|Bernard Mathew Leadon III|
July 19, 1947 |
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
|Genres||Rock, country rock, bluegrass|
|Labels||Asylum, Really Small Entertainment|
|Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Dillard & Clark, Hearts & Flowers, Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Run C&W, Ever Call Ready, Maundy Quintet|
Bernard Mathew Leadon III (pronounced led-un; born July 19, 1947) is an American musician and songwriter, best known as a founding member of the Eagles. Prior to the Eagles, he was a member of three pioneering and highly influential country rock bands: Hearts & Flowers, Dillard & Clark, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, mandolin, steel guitar, dobro) coming from a bluegrass background. He introduced elements of this music to a mainstream audience during his tenure with the Eagles.
Leadon's music career since leaving the Eagles has been low-key, resulting in two solo albums with a gap of 27 years in between. Leadon has also appeared on many other artists' records as a session musician.
Leadon was born in Minneapolis, one of ten siblings, to Dr. Bernard Leadon Jr. and Ann Teresa (née Sweetser) Leadon, devout Roman Catholics. His father was an aerospace engineer and nuclear physicist whose career moved the family around the U.S. The family enjoyed music and, at an early age, Bernie developed an interest in folk and bluegrass music. He eventually mastered the 5-string banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
As a young teen he moved with his family to San Diego, where he met fellow musicians Ed Douglas and Larry Murray of the local bluegrass outfit, the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. The Barkers proved a breeding ground for future California country rock talent, including shy, 18-year-old mandolin player Chris Hillman, with whom Leadon maintained a lifelong friendship. Augmented by banjo player (and future Flying Burrito Brother) Kenny Wertz, the Squirrel Barkers eventually asked Leadon to join the group, upon Wertz's joining the Air Force in 1963.
His stint in the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers did not last long. In late 1963, his family once again relocated to Gainesville, Florida, when his father accepted a position as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. Leadon attended Gainesville High School, where he met classmate and future Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder, whose band, the Continentals, had just lost guitarist Stephen Stills. Upon Leadon's joining the group, rechristened Maundy Quintet, they gigged locally, even sharing the bill with future Gainesville legend Tom Petty and his early band the Epics (a band that also included Bernie's brother, musician Tom Leadon).
A call from ex-Squirrel Barker Larry Murray in 1967, to join his fledgling psychedelic country-folk group, Hearts & Flowers, was enticing enough for Leadon to return to California, where he soon became involved with the burgeoning L.A. folk/country rock scene. Leadon recorded one album with the band, their second release Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women for Capitol Records. The record was a local hit but failed to make much of a dent on the national album charts. Discouraged, the group disbanded the following year.
By late 1968, Leadon had befriended bluegrass/banjo legend Doug Dillard, late of the Dillards. While staying with Dillard, informal jam sessions with prolific songwriter and ex-Byrds member Gene Clark began to take shape, and morphed into what eventually became Dillard & Clark, a seminal country-rock band who laid the groundwork for the country-rock sound that dominated the L.A. music scene for the next decade. In 1968, the group recorded their classic and highly influential LP, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. The album featured Leadon's warm and distinctive backing vocals and impressive multi-instrumental work. The album's highlights include several compositions co-written with Clark, most notably the future Eagles staple (and somewhat of a signature song for Leadon) from their debut album, Train Leaves Here This Morning.
Leadon left Dillard & Clark in 1969, eventually reconnecting with ex-Squirrel Barker (and ex-Byrd) Chris Hillman, who asked him to join The Flying Burrito Brothers, a fledgling country-rock band that Hillman had formed a year earlier with fellow ex-Byrd, Gram Parsons. Leadon recorded two albums with the group: Burrito Deluxe and the post-Parsons LP, The Flying Burrito Bros. After the latter album's release in 1971, Leadon had tired of the band's lack of commercial success and decided to leave the band to pursue an opportunity to play with three musicians he had worked with while moonlighting in Linda Ronstadt's backing band that summer. The resultant project, the Eagles, found the success he had craved.
Leadon was the last original member to join the Eagles, a band initially formed by guitarist/singer Glenn Frey, drummer/singer Don Henley, and former Poco bassist/singer Randy Meisner. Leadon is often credited with helping shape the band's early country-rock sound, bringing his strong sense of harmony as well as his country, bluegrass and acoustic sensibilities to the group. Instruments he played during his tenure in the band were electric guitar, B-Bender, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and pedal steel guitar.
Upon the release of their debut album, Eagles, the group met with near instantaneous success, due largely to the strength of their hit singles, "Take It Easy", "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Witchy Woman" (co-written by Leadon and Henley), all of which highlighted Leadon's multi-instrumental talent on electric guitar, B-Bender, banjo, and harmony vocals. Their follow-up, Desperado, was another strong country-rock venture highlighted by the classics "Tequila Sunrise" and the title track. Leadon had a prominent role on the album, but it was met by surprisingly lukewarm reviews and lackluster sales. As a result, the band attempted to distance itself from the "country rock" label for their third album On the Border. In doing so, Leadon encouraged the group to recruit his old friend, guitarist Don Felder, to the band. The result was the guitar-heavy top ten hit "Already Gone". The album also included "My Man", Leadon's touching tribute to his old bandmate and friend, Gram Parsons, who had died of a drug overdose the year prior at Joshua Tree National Monument in southeastern California.
With the wild success of On the Border and its follow-up smash, One of These Nights, tension within the band grew, as Leadon grew increasingly frustrated by the band's direction away from his beloved country and bluegrass and toward album-oriented stadium rock. He famously quit the band in 1975 by pouring a beer over Glenn Frey's head. He later cited a need to get healthy and break the vicious cycle of touring, recording and heavy drug use that was rampant within the band.
Upon his departure, Asylum Records released Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which highlighted the band's Leadon years and went on to become the biggest-selling album of all time for sales in excess of 42 million units, awarded to the band members by the RIAA. He was replaced by former James Gang guitarist/singer, Joe Walsh.
Although it has long been believed that he left because he was dissatisfied with the band moving into rock and roll, Leadon denies it and said in 2013: "That's an oversimplification; it implies that I had no interest in rock or blues or anything but country rock. That's just not the case. I didn't just play Fender Telecaster. I played a Gibson Les Paul and I enjoyed rock & roll. That's evident from the early albums."
Upon leaving the Eagles, Leadon retreated from the limelight, only to resurface in 1977 with musician friend Michael Georgiades for his first solo album, Natural Progressions with Bryan Garofalo on bass, Dave Kemper on drums, Steve Goldstein on keyboard, Mike Georgiades on guitar and vocals.
In 1985, he recorded an album of bluegrass and gospel favorites under the name Ever Call Ready, featuring Chris Hillman and Al Perkins. He also had a short stint with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the late 1980s.
In 1998, Leadon reunited with the Eagles in New York City for the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All seven current and former Eagles members performed together on "Take It Easy," and "Hotel California".
In 2004, he released his second solo effort in 27 years, Mirror.
In February 2016, Leadon appeared at the Grammy Awards ceremony with Jackson Browne and the current surviving Eagles members - Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit - performing "Take it Easy", in tribute to Glenn Frey who died a month earlier.
He is divorced and has a son.