The story of Randy Meisner’s departure from the Eagles is usually told this way: During the Hotel California tour of 1977, Randy had become increasingly afraid of hitting the high notes in “Take It To The Limit.” This led to an altercation backstage at a show in Knoxville, Tennessee where Randy, tired from having been up all night drinking vodka with two girls in a hotel room, refused to sing “Take It To The Limit” for the encore that night. Glenn Frey confronted him, which led to Randy punching Glenn, and subsequently quitting the band.
This account of the Knoxville show originated with Irving Azoff and Don Henley in Marc Eliot’s 1997 biography To The Limit: The Untold Story Of the Eagles. Here are their stories as told to Eliot:
Azoff: “The night of the fight between him and Frey began with Randy complaining, as usual, about his throat. And he was drinking. After they finished the show, while the audience was cheering for an encore. Randy was guzzling from a bottle of booze and then said he simply wasn’t going to go back out. That’s when a very fed-up Glenn called him on it. In truth. Randy had become a major pain in the ass, and I think he knew it. He was probably looking for a way to leave. That night he found it.”
Henley: “He didn’t want to do [‘Take It to the Limit’] because he’d been up all night doing drugs with two chicks in a hotel room….The night in Knoxville, that was the biggest song in the set. Because he was strung out, he didn’t want to sing it. It’s that self-destructive thing that rises up in all of us. ‘I’ll show me!’ The truth of the matter is, he was afraid he couldn’t hit the notes. The audience didn’t give a shit whether he could hit them or not. They just wanted to hear the song. When he refused to sing it, Glenn calmly went over and tried to console him and said, ‘Randy, it’s going to be okay, you can sing it, let’s just go back out and do it.’ Meanwhile, the audience is out there cheering. ‘No, man, I’m not gonna sing the fucking song,’ Randy said, snapping at Glenn. Glenn backed up a couple of steps and said, ‘Well, fuck you then!’ That’s when he threw the towel, Meisner took the swing, and everything escalated.”
The same story was rehashed once again sixteen years later in the Alison Ellwood documentary The History Of The Eagles, with Don Henley and Glenn Frey repeating the tale that Randy had become afraid of singing “Take It To The Limit” and refused to sing it as an encore in Knoxville:
(©Jigsaw Productions, 2013)
Frey: “Randy used to have trouble singing the high note at the end of ‘Take It To The Limit….’ He’d call the road manager and say ‘Tell Glenn I don’t want to do ‘Take It To The Limit’ anymore, take it out of the set.’ I confronted him about this. I called him up, and I said, ‘Randy, there’s thousands of people waiting to hear you sing that song. You just can’t say, ‘Fuck ’em. I don’t feel like it.’ Do you think I like singing ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ every night? I’m tired of those songs. But there’s people in the audience who’ve been waiting years to see us do those songs. We just got fed up with that and just said, ‘OK, don’t sing it. Why don’t you just quit? You say you are unhappy, quit.”
Henley: “We were backstage and the crowd was going wild. And our encore number was ‘Take It To The Limit.’ People loved that song, they went crazy when Randy hit those high notes. But Randy didn’t want to do the song that night. He’d been up partying all night with a couple of girls and a bottle of vodka, and Glenn kept trying to talk him into it. He said, ‘Man, the people want to hear that song. You’ve got to do it.’ And Randy kept saying no. So after about the third or fourth time that Randy refused, Glenn just backed up a couple of steps and said, ‘Well, fuck you then!'”
Frey: “There were police officers standing backstage and when they saw us about to go at it, they started to move in and Henley turned right to the cops and said, ‘Stay out of this! This is personal and it is private, real fucking private!’ The writing was on the wall and Randy was going to leave.”
Below, I’m going to debunk this entire story from start to finish using facts from published reviews of the shows from 1977, plus Randy’s own version of events, which have been left out of the narrative. These facts will show that “Take It To The Limit” was never performed as an encore in 1977. It was always performed as part of the main show, right up until the end of the tour, including that fateful night in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Myth#1: Randy’s Increasing Fear Of Hitting The High Note in “Take It To The Limit” Led To His Refusal To Sing The Song
One of the few times we see Randy speak in History Of The Eagles is was when he (briefly) relays his fear of hitting the notes: “I was always kind of scared basically. What if I don’t hit it right? It was a pretty high note.”
