trying to keep myself open for ideas. But it used to be in the past, you know, you would keep a pencil with you or a pen and write on anything in front of you, a napkin or whatever. But now, you can just record it into your phone if you, or if you need to just duck out into a corner or something, which I did once when I was walking in New York, I’ve done it more than once. I had this idea and I know that if I don’t document it, I’ll forget it, no matter how strong it is in my head. So, I just ducked, into a doorway and, and sang it into my phone.
TBS: But mostly it comes in spurts. Because you know, I’ll be busy maybe with the band touring or, uh, doing other parts of my life. And then I’ll come back to it. If I know I have a space of time where, where I can actually go to work, I’ll take advantage of that and do that.
AH: For your new song “Simple Man,” there were a couple of lines that really intrigued me. Does that song reflect a character or is that reflecting you….the line about not seeking the fame or “the things I’ve needed before?” I was just kind of curious about that line.
TBS: Well, yeah, I mean, I’m older and I’ve achieved….I mean, if I dropped out of sight tonight, I would have had a lot… I can say I would have had a really good run. So, that song is pretty true to stuff I think about these days, my life and how it’s treated me, how I’ve treated it. And that there’s less time in front of me than behind me now.
AH: There’s also a line “I’m not privy to life’s protocols” that I thought was pretty impactful especially for myself, as I too get older.
TBS: Yeah, well, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. It’s that simple. We could, you know, and so, why, wait? Why dwell upon it? I’ll go, I guess, writing about it. I don’t know if that’s exactly dwelling upon it. It’s just stuff I think about. It’s a mysterious journey we’re on. We’re all taking a different one. And we don’t know when or where it’s gonna come to. We can just keep going, right?
AH: I know that you had a bout with cancer about 10 years ago. Can you share what that experience was like, and does that influence that song or that kind of feeling?
TBS: Well, it definitely is another wake-up call to your mortality and stuff, although I was never concerned with my life, I was concerned with my career and my voice, because it was, was here. And, yeah, it was quite a little diversion and an eye-opener. This coming Thanksgiving, it will be 10 years. And I’m glad it’s behind me. But, you know, it was an experience, I guess I had to go through, and I was really lucky in that I didn’t lose my voice. It definitely altered my voice. But I didn’t lose my voice. I was in the hands of some really great people, including one doctor who, really understood that I wished to keep singing. Yeah, it’s, it’s quite a blow. When you’re told something like that, it’s one of those things like, oh, that happens to other people kind of thing, you know. But it opens your eyes.
AH: What were some of the things that were happening to you, did you, uh, you know, have, have trouble singing or speaking?
TBS: No, I actually had very little trouble. Uh, I happened to go to a doctor who looks down there once for other reasons and saw something, took a picture of it and sent it away to a specialist. It started the biopsies, this and that, “what are we gonna do?” and who should I see, all that stuff. I wasn’t having any, any trouble. There, there’s a certain amount of change in your voice as you get older. It wasn’t anything more than that, I think.
AH: Going back to the new record, um, it seems like a variety of the different styles that you’ve, you know, had over the years from R&B to rock and great harmony singing. When I think of some of the songs, one of them that stands out is “Grinding Stone.” How did that come about? I think that was inspired by something near your house, right?
TBS: Yeah, I was in my studio, I had a lot of time to, to work during the, the lockdown and COVID time when there weren’t any distractions. So, we just went to work. I went out to my studio one day and was just thinking about, what should I try to tackle. And I was just looking out the window thinking and I’m looking at this beautiful view and I thought, I’m gonna write about that. Or I’m gonna write about this, I’m gonna write about where I live. And it just so happens that I’m, that my house is situated on a former Chumash Native American land. And, unfortunately, in some ways, fortunately for me, which I sort of say in the song, um, I decided to write about the beautiful, still pristine land that’s, that’s in front of me and the mountains around me.
And if you know where to go and take this one little path…. it’s not right on the beaten path, you could find, you find this, this big grinding stone. I-I actually took a photo of it and put it in the album. Uh, it’s, it looks like three people could actually straddle it to grind probably acorns because there’s a lot of ropes around there. It’s still there. And it just came to me. I-It’s like one of those things where, where people say, “This just appeared before me.” It sounds corny, but the, the very last part of the chorus it came to me that that’s where I should culminate this. I’ll take good care of that old grinding stone. Of course, it’s not under my care. But I do love it and I’m glad that it’s there. And I certainly would defend it if somebody tried to take it out.
AH: And you talked about, our ancestors and the blood of people before us. What does it say to you about today and how we are in our society today?
TBS: Well, it says that some things don’t change. Everybody’s a bully. All of the superpowers, including the US, we’re all puffing out our chest and being bullies. And it just never comes to any good. Just doesn’t. And I’m not singling out the US. I don’t mean to do that. I’m talking about all the major powers.
AH: It’s a strange time we live in.
