Forty-seven years ago today, the Eagles played Kent State University on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the murder of four unarmed students by the Ohio National Guard during an on-campus Vietnam War protest.1 Nine others were injured.
Killed in the shooting on May 4th, 1970 were:
Allison Krause, 20
Jeffrey Miller, 20
Sandra Scheuer, 20
William Schroeder, 19
On the evening of the concert, a candlelight walk/vigil was scheduled for 10:30pm to commemorate the students’ deaths.
Although the band was aware of the vigil and had agreed to end their concert in time for for those who wanted to attend, the scheduling of it created backlash among students, who felt it was insensitive to schedule a rock concert on the same night as the vigil.
Others thought that the Eagles were profiting off of the shootings and should play for free:
“The Eagles say they understand the vigil and will organize their program around it, but if they really recognized the importance of May 4, they would play for free Saturday afternoon out on the commons.”
(Letter To The Editor, Daily Kent Stater, April 17, 1975)
Despite the backlash, the concert was sold-out.
“War Is Not Healthy For Children & Other Living Things”
In 1975, Randy’s bass of choice was a red & black Hagstrom. But, for this show, he fittingly chose to play his gold Fender Precision, with a yellow sticker to the left of the pick guard that featured the slogan: “War is Not Healthy For Children and Other Living Things.”2 Randy purchased this Fender in the late 1960s while he was a member of The Poor. Sometime in early 1971, while the Vietnam War was still being fought, he attached this sticker to the front of the bass.3
Randy playing the gold Fender at Kent State, May 3rd, 1975 (below):
Kent State Memorial Gym
Playing to a sold-out crowd of 5,000, Dan Fogelberg opened the show at the Memorial Gym. Part of his set included a solo rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” It was a little after 9:00pm when the Eagles took the stage.
“Despite a rowdy crowd and an obnoxious sound system, the Eagles did a superb job Saturday night.”
–Daily Kent Stater, May 6th, 1975
Glenn Frey and Don Felder lead off with a “blistering guitar duet” on “Already Gone.” The review in the student newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater, noted that there are “few groups that can claim even one accomplished guitarist and the Eagles have three.” Next was “Outlaw Man,” which gave Bernie a chance to shine. The opening set concluded with “Desperado.” This is also the set where the speaker troubles began. The entire left side of the amplification system quit in the middle of a solo by Don Felder.
Ohio (written by Neil Young)
Take It Easy
Next came “Ol’ 55,” then “Midnight Flyer,” with Randy singing lead. No mention of Randy’s performance in any review. The critic for the student paper was more in awe of Don Felder, even though he referred to him as “Feldman” throughout the article.
“Feldman is most rapid and could be the next guitarist superstar of the rock domain.”
(Daily Kent Stater, May 6, 1975)
“Four Dead in Ohio”
The news that the Eagles were going to perform CSNY’s “Ohio” had been advertised in the weeks preceding the show.
“Then came the song the crowd had anticipated. ‘Ohio’ brought back five years of memories in only five minutes of song. It was an emotionally draining performance for everyone in the gym. When the Eagles finished the Neil Young tune, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted, and a nearly audible sigh of relief came from somewhere in the front bleachers.” (Daily Kent Stater, May 6, 1975)
The poignancy of the moment seemed completely lost on a reviewer for the Cleveland Scene who felt the performance of the song was “a joke.”
“One of the things I looked forward to most –the Eagles publicized ‘special’ arrangement of Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’–was really a joke. It was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s arrangement, with the only change being the substitution of the Eagles’ voices. It paled greatly in comparison to the band’s own material, which may have been intentional.” (Cleveland Scene, May 8, 1975)
There is no known recording of the Eagles performance of the song, but here is the original:
Evidently there was controversy regarding the performance of “Ohio” as well. According to Tom Simpson, who was a member of the Kent State ACPB (All Campus Programming Board) in 1975, an agreement had been made between Eagles manager, Irving Azoff, and Gary Smith, director of the ACPB, that the song “Ohio” would not be performed. So when the band broke into the song during the show, there was a blow up backstage:
“I was backstage with Gary Smith when the song started…Gary grabbed Azoff, pushed him against the wall and expressed his displeasure, in no uncertain terms, by calling him a no good lying MFing bastard…and that was just the start. It was quite a site to see.”