Stage fright is normal for any performer, no matter how famous. Elvis Presley, whom Randy idolized as a child, struggled with crippling bouts of stage fright throughout his entire career. Here is what Presley said about it in 1972:
“I’ve never gotten over what they call stage fright. I go through it every show… I never get completely comfortable with it, and I don’t let the people around me get comfortable with it, in that I remind them that it’s a new crowd out there, it’s a new audience, and they haven’t seen us before. So it’s got to be like the first time we go on.” 1
This is an important quote because it shows the essence of being a great performer, one that doesn’t just want to go through the motions, but takes pride in his performance. Just like it was the first time he’d ever been onstage. Perhaps this is the way Randy felt about singing “Take It To The Limit.” He didn’t just want to blow through the song and get it over with. He wanted it to be memorable. He cared about the performance. And more often than not, he “nailed it”:
“The high note that I sing at the end was tough to do live. It was pretty difficult, it was a challenge every night. But I pretty much nailed it every night. There weren’t many times I didn’t because we were rehearsed really well.” 2
Below is a listing of the 1977 Hotel California tour dates with the performances of “Take It To The Limit” highlighted in yellow. These performances were documented by reviews published at the time of the event. Unfortunately, reviews do not exist for every show, or if one does exist, it may not mention each song that was played. Therefore, it’s very likely that Randy sang “Take It To The Limit” at every show since there is no evidence to the contrary. There are no reviews that say the song was not performed or that it was conspicuously absent from the show. Moreover, since this was the only song Randy sang for most of the tour, it seems unlikely that he would have chosen not to perform it (“Try & Love Again” was performed at two shows in March).
For a couple of the European shows, I have used audience recordings as verification.
Click the venue to see the reviews.
|March 14, 1977||Civic Center||Springfield, MA||Review only talks about new member, Joe Walsh. No Eagles songs are mentioned.|
|March 15-16, 1977||Nassau Coliseum||Uniondale, NY||Only “Hotel California” is mentioned in the review, which is mostly about Joe Walsh.|
|March 18, 1977||Madison Square Garden||New York, NY||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|March 19, 1977||War Memorial Auditorium||Rochester, NY||“Take It To The Limit” was performed. “Try & Love Again” was also performed.|
|March 21-22, 1977||Capital Centre||Largo, MD||“Take It To The Limit” was performed both nights. “Try & Love Again” was also performed.|
|March 23, 1977||Richmond Coliseum||Richmond, VA||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|March 26, 1977||New Haven Coliseum||New Haven, CT||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|March 27, 1977||Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena||Binghamton, NY||Only “Take It Easy,” “New Kid In Town,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Already Gone” are mentioned in the review.|
|March 29, 1977||Forum||Montreal, Canada||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|March 30, 1977||Maple Leaf Gardens||Toronto, Canada||No songs are mentioned in the review.|
|March 31 – April 1, 1977||Richfield Coliseum||Cleveland, OH||“Take It To The Limit” was performed both nights.|
|April 25-28, 1977||Empire Pool, Wembley||London, England||“Take It To The Limit” was performed the first night.|
Reviews could not be found for the other three nights.
Musician Ian Latimer, who attended the third night, recalled the song being performed that evening.
|April 30 – May 1, 1977||Apollo Center||Glasgow, Scotland||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|May 3-4, 1977||New Bingley Hall||Stafford, England||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|May 7,1977||Olympiahalle||Munich, Germany||No review could be found.|
|May 8, 1977||Festhalle||Frankfurt, Germany||“Take It To The Limit” was performed (via audience recording of the show).|
|May 9, 1977||Philipshalle||Dusseldorf, Germany||No review could be found.|
|May 11-13, 1977||Rotterdam Ahoy||Rotterdam, Netherlands||“Take It To The Limit” was performed on at least two of the three nights.|
The first is documented by a review. The second (on the 13th) by a photo from the show,
which clearly shows Randy up front and performing the song (Glenn is not shown because he is on piano).
