A Conversation With Timothy B. Schmit
Mike Ragogna: Timothy, let's talk about your album Expando. Why "Expando"?
Timothy B. Schmit: The word itself came from a mobile home I used to live in when I was a kid. I grew up pretty much living in trailer houses. The third and final trailer house was called an "Expando," because you could actually crank it open from 8 feet to 15 feet wide. It was a virtual palace for my brothers and I.
MR: Did the Expando also come with a crank that raised the roof?
TBS: No, it would come out width-wise, although I suppose those exist. This was a really long time ago, like the early '60s...it might have even been '59. I found an old site where I could see a duplicate of what I used to live in, and I liked the word and I used it in the artwork on the back cover. I liked the word because it implies growing, expansion, and I don't necessarily title the album with the song titles. If you find something that fits the whole thing, you can go with it.
MR: Your song "White Boy From Sacramento" has some great period references like Pat Boone, I Love Lucy, Pepsi Cola...
TBS: This is most likely not an album for the very young. A lot of these songs, that one especially, are very autobiographical. All of those little snippets are completely from true life, and I was able to sort of poke fun of myself at the same time.
MR: Your voice is on quite a few hits. Can we go over your musical history?
TBS: Well, I've always been music oriented. My dad was a musician and I listened to the radio all of the time. I probably learned most of my craft from singing to the radio. When I was in grade school, I remember singing in a chorus where they actually had two parts going. It was very easy for me to pick out the harmonies, and I kind of just went with it. I played various instruments in elementary school, then in high school, I stopped doing all of that and started picking up strumming instruments--ukuleles, banjos, guitars. Around that time, there was a lot of folk music, which was very popular. That's the stuff I really started learning and singing with. I even make reference to The Kingston Trio in that song. That was one of the groups that my friends and I emulated. I stuck with it and had some very fortunate meetings. I was in the right place and all of those corny clichés I guess. There are a lot of talented people who don't get to do it.
MR: You eventually are in the group Poco. How did you become a member?
TBS: I was in Los Angeles with my band from Sacramento, we moved to Los Angeles for a summer. I met those guys, auditioned, didn't get the job, and I was called nine months later after moving back to Sacramento because the guy they picked didn't work out for them.
MR: By the way, there's a Poco track from the album A Good Feelin' To Know titled "I Can See Everything" that you wrote and sang lead on that I feel is one of the group's most memorable recordings. Is there a story behind that song?
TBS: Not really. I always liked that record too, and I always liked that song. It's one of those that came out pretty easily. I think my better songs are the ones where I'm writing by myself, and I dig around in there and see what comes up. It's quite a long time ago, and honestly, things are pretty foggy. Every once in a while, a song comes out quickly and easily, and that one did. I pushed through for some different kinds of arrangements rather then just the typical instrumentation. Nothing special really that strikes me. You're the first one that I can remember that has actually brought up that song. I actually felt that was one of my better songs.
MR: And I remember David Cassidy recorded it.
TBS: Oh, right! I forgot about that. David and I used to hang out together, but I haven't seen him in years now. Yeah, I had forgotten about that, thanks for reminding me.
MR: Back to Expando. I love the concept of the song "Parachute"...when you don't want to be lonely anymore, it's time to change your altitude as opposed to your attitude. Nice.
TBS: Thank you, I'm glad you're really listening.
MR: My pleasure. So, is there anything behind that? Were any friends going through anything at the time and this was a kind of advice?
TBS: No, I just think it's another road song, really. When I finished writing it, even before I started recording it, I thought, "This really sounds very Crosby, Stills & Nash, like something they might do." So, I embraced that whole concept and invited Graham to sing on it.
MR: Speaking of Crosby, Stills & Nash, you're one of the background vocalists on their album with "Southern Cross."
TBS: Are you talking about the song?
MR: Yeah, I guess the song and the album it's from.
TBS: I was on that song, but I was also on many other cuts on that album. That album was called Daylight Again.
MR: Yeah. You know, way back when, after I heard those high notes on "Southern Cross," it bugged me because it didn't exactly sound like the Crosby, Stills & Nash I remembered. When I checked the credits, you were listed as one of the background vocalists, and that explained it.
TBS: If you look again, to my recollection, there are a bunch of other singers on that song. It was kind of a group thing.
MR: Right, of course, but you have a very distinct sound that's easily identifiable, like on Toto's hit "I Won't Hold You Back Now" that might as well have been a Timothy B. Schmit record when it hit the chorus.
TBS: Well, they did use a lot of my vocals in that chorus, yes. And there was an obscure song on the Pretzel Logic album, which I sang a bunch on.
MR: As well as a certain monster hit that group had.
TBS: I sang on "Ricky Don't Lose That Number" and a bunch of others. There's this song called "Barrytown." There's a bridge that comes around once and I was very surprised how much they used me on that too. It was very flattering, and a lot of fun too.
MR: And you're on "Dirty Laundry," your Eagle buddy Don Henley's hit, plus Jars of Clay's "Everything In Between," "Africa" by Toto, Boz Scaggs' "Look What You've Done To Me"...
TBS: ...I used to sing on a lot of records.
MR: (laughs) Yeah, you sure did. And as a solo artist, you had a pretty memorable debut with one of the best tracks from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a cover of The Tymes' "So Much In Love."
TBS: That was my first single as a solo (artist).
