Randy Meisner, Eagles co-founder and bassist, dies aged 77

His falsetto voice was a defining part of the band and the 1970s California sound

Randy Meisner in London, 1973. He died on Wednesday aged 77. Photo: Redferns
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Randy Meisner, a founding member of the Eagles who added high harmonies to such favourites as Take It Easy and The Best of My Love, and stepped out front for the waltz-time ballad Take It to the Limit, has died.

Meisner died on Wednesday in Los Angeles of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the Eagles said in a statement. He was 77.

The bassist had endured numerous afflictions in recent years and personal tragedy. In 2016, his wife Lana Rae Meisner accidentally shot herself and died. Meanwhile, Meisner himself had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had severe issues with alcohol, according to court records and comments made during a 2015 hearing in which a judge ordered him to receive constant medical care.

Called "the sweetest man in the music business" by former bandmate Don Felder, the baby-faced Meisner joined Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon in the early 1970s to form a quintessential Los Angeles band and one of the most popular acts in history.

“Randy was an integral part of the Eagles and instrumental in the early success of the band,” the Eagles’ statement said. “His vocal range was astonishing, as is evident on his signature ballad Take It to the Limit.”

The band said funeral plans were pending.

Evolving from country rock to hard rock, the Eagles turned out a run of hit singles and albums over the next decade, starting with Take It Easy and continuing with Desperado, Hotel California and Life In the Fast Lane among others.

Although chastised by many critics as slick and superficial, the Eagles released two of the most popular albums of all time, Hotel California and Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which, with sales at $38m, the Recording Industry Association of America ranked with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the No 1 seller.

Led by singer-songwriters Henley and Frey, the Eagles were initially branded as “mellow” and “easy listening”. But by their third album, the 1974 release On the Border, they had added a rock guitarist, Felder, and were turning away from country and bluegrass.

Leadon, an old-fashioned bluegrass picker, was unhappy with the new sound and left after the 1975 album One of These Nights. He was replaced by another rock guitarist, Joe Walsh.

Meisner stayed on through the 1976 release of Hotel California, the band’s most acclaimed record, but was gone soon after. His departure, ironically, was touched off by the song he co-wrote and was best known for, Take It to the Limit.

A shy Nebraskan torn between fame and family life, Meisner had been ill and homesick during the Hotel California tour – his first marriage was breaking up at the time – and was reluctant to have the spotlight for Take It to the Limit, a showcase for his nasally tenor.

His objections during a Knoxville, Tennessee, concert in the summer of 1977 angered Frey, the two argued backstage and Meisner left soon after. His replacement, Timothy B Schmit, remained with the group over the following decades, along with Henley, Walsh and Frey, who died in 2016.

As a solo artist, Meisner never approached the success of the Eagles, but did have hits with Hearts on Fire and Deep Inside My Heart, and played on records by Walsh, James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg among others.

Meanwhile, the Eagles ended a 14-year hiatus in 1994 and toured with Schmit, even though Meisner had played on all but one of their earlier studio albums. He did join group members past and present in 1998 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed Take It Easy and Hotel California. For a decade, he was part of World Classic Rockers, a touring act that at various times included Donovan, Spencer Davis and Denny Laine.

The purpose of the whole Eagles thing to me was that combination and the chemistry that made all the harmonies just sound perfect
Randy Meisner, musician

Meisner was married twice, the first time when he was still in his teens, and had three children.

The son of sharecroppers and grandson of a classical violinist, Meisner was playing in local bands as a teenager. By the end of the 1960s, he had moved to California and joined a country rock group, Poco, along with Richie Furay and Jimmy Messina. But he would remember being angered that Furay wouldn’t let him listen to the studio mix of their first album and left the group before it came out.

Meisner backed Ricky Nelson, played on Taylor’s Sweet Baby James album, and befriended Henley and Frey when all were performing in Linda Ronstadt’s band. With Ronstadt’s blessing, they formed the Eagles, were signed up by David Geffen for his Asylum Records label and released their self-titled debut album in 1972.

Frey and Henley sang lead most of the time, but Meisner was the key behind Take It the Limit. It appeared on the One of These Nights album from 1975 and became a top five single, a weary, plaintive song later covered by Etta James and as a duet by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

Meisner’s falsetto voice was so distinctive it became a defining part not only of the Eagles, but the entire California sound.

In a pair of 2015 episodes of the parody series Documentary Now! about a faux-Eagles band, Bill Hader’s moustachioed, ultra-high-voiced character is clearly inspired by Meisner.

“The purpose of the whole Eagles thing to me was that combination and the chemistry that made all the harmonies just sound perfect,” Meisner said in 2015.

“The funny thing is after we made those albums, I never listened to them and it is only when someone comes over or I am at somebody’s house and it gets played in the background, that is when I’ll tell myself: ‘Damn, these records are good.’”

Updated: July 28, 2023, 5:25 AM