|May 15, 1977||Congress Centrum||Hamburg, Germany||No review could be found.|
|May 17, 1977||Grona Lund||Stockholm, Sweden||No review could be found.|
|May 18, 1977||Stadium Nya Ullevi||Gothenburg, Sweden||“Take It To The Limit” was performed (via audience recording).|
|May 28 & 30, 1977||Oakland Coliseum Stadium||Oakland, CA||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|June 18, 1977||Roanoke Civic Center||Roanoke, VA||No review could be found.|
|June 19-20, 1977||Omni||Atlanta, GA||“Take It To The Limit” was performed both nights.|
|June 21, 1977||Carolina Coliseum||Columbia, South Carolina||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|June 23, 1977||Nashville Municipal Auditorium||Nashville, TN||“Take It To The Limit” is not mentioned in review.|
|June 24, 1977||BJCC Coliseum||Birmingham, AL||No review could be found.|
|June 25, 1977||Municipal Auditorium||Mobile, AL||No review could be found.|
|June 27, 1977||Greensboro Coliseum||Greensboro, NC||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|June 28, 1977||Knoxville Civic Coliseum||Knoxville, TN||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|June 29, 1977||Mid-South Coliseum||Memphis, TN||No songs are mentioned in the review.|
|July 1, 1977||Civic Center||Savannah, GA||“Take It To The Limit” was performed.|
|July 2, 1977||Miami Baseball Stadium||Miami, FL||No songs, except “Hotel California” were mentioned in the review.|
|July 3, 1977||Tangerine Bowl||Orlando, FL||No songs were mentioned in the review.|
|July 6, 1977||Myriad Convention Center||Oklahoma City, OK||No review could be found.|
|July 7-8, 1977||Tarrant County Convention Center||Fort Worth, TX||““Take It To The Limit” was performed on the 7th. No review could be found for the 8th.|
|July 9, 1977||Jeppesen Stadium||Houston, TX||No review could be found.|
|September 1-3, 1977||Alpine Valley Music Center||East Troy, Wisconsin||These shows were cancelled.|
One of the documented performances listed above occurred at the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee on June 28th, 1977.
Myth #2: Randy Refused To Sing “Take It To The Limit” as an Encore In Knoxville
In History Of The Eagles, Don Henley said that “Take It To The Limit” was “our encore number” and that Randy refused to sing it that night in Knoxville because he had been “up partying all night with a couple of girls and a bottle of vodka.” The facts show that “Take It To The Limit” was never performed as an encore during the entire Hotel California tour. This coincides not only with setlists from other shows, but also with Randy’s version of events. His story has always been that he was ill that night and didn’t want to go back out for a third encore. No particular song was ever mentioned.
I think it’s important to provide Randy’s version of this story. Below are three separate accounts from three decades. Here is Randy in his own words:
“I was married and had three kids, and I hadn’t seen much of them. My family was in Nebraska, and the band was in Miami recording Hotel California, or on the road doing gigs. I was frustrated. Things were rocky with my marriage. Don and Glenn became a little more powerful. It finally came to a head in Knoxville, Tennessee. We did the gig and I had the flu or something. We did two encores and came off stage, and I said, ‘Man, that’s about all I can do.’ Glenn called me a pussy. I snapped and took a swing at him.” (Desperados : The Roots Of Country Rock, John Einarson, 2000)
“We had been out for a total of eleven months, and everybody was starting to feel the strain. My ulcer was acting up, and [I had] a bad case of the flu as well. Still, we all sounded great onstage, the audience loved the show, and we were being called back for another encore. ‘No way,’ I said. I was too sick, and generally fed up. I decided I wasn’t going back out. ” ‘You pussy,’ Glenn said to me, in my face. So I took a swing at him. We started going at it, and the security police were backstage like that. They grabbed the both of us, and after a few minutes let go of Glenn but continued holding me. He grabbed a towel, wiped the sweat off his face, walked right up and threw it in mine.” (The Story Of The Eagles: The Long Run, Marc Shapiro, 1997)
Perhaps the most revealing version of the story was told in a backstage interview at Brassy’s in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1982. The following is an excerpt from an article by Billy Cox in the Cocoa Beach newspaper, Florida Today, December 19th, 1982:
“There were never any fights,’ Meisner charged, taking the offensive. ‘Disagreements, yes. Fights, never. Except one. One lousy mistake,’ he lamented, for which he was never forgiven. It was near the end of the summer tour, ’77. As Meisner told it, he was fatigued from flu and exhausted on Jack Daniels, and when the band tried to drag him back onstage for a third encore, he refused.