TBS: It really is and it’s very disturbing. It’s like the entire planet is going through a nervous breakdown and we don’t know how to handle it. So, they put up their fists.
AH: Between, the climate changing and what social media has done to put everybody on edge, it’s, uh, it’s a strange time.
TBS: Yes, it is.
AH: I had a chance to see the film that Richie Furay did at the Troubadour for the fiftieth anniversary of Poco. I know that you were there at the beginning of that show and made some remarks. I was wondering what that experience was like.
TBS: Well, it was great. I’d pretty much do anything to help him out. He was my champion when I came here. He, he’s the guy that said, “I want you to be in this band,” meaning Poco. And, even when it looked like I wasn’t gonna be, he said, “No, you’re the guy.” And that’s a whole other long story. But I owe a lot to him. He was really a mentor of mine, as a performer and as a singer and as a friend. Years and years later, probably three or four years ago now, he actually opened up a couple of shows for me. And I just, I couldn’t, I couldn’t grasp that. It was wrong, you know so, I made sure that he closed my show by singing something of his.
AH: Oh, that’s wonderful. I saw Rusty Young a few years ago before he passed away when Poco played at the Birchmere in Virginia. He described being on stage and seeing people in the audience. He said it’s sort of like seeing your life flash by you with all the different generations of people and fans. I thought that was kind of an interesting way to look at it. Where were you when you heard about his passing?
TBS: I think I was here. I was here in LA, in my, in my home. And it was shocking. Not only that, you know, Paul Cotton passed within the next few months. It was just another reminder of your mortality, you know. And I guess I’m at an age now where that’s gonna happen more and more. And it’s just the way it is, but it doesn’t make it any less dramatic and, and in some cases, shocking.
AH: Yeah. When you step on the stage for a big stadium show with the Eagles, do you still have that same sense of excitement or rush that you might have had years ago?
TBS: Yes, because what keeps everything fresh and new is definitely the energy the audience gives back. So, especially it’s stadium shows but not specifically and not exclusively. I mean, audiences in arenas can be very powerful. There’s so much excitement and so much emotion. I see people dancing, I see people go into another world. I see people crying. It’s pretty amazing. And I am really thankful I still get to be a part of that. So, in a lot of ways, it’s still it’s exciting. And, and at, at every show I try to make sure to be wholly conscious of that, even for a few minutes and be conscious of the fact that, wow, this is still happening. You know, this is really great. I’m, I’m older now and it’s still happening, maybe bigger than ever. It’s wild and it’s, it’s really wonderful.
AH: I saw you play at the Nationals stadium in Washington, DC, a few summers ago. You opened up with “Seven Bridges Road” and I’m always knocked out by the harmonies on that. That song used to be a warm-up song years ago for the band. But when you’re on that huge stadium stage, what kind of experience is that when you sing that?
TBS: Well, we make it so that we can hear everybody. Everybody’s got whatever they need in their monitors. So, yeah, that’s usually not a problem. I love a capella. So, there’s nothing missing there. I still really enjoy it.
AH: When, you’re playing now with the Eagles and are accompanied by an orchestra, what is that experience like?
Timothy: It’s great. We played a bunch of shows on the Hotel California Tour. And it doesn’t get old, again, for the same reason. When the orchestra pops up from behind and you hear all these lush strings and you see the people’s reaction, some people literally have their mouths open, I mean, it’s really pretty great. Seems to work.
AH: As a musician, is there anything different about playing with an orchestra than, you know, if you’re just playing with the band?
TBS: It’s fuller, you know, and there’s different instrumentation. As a bass player, I still have to stay right with the drums, and we all have to play together. We just keep our same thing together and they accompany us. That’s kind of how it works.
AH: Going back to the new album, um, did you play guitars on most of the songs like “Heartbeat” or “The Next Rainbow”?
Timothy: If I have an idea for a song, I find the right tempo and then I put it down on an acoustic guitar. Sometimes it stays, sometimes it goes because it’s just a guide sometimes. But I do like to play guitar. And just, and I play mostly acoustic guitar, but some, I played a little bit of electric. I’m not an accomplished guitar player, especially electric. But I can and I know what I want. And I can play the basic rhythm or whatever, and that’s a lot of times all I want to do. That’s my part on the song. So, I love to play the guitar. And my studio is the only place anybody ever asked me to do it. And then nobody asks me there, I just do it. So, yeah, I like to play guitar when it’s appropriate. I’m not really a lead player although there’s been some songs where it calls for what I call dumb guitar playing, which I can do. Sometimes that’s what you need I’ve asked accomplished guitar players before to not play so good in a way. “Don’t play so much, dumb it down.” Occasionally that’s what you need.
AH: I know Lindsey Buckingham played with you on “Simple Man,” right?
TBS: He was the other acoustic player and then he played the lead.
AH: Are you friends?
