Locals remember Glenn Frey

February 5, 2016
Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey


Jan. 18, the day that the Eagle’s brilliant co-founder Glenn Frey died. For all of us who love rock ‘n roll, it was one of those moments you’ll never forget where you were when you heard the news.

Flash back to March 16, 1974, an amazing night to be remembered. For those of us fortunate locals who attended the Red Wind Indian benefit held in the old Quonset hut auditorium at Cuesta College, it was the concert of concerts. How it happened was a remarkable convergence of good karma.

After being elected to the San Luis Obispo City Council in 1971 as the first Cal Poly student to serve on that body, then Mayor Kenneth Schwartz appointed me to serve on the Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC), a quasi-governmental entity created as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty during the 1960s.

In accepting that position, I quickly became the commission’s chairman. Before I knew it, I was way over my head, having to break up two people trying to strangle each other at my first meeting. I found a surprising ongoing tension and bitterness between the low income factions of that era. But I soon came to know John Fitzrandolph, another resourceful Cal Poly grad still in his mid-20s served as “Community Liaison” for the EOC, who was to have a major impact on the organization.

Connecting With the Red Wind Indian Foundation…

Charged with writing grants and providing advocacy services for those facing poverty in San Luis Obispo County, John got to know an organization that needed the type of help he could offer: the local band of Red Wind Indians who were trying to buy a 20 acre parcel some 22 miles east of Santa Margarita as the home for their tribe.

In my visits to the EOC office, I often saw John conversing with a distinctive Native American gentleman by the name of Semu Huaute, better known as “Grandfather, a Chumash medicine man who served as the spiritual leader of the group.

Fitzrandolf jumped at the chance to help the Red Winds and secured several grants and technical assistance to help the tribe purchase and farm the property they occupied. In the process, he soon discovered that Grandfather had some notable connections to the rock ‘n roll industry, including friendships with Neil Young and a new band starting to flex its musical muscles, the Eagles.

It was not long before John hatched the idea to have EOC sponsor a fundraising event to help the Indians pay off their property: a rock concert featuring Neil Young and the Eagles at Cuesta College. With the blessing of the EOC, John got to work and his efforts came to fruition on an unforgettable night some 42 years ago.

The Eagles

The Rockers Come to Town…

It was the night of March 16, 1974 and what a night it turned out to be. For $5, the concertgoers got far more than their money’s worth, while raising $10,000 for Red Wind.

Each of the two performances that night began with the Red Wind Indian’s drum ceremony. Next, Neil Young, who had gifted two Buffalo to the tribe earlier that day, then launched into “Helpless” with his thin reedy alto followed by his classic “Heart of Gold.” Then came “Cinnamon Girl” with his bombastic guitar licks as he delved deeper into his body of work. And then on came the Eagles to join Young on his finale, “Down By The River.” The place went nuts!

Some who attended had not heard of the Eagles, who were just starting to hit the radio airwaves. But when they left, they knew they had heard something special. The distinctive harmonies behind the songs written by Frey and drummer Don Henley were there for all to hear starting with “Witchy Woman.” Then came their string of hits including “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” ”Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Already Gone.” Bernie Leadon’s banjo licks on ”Early Bird,” Randy Meisner hitting the high notes on “Take It To The Limit,” and Don Henley’s “Best of My Love” brought the house down.

When the performance concluded, we all just stared at each other in disbelief at being so fortunate to be in that place at that time. Little did the organizer of the concert, John Fitzrandolph, know that this successful concert would develop into his start as a rock promoter in his own right.


Fast-forward 42 years to Jan. 18, and the death of Glenn Frey. Upon hearing the news, I immediately remembered him at the concert where he was the undisputed leader of what was to become the best-selling band of the 20th century. He was a skinny little guy with long brown straight hair and a thin mustache framing his face. It was hard to believe he was gone, taken by the same ailments that almost took my wife in 2014.

As the co-writer of many of his songs, drummer Don Henley called Frey “The Lone Arranger.” By watching Showtime’s “History of the Eagles”– which has been aired frequently lately—you can really get a feel for how gifted Frey and his band-mates have been.
To me, the Eagles have been nothing less than America’s answer to the Beatles. Their prolific work captured the essence of the 1970s—continuing into the next millennium– as no other band could.

Farewell Glenn Frey. Thank you for your life and for sharing your special gifts on that unforgettable night in 1974 and for the rest of your creative life.

Keith Gurnee is a Cal Poly graduate, a former member of the San Luis Obispo City Council and a principal at RRM Design Group. Gurnee retired from RRM in 2013 and was elected as president of the California Planning Roundtable, a state-wide think tank organization.