“‘Glenn came on a little heavy,’ Meisner said. ‘He got right up in my face, like this, and he pushed me and called me a —. I was tired, I told him I’d had enough, and I punched him in the face and knocked him against the wall. The cops had to come in with their sticks and break it up.
‘”They never forget,’ he said, blue eyes pleading, ‘and that’s what’s so hard for me. I made one mistake. I was drinking. I was tired…Every interview I’ve ever done, I’ve always been real good to those guys. I’ve tried to cover up for them, some of the things they’ve done, and they will not forgive. They will not forgive.'”
As per the concert review in the Johnson City (TN) Press-Chronicle, Randy sang “Take It To The Limit” in Knoxville as part of the main set, not as an encore. This information is corroborated with other reviews from the tour, which show that the song was always performed within the first hour of the show, typically between “Lyin’ Eyes” and “New Kid In Town.” In fact, the setlists varied little during the entire 5-month tour (please refer to the reviews in table above.)
In Knoxville, just like most of the shows on the tour, there were two encores, with three songs performed.3 The first encore included “James Dean” and “Best Of My Love” performed back to back 4 and the second encore featured “Take It Easy,” as their final number.5 On rare occasions, if a concert was going really well and the audience wanted more, the band would come back out for a third encore, usually Chuck Berry’s “Oh Carol.”6 In Randy’s version of events, he said Glenn wanted to go back out for a third encore (perhaps “Oh Carol”) and he refused because he wasn’t feeling well. The Johnson City review confirms that “Take It Easy” was the final song of the night. None of the encores could have been “Take It To The Limit” since it had already been performed. 7
(via Johnson City Press Chronicle)
“Victim Of Love”
“Take It To The Limit”
“New Kid In Town”
“One Of These Nights”
“Life In The Fast Lane”
“Rocky Mountain Way”
“Best Of My Love”
“Take It Easy”
Review of the Knoxville show from the Johnson City Press-Chronicle, July 2nd, 1977 (click to enlarge):
Randy’s final show with the Eagles was at Jeppeson Stadium in Houston on July 9th, 1977. He recalled that his last days with the band were “pure hell. Nobody was talking to me.” 8 He was also frustrated with the way Don and Glenn had taken over the band & were making all of the decisions. More and more he felt like hired help instead of an equal partner in the band he helped found.9-9a By Hotel California, his last album with the band, Randy sang on only one track, his beautifully-written ballad “Try & Love Again,” which appeared, almost as an afterthought, as the second to last track on the B-Side. “I was frustrated. Don & Glenn were the Lennon/McCartney of the Eagles; they wrote all the songs…I wanted more of my opinions to be accepted… I wanted to sing more. I guess I didn’t know the right way to criticize them.” 10
Following his departure from the Eagles, Randy made three solo albums, with the second, One More Song, being the most successful. He has never expressed any regrets about his decision to quit a band that was at the top of its game. “It was right to leave when I did.” 11 “When I look back, we had had some great times, partied together, made some great records. God, we had so many good times on the road.”12 Now, “I look at the Eagles as just good compadres that I’ve worked with in the past. I have no ill will towards any of them.”13
One can only speculate as to why such a tale about the Knoxville concert and “Take It To The Limit” was ever fabricated in the first place. What purpose does this falsified story serve except to portray Irving Azoff, Don Henley and Glenn Frey in the most favorable possible light, while belittling Randy Meisner and his contributions to the band? In my opinion, The History Of The Eagles documentary has done irreparable damage to Randy’s musical legacy by creating a fairy tale that he refused to sing his trademark song, so he quit the band. Since 2013, this bogus story has taken on a life of its own. It has been spread across the internet and has become part of most internet biographies of Randy (see his Wikipedia page, the first result if you Google his name), not to mention published biographies of the Eagles, including Don Felder’s Heaven & Hell: My Life With The Eagles 1974-2001 (see page 185). I have seen countless social media comments where people claim Randy was “fired” from the band for not singing “Take It To The Limit.” This is also patently false. My hope with this piece is that it will help set the record straight. For once. For Randy. He deserves that.