Despite the backstage drama, Simpson thought it was an “amazing night.” He also recalled that the Eagles lead the candlelight march following the show:
“The late Dan Fogelberg was the opening act. It was an amazing night and then the Eagles lead the Candlelight March around campus.” 4
Future Eagle Joe Walsh attended Kent State from 1965-1967, initially majoring in political science, then switching to English, with a minor in music. He lived on campus at Manchester Hall and played at local bars with his band, The Measles.
Although he quit school, he continued to live in Kent for the next 4 years (the details are sketchy, but he claims to have attended school off and on during this period). In January 1968, Walsh became a member of the Cleveland band, The James Gang. After original guitarist Glenn Schwartz quit, they were looking for a new guitarist. One night, Joe showed up at the apartment of drummer, Jim Fox, who lived in Kent, and said, “Man, I heard you need a guitar player.”5 Shortly thereafter the James Gang, with Joe on lead guitar, started a “residency” at JB’s, a local Kent bar, playing every Thursday and Sunday night.
On May 4th, 1970, Joe was still living in Kent and was on campus during the protest. He heard the shots, but did not see the shooting. “I knew Jeffrey and I knew Allison, two of the people who were killed.”6
In the subsequent years, Joe helped raise money for a memorial to the victims and remained dedicated to bringing attention to the tragedy “so stupidity of that nature never happens again. And I continue to have dialogue with the survivors, some of whom are crippled, and their families and do what I can for them.”7 In 2001, Kent State University presented Walsh with an Honorary Doctorate of Music. “I’m just so grateful I found this little place in Ohio where creative people were all together. It was a strange time. We were all so naive.” 8
Turn To Stone
In 1972, Joe Walsh penned “Turn To Stone” as a response to Richard Nixon, the war, and the tragedy at Kent State:
“‘Turn to Stone’ was written about the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War and the protesting that was going on and all of that. It’s a song about frustration. Also, I attended Kent State. I was at the shootings. That fueled it, too. In those days it felt like the government’s priority was not the population. They had an agenda that was about something other than doing what was necessarily good for the country.” (Rolling Stone, May 19, 2016)
Here is Joe with the Eagles performing “Turn To Stone” at the Seattle Kingdome, August 6, 1976, featuring Randy Meisner on bass and harmony vocals. (edited for length)
1 Read more about the Kent State shootings here. In a civil trial in August 1975, a jury voted 9-3 that none of the Guardsmen were legally responsible for the shootings.
2Primer by Los Angeles artist, Lorraine Schneider, featured the image of a sunflower with the words “War Is Not Healthy For Children and Other Living Things.” It was originally designed in 1966 for entry into a miniature print contest at the Pratt Institute Of Art. Schneider later donated all rights to her image to the movement Another Mother For Peace to be used on posters and bumper stickers to raise money for the anti-war effort. Schneider died of ovarian cancer in 1972 at age 47. Read more about Lorraine Schneider and her iconic image here.
3The first appearance of the sticker that I can find is on the Mike Douglas show, which was filmed in early March 1971.
4 Comment by Tom Simpson on the Facebook group, “You Know You Are From Kent If/When…,” January 18, 2016. In the comment, Simpson is addressing Kent, Ohio music historian, Jason Prufer.
5 “Dr. Rock and Roll” blog by Kent, Ohio music historian, Jason Prufer
6 Jeffrey Miller is the dead student in the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the aftermath of the Kent State shootings taken by student John Filo. The woman kneeling over him is Mary Ann Vecchio, a fourteen-year-old runaway from Florida, who was discovered when her parents recognized her in the photograph.
7Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 8, 1988
8Biloxi Sun-Herald, December 21, 2001