MR: It also was featured on your Playin' It Cool album. That track was a hit, but I think you got robbed from another potential hit on that album, "Tell Me What You Dream."
TBS: There was a country band that did that song, and it became number one on the AC charts.
MR: Yeah, the Restless Heart hit. That brings us to a little discussion of a group called the Eagles. Can you tell us how you became an Eagle?
TBS: I was kind of keeping my eyes open, the Poco thing was getting a little bit stale for lack of a better word. There was no forward motion. Right around that time, I woke up to a phone call that morning and it was Glenn Fry who I knew. I knew all of those guys at least a little bit. They pretty much invited me and wanted to know if I was interested. So, I accepted and they pretty much had me in the band before we played one note of music together.
MR: As artists, but also as background vocalists, you and Graham Nash are a couple of the best out there, and I've always been curious about what note or at what point your voice flips into falsetto. Your vocals are so smooth when they're high that I can't figure it out.
TBS: Oh, I don't know. Also, my voice is changing with the aging process, so I don't really know anymore. I work all of the time on it now, I didn't used to have to. I actually try to sing everyday. I see a vocal coach every once in a while just to keep strong. The exact note and where it slips in, I don't know.
MR: "I Can't Tell You Why," your hit with the Eagles, is one of the group's strongest pop records. Is there a story behind that one?
TBS: Yeah. Basically, when we got down to working me into the band, they wanted me to do a lead on at least one song. They asked me if I had any songs I wanted them to hear. I don't remember how much I brought to them but I had a piece of what eventually became that song. I had a little kernel of that tune, and they said, "That's the one we want to work on," they being Don and Glenn. We worked several nights on that song, and we actually finished it. It was the first completed vocal on that album, actually.
MR: Cool. I interviewed Joe Walsh recently and we were going on about the Eagles. One of the questions I asked him was if you guys are still buddies, and he of course said yes.
TBS: Well, yeah, we are. I can't say that we really hang out a bunch together anymore, we all have our own lives now. It's not like we're a bunch of hungry young men living in the same house. We've all grown up and when we get together, it's to work. It all still works. We get together for that purpose and we aim to please.
MR: Getting back to your album, "Downtime" is one of my favorites. You were talking about the concept of road songs earlier, and to me, "Downtime" fits into that category. I think people can definitely relate to you not being able to think because you're head is too crowded with things, so you better get out and you better go do something. I love how you played with words here, "...if I don't put my foot down, things are going to get lost," a possible reference to taking a stand about wanting to escape...maybe?
TBS: Wow, that's quite interesting listening to your interpretations. That's one of the cool things by the way of writing songs, other people's interpretations. Like I never really thought of that as a road song at all, I thought of it as like, "I've got to slow down, I've got to relax and take a deep breath." That's what that whole song is to me, but it's pretty interesting these little twists you're putting on it. That's good, that means I'm doing my job.
MR: (laughs) Thanks. On "Compassion," when you hit that bridge vocal section, those are all of your voices, right?
MR: Do you enjoy that after all of these years? I mean, is that one of your favorite things, harmonizing with yourself?
TBS: Yeah, it is, because it comes very easy to me; it's just like a puzzle. You have to start with one line, obviously, then putting the puzzle together is really fun and interesting, and you get to try all kinds of stuff. On the other hand, I don't think that an album full of me just singing would be that interesting, that's why I didn't do that on every song. I have me singing all of the parts on a version of "Parachutes" here in the studio, but it was only a guide for Graham. He didn't need a guide by the way, but it was there. Like on "Downtime," I had some really odd combination of Kid Rock and Dwight Yoakam singing with me, and I wanted that. I didn't want it to be really pretty and smooth like my voice does, I wanted some different colors. Even though I do enjoy it, I don't think it would be as interesting to hear that at all times.
MR: What advice might you have for new artists?
TBS: I get asked that a lot. The best thing I think I can come up with is go for it, but try and keep perspective. Not everybody is going to be on the radio, it's not going to happen for everybody. What everybody can get from it is the original reason you start--it's fun and it's enjoyable. I say no matter if it turns into a big monster business or you've got a day job and you play on weekends, the enjoyment is exactly the same and not to forget that.
MR: Will there be touring in the near future, maybe even with the Eagles?
TBS: First of all, I just finished a solo tour of the West Coast, which was really great. I hope to go out sometime again next year, and I'm also going to try and sit here and write my next album, which I've already started to do. Eagle-wise, a few gigs are popping up. It looks like we're going to go to South Africa in April, and we're going to do the New Orleans Jazz Festival in May. We're also going to go to Dubai. We're going to go to some places we haven't been. I'm sure a few more (dates) will pop up, but there's no major "most of the time on the road" kind of touring coming up. Everybody's working on solo stuff. Glenn's got one, Joe's got one, I think it's finished, and Don's still working on one. So, this gives us some time to do that. We seem to all converge at the mothership at one point or another.
MR: Is everybody popping in on each other's recordings?
TBS: Not so much lately. I think everybody likes to really get away from everybody else, we all think it's healthy. I think the reason we broke up in the first place in the '80s for so long was because we really didn't know how to vacation. You have to take a break or else it blows up like it did.
MR: Timothy, I really appreciate your time.
TBS: Thanks for having me.
1. One More Mile
3. Friday Night
4. Ella Jean
5. White Boy From Sacramento
9. I Don't Mind
10. Secular Praise
11. A Good Day
Transcribed By Theo Shier