Randy Meisner first met Glenn Frey and Don Henley when he was asked by producer, John Boylan, to fill in for Linda Ronstadt’s bassist, Mike Bowden, at Chuck’s Cellar in Los Altos, CA. At that time, Henley and Frey were part of Linda’s backing band. Here’s how Randy remembers it:
“We played Chuck’s Cellar, that’s the place where the group (Eagles) was formed. It’s like a steakhouse and in the bottom there’s a little barn. That’s where Linda was playing, and that’s where I met Glenn and Don.” (Music Gig magazine, October 1976)
In June 1971, Randy was still a member of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. John Boylan was producing both Nelson and Linda Ronstadt, who was also dating Linda. Boylan had helped Rick put together the Stone Canyon Band two years earlier, so he knew Randy and was an admirer of his talent. So when Linda was looking for a bass player to fill in for Mike Bowden (who was evidently ill), Boylan suggested Randy.
Below are two ads for Linda’s four-night stand at Chuck’s Cellar, which took place from Wednesday, June 23rd to Saturday, June 26th, 1971. It’s unclear whether Randy sat in with the band all four nights. This gig followed Linda’s appearance at Disneyland on June 12th, which is sometimes bandied about as the first time all four original members of the Eagles played together. But Randy was not present at Disneyland. In 2013, Glenn Frey recalled that Randy’s first gig with Linda was in Los Altos about two weeks after the Disneyland shows:
“So, we brought [Bernie Leadon] out to Disneyland for some shows were were doing on graduation nights and Bernie sat in with us….A couple of weeks later, we replaced the bass player for a weekend in Los Altos with Randy Meisner.” (Eagles press conference, The Connaught Hotel, London, April 25th, 2013)
Ads for Ronstadt’s Chuck’s Cellar dates:
The gig was a memorable one for Randy:
“It was so much fun playing with Don and Glen. That was when it all started.” (John Beaudin interview, 2000)
“I just felt a magic between the three of us.” (Ken Sharp interview, 2006)
Linda, on the other hand, was less than impressed with his bass playing:
“Ronstadt hated my bass playing. She gave me some looks that could kill. It may not have worked out with her, but it sure got The Eagles together.” (BAM magazine, November 7, 1980)
Despite how Linda may have felt about Randy’s bass playing, this wasn’t the first time he was considered as a bassist for her backing band. In 1970, Randy was suggested as a replacement for Eric White in Linda’s first solo band, Swampwater. The following quote is from Swampwater’s former guitarist, John Beland. The “personal problems” he mentioned may have been a reference to Randy’s (temporarily) leaving Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band in the Spring of 1970 and returning to Nebraska.
“When I was with Linda Ronstadt, Eric White played bass for us. However, he was totally lost as a player when the song called for more than 3 chords. Finally we had to let him go. Instead, Eric became our roadie.
“When we discussed possible bass players I first suggested Randy. Both Linda and I were fans of his. However, Linda said he was having some serious ‘personal problems’ and was unavailable. Instead, we hired Thad Maxwell. That’s when we became Swampwater. True story.” (John Beland, public comment on the “Rick ‘Ricky’ Nelson” Facebook group, September 15th, 2022)
Although these Chuck’s Cellar dates are remembered as the first meeting between Randy, Don and Glenn, Randy had met Glenn before:
“The first time I met Glenn Frey he was hitchhiking. I gave him a ride in my little Austin Healy Sprite. I didn’t know him. We didn’t know we were even gonna be in a group together. (Ken Sharp interview, 2006)
Randy recalled in Harvey Kubernik’s book Canyon Of Dreams that Glenn was probably in the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle with J.D. Souther at the time. He had seen them play live and would have recognized Glenn that way.
While the gigs at Chuck’s Cellar helped create a spark that eventually led to the formation of the Eagles, it didn’t happen right away. Randy was still part of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and remained with him for the recording of his album, Rudy The Fifth, in July and August 1971.
Below, Randy and Rick Nelson on The Mike Douglas Show, filmed April 1st, 1971 (Also on the bill for this show was Linda Ronstadt with her backing band, Swampwater.)
Chuck’s Cellar closed in 1985 after sixteen years in business. In its heyday, it was a popular venue, especially among folk artists like John Stewart and The Kingston Trio. The club’s owner, Larry Hancock passed away in 2005. An Indian restaurant currently resides in the venue’s former location at 4926 El Camino Real in Los Altos. The downstairs area is still called “The Cellar” and is a cocktail lounge space. Their website mentions the famous meeting between Randy, Don and Glenn.