  1. telecranker says:

    I posted a similar comment on the SLO Tribune story. I’m trying to reconnect with a few people that were involved with this concert.There was a doctor that lived in an old adobe house outside of town (SLO). I cannot recall his name but he had a girlfriend known as Leener. It was a rainy winter that year and a wall of their adobe house had caved in. A friend of mine knew them and rounded up a group of us to help restore the wall. That night, the Doctor and Leaner told us about this concert and said he could get us seatsup front. We still had to pay the admission, which I believe was $4 for students. That concert is unforgettable, and I’ve been to hunderds since. The Red Wind drum circle that opened was really cool and was my first experience with Native Americans. Songs that stood out to me (if I recall correctly) were Already Gone, Good Day in Hell, Midnight Flyer, On the Border, Take it Easy, Duelin’ Daltons, Desperado, Out of Control, Outlaw Man, Bitter Creek, Cowgirl in the Sand, Revolution Blues, Vampire Blues, Ambulance Blues, and Down by the River. I have a couple b&w photos of Glen & Neil that I should scan & post. I always wondered what happened to that doctor & Leener.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. obispan says:

    I remember the “Red Winds Indians Reservation” to be in fact a commune under the disguise of a Native American “reservation”, in fact led by a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jew from New York who went by the name of “Toby Buffalo”.

    (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  3. malovato says:

    I gotta agree with “panflash” the writer wasn’t even there or at best has a fuzzy memory. I was at the second show and can assure you Lyin’ Eyes and Take it to the Limit wasn’t played. The way I remember it was the Indian drum group came out first and performed for way too long. Then the Eagles came out. I remember how “tight” they were. Songs sounded like they were straight off the record. When the Eagles were done, Neil Young came out and did his gig. I don’t remember Heart of Gold. Actually, I was kinda disappointed by Neils gig only because he opened with “Helpless” later did Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River. Everything else he played was new stuff from his upcoming unreleased album “On the Beach” which nobody had heard before. Most of all I remember how HOT it was and standing throughout the whole thing, my feet and legs were “killing me!” I still have the $5.00 green ticket stub. Truly one of the best concerts I have ever attended. I wish I could relive it.

    (7) 9 Total Votes - 8 up - 1 down
  4. jwt6039 says:

    panflash you dont have a clue what you are talking about, the Eagles as well as many bands will play an unreleased song at a concert, especially if they know it is going to be a blockbuster like Take it to the Limit. I personally saw the Eagles from the 2nd row in Fort Worth in 1977, Glenn Frey said “we are working on a new album called Hotel California, here is the title track”. One year later I saw them again at the same venue in the Hotel California tour, you must not go to many concerts.

    (-1) 7 Total Votes - 3 up - 4 down
  5. panflash says:

    OK, so we’ve got some hard-core Eagles fans weighing in here. That’s fine. Maybe we should just let no less an authority than The Dude in “The Big Lebowski” settle the issue for us:

    (-2) 10 Total Votes - 4 up - 6 down
  6. gladitsnight says:

    No, the Eagles weren’t America’s answer to the Beatles, they were so much better than that. That Glenn Frey was the driving force for the most successful American band of the 70’s and then again in the 90s forward, I can’t imagine anyone being more influential, or with a bigger following. The Eagles touched the emotions and hearts of people all over the world.

    (11) 35 Total Votes - 23 up - 12 down
    • PolyProf says:

      The rivalry in the 1960s was Beatles vs. Beach Boys. Brian Wilson and Lennon & McCartney kept trying to outdo the other. They were the driving force behind American popular music of the decade.

      Props to the Eagles, a reliable, steady band with numerous great songs, but nowhere near the iconic status of Beatles or Beach Boys.

      Still, that sounds like one helluva night at Cuesta College.

      (0) 26 Total Votes - 13 up - 13 down
  7. panflash says:

    Well, Keith, “Take it to the Limit” wasn’t even released until November of 1975, so there’s no way you heard the Eagles sing it at that concert in March of 1974.

    Second, to consider the Eagles as “nothing less than America’s answer to the Beatles” is a rather wild stretch. Yeah, they put out some memorable ear candy for the masses, but no way they were the altering force that the Beatles were in the history of rock music.

    Glenn Frey’s passing is a loss, and, along with the losses of David Bowie and Paul Kantner, this year is off to a very sad start for legends in the rock business. And I suspect we’re going to see more of the old big names slowly passing by, so be prepared to see some major names slipping away, including some more influential than Frey.

    (-17) 39 Total Votes - 11 up - 28 down
  8. Pelican1 says:

    The Eagle has landed….RIP my friend.

    (10) 18 Total Votes - 14 up - 4 down

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