1Interview with Elvis Presley by Pierre Adidge & Robert Abel for the documentary Elvis On Tour, March 31, 1972.
2The Story Of The Eagles: The Long Run by Marc Shapiro, 1995
4 In the History Of The Eagles documentary there is a clip from the Capital Centre show in Largo, MD on March 21st, 1977, which shows the band taking a bow following their performance of “Best Of My Love.” This would have been the end of the first encore. The second encore was “Take It Easy.”
5 This was the first tour in which “Take It Easy” was performed as an encore instead of the opening number.
6 “Oh Carol” was performed as a third encore at the Omni on June 20th, at “Day On The Green” in Oakland on May 28th, and Carolina Coliseum on June 21. Joe Walsh’s “Funk 49” and “Tequila Sunrise’ were also played as encore numbers during the tour.
7 In History Of The Eagles, Glenn Frey claims he scolded Randy about not wanting to sing “Take It To The Limit” by telling him: “Do you think I like singing ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ every night? I’m tired of those songs. But there’s people in the audience who’ve been waiting years to see us do those songs.” It’s worth pointing out that while “Take It Easy” was probably performed every night, there is no evidence that “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was performed at any time during the Hotel California tour.
8 Shapiro, 1995
9 Grand Island Independent, June 15, 1994
9a Randy wasn’t the only one who had become frustrated with Don and Glenn. In fact, Randy, Joe Walsh, and Don Felder had talked about quitting the group to form a trio of their own. The idea came about after one particularly grueling recording session for Hotel California at Criteria Studios in Miami in 1976. Randy was relaxing at his rented beach house at 461 Ocean Boulevard when Walsh and Felder showed up at his door:
“They were so mad at Don and Glenn. They said, ‘They’re just ruining everything and we don’t like it’. I thought about what they were saying for a second and then I said ‘Okay, you guys just want to start a trio?’ They said that sounded like a great idea and we all agreed that night to do it when we finished the album and the next tour.” (Shapiro)
However, a year later when Randy did eventually quit, Walsh and Felder reneged on their agreement.
“They had totally backed out of it. Their attitude was that they couldn’t care less about my situation. Up to that point, I had always thought of them as friends. Since that time, I’ve always thought of them as traitors.” (Shapiro)
10 Daily News, March 10, 1981
11People, January 12, 1981
12Interview with Ken Sharp, Discoveries Magazine, September 2006
13Interview with John Beaudin, August 2000
NOTE: A word about the Setlists.fm. This website allows anyone with a computer to create an account and upload setlists, regardless of whether or not they actually attended the show. No proof is necessary. It is far from reliable and contributes to the spread of inaccurate information. For example, on this website you can see setlists for shows that never took place, such as two Eagles shows at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI on September 2nd & 3rd, 1977 (here and here). These shows were cancelled after Randy left the band (they were to have played for three nights). But, guess what, there are setlists for them on Setlists.fm. One person even claims to have been there! I’m pointing this out because someone will inevitably come at me with setlists from this site saying Randy performed “Take It To The Limit” as an encore at a particular show. “Here’s the proof.” The only surefire way to document a setlist from 45 or 50 years ago is through concert reviews, published at the time of the event, or audience recordings.