TBS: Yeah, we’re friends. We’re not close. We’ve known each other for years and we’ve always been friendly. And we correspond once in a while. But he was really gracious and kind, and came over, was excited, and even told me later that he had a great time, as did I. And that’s kind of what it’s all about. That’s why any of us, Lindsey, me, or anybody, ever starts doing this– because it’s fun. If you can keep the fun in it, it’s worth it.
AH: It’s a long time ago but back in the day, I guess there was a sort of the Eagles-Fleetwood Mac rivalry. Did you guys feel that?
Timothy: Everybody’s friendly. That came mostly from outside the band, you know. It wasn’t like that when we’d see each other we would have our fists up or something. No, we’ve always been friends.
AH: On the harmonies with Jackson Browne and John Fogerty, did you have them in mind? Or was that spontaneous?
Timothy: For both of those guys, even before we even had that song, I asked “If there was a song appropriate and you liked it well enough, would you help me up on, on something?” They both said yes at different times. I actually did all the parts originally. But I didn’t like that it was all me. I wanted different textures. I didn’t want it to be really clean and sweet. And so, I did ask them, and they came in separately on different days. That’s how it worked out. We worked really hard to get what I wanted. It’s really great.
AH: It really is. What’s it like when you’re on tour with the Eagles now compared to when you first started?
TBS: Well, for one thing, that’s a hard question. We’re a lot older than when I first joined the band or when I was in Poco. Our lifestyle was completely different. Back then, the party started after the show. But now I go back to my hotel room and run a bath and maybe listen to some classical music and get in bed with my book friends. And it’s just as satisfying as how the other thing went, even though they’re totally different. Because we’re older and we have our own lives, it’s more of let’s get together and work. It’s not like we’re having a lot of inviting each other out to dinner and stuff on the road.
We see each other all the time and it’s cushier. Even, although the shows are way longer, we didn’t do 33 songs. We didn’t do three hours when we were in our 20s. We don’t do as many shows as we used to do in a week. We travel privately, stay in great hotels–it’s cushier. But we kind of need it because we are older.
AH: It’s kind of amazing when I think back to the Seventies, bands like Poco and Marshall Tucker were out 200 to 300 days a year. When you look back, do you ever say, “Well, did I really do that?”
TBS: Well, not really. I know I used to do that. I mean, I calculated in the early to mid-seventies and I looked at our, schedules. And if I would’ve put all those on-the-road times together, I was out there 10, 11 months a year for a few years. But it wasn’t a problem. You have a lot of adrenaline; you have a lot of energy when you’re young. You’re hungrier in general for a lot of things. And it’s a lot easier. You know, I couldn’t do it now. But I already did it, so I’m good, you know.
AH: Is there anything project-wise that, you still want to do besides making music? Is there anything that’s top of mind?
TBS: I just want to be healthy. And I want my family to be healthy. You know, that’s first and foremost. Everything else is really colored if you don’t have your health and colored in not a great way. So, if I’m healthy I can keep doing my music. And I just feel like I have a lot more in me. So, I want to just keep writing. And I loved the process of, of writing and recording. And if nobody heard a note, I would still be pretty happy because I get to do that. It’s amazing that anybody, not only me, can create something out of nothing. It’s pretty great.
AH: It is. And you’re singing with your daughter the new album?
Timothy: On one song, yes. Yes. That’s her on “The Next Rainbow.” She sang with a friend of mine, Donna de Lory, who’s a great singer. She sang with my daughter. Chandra sang on one song on my last album. She’s a really good vocalist.
AH: I know Richie Furay’s daughter Jesse is big part of his band and a great singer.
TBS: Yes, that’s right.
AH: I really appreciate the chance to speak with you. As our time is running out, is there anything ese you would like to share?
TBS: Well, I have a long history in doing what I’ve done, but I’m still doing it. And I hope that people check out my newest record. It’s probably it’s one of the better ones that I have done. And there’s gonna be more so stay tuned.
AH: That’s great and I will look forward to them. And thanks for all the great songs over the years. When you hear some of your songs on the radio and you’re with a family member, does that ever hit you like “that’s me”?
TBS: I always think it’s great. It’s pretty great to be able to experience that. I don’t want to say it happens all the time. It’s not that big of a deal. But I do hear songs in the supermarket, and I like to hear the ones I haven’t heard forever. Maybe an obscure one, maybe something I sang on with Steely Dan, or an old Toto song or something. Those are the most fun. The Eagle songs are, thank God, all over the streaming services and supermarkets everywhere. I don’t want to get callous to hearing them. But I do love to hear the ones I don’t hear very much.
AH: It’s pretty amazing when you look at the number of different songs that you’ve been on over time.
Timothy: Yeah, I’ve been, been really fortunate to be able to sing on a bunch of great records and some not so great, but I always enjoyed that too. To be able to look back and didn’t realize that if someone told me things and that people wanted me to do that….
AH: Well, keep doing it.
Timothy: I’m trying.
For more about Timothy B. Schmit: http://www.timothybschmit.com