The Man Who Helped Eagles Find Their ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’
Eagles released "Peaceful Easy Feeling," the third single from their debut self-titled album, on Dec. 1, 1972. But it wasn't a member of the band who could take credit for penning the tune, which reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually become one of the band's most successful songs. Instead, that honor belongs to Jack Tempchin, a local California songwriter and friend of Glenn Frey's.
"Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther were friends of mine already from the Troubadour," Tempchin told Songfacts. "I was staying with Jackson, and Glenn Frey came over to Jackson's house and heard me playing this song. I put it down on a cassette for him, and he came back the next day and said, 'I've got a new band. We've been playing with Linda Ronstadt, but now we're putting together our own band. We've had it together for eight days. We worked up your song and here's how it sounds.' And that's as far as it went."
At the time, Tempchin wasn't entirely sure what Frey's plans were - only that the band seemed to like what he had written. But not long afterward, the Eagles headed to England to record their debut album, taking Tempchin's song with them.
"When they came back, Glenn Frey came down to San Diego with a two-track tape," he recalled. "Of all the people in San Diego, I was the only guy who had a machine that could play it. I remember meeting in this place and everybody listening to the first Eagles album on this tape. The first song was 'Take It Easy,' and I just went, 'Oh, my God. That's the best thing I ever heard.' The next song was 'Witchy Woman,' and I'm going, 'Oh, man, that is the best thing I ever heard.' And then they played 'Peaceful Easy Feeling,' and I'm going, 'Well, this is the best album that I ever heard.'"
But "Peaceful Easy Feeling" had a history tracing back further, well before Eagles decided to take it on. Tempchin had written the bones of the song after a waitress at one of his coffeehouse gigs had left him out to dry.
"I wound up sleeping on the floor in the club with my guitar instead of the girl," he wrote in No Depression. "It was then that I started writing 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' on the back of the poster [advertising my show] my friend made. Some verses weren't good at all, but I did get the phrase 'peaceful, easy feeling.'"
Slowly but surely, the rest of the song was pieced together.
"Next, I went to a street fair in Old Town San Diego and saw a girl with turquoise earrings against her dark skin," he said. "I never spoke with her, but I put her in the first line of the song. I guess I was trying to distill the beauty of every girl I saw into words on paper and then into a song."
By the time it reached the Eagles, the foundation was laid for a hit.
Listen to Eagles' 'Peaceful Easy Feeling'
“When I went back to San Diego, I was falling in love with a lot of beautiful women, and I tried to put each one of them in the song,” he told Rolling Stone. “But the rest of the story is my genius friend - Glenn Frey took the song and put just the right musical arrangement, just the right attitude. He recorded it in an amazing way, so you feel like you are out in the desert. Another reason why everybody likes the song is the amazing job he did of figuring out a perfect way to record it — and his great singing on it.”
With Frey backed on vocals by guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner, a three-part harmony gave the song its final collaborative touch. Through it all, the original message of the song remained clear.
"Part of the idea is when you give up looking for something, a lot of times that’s when you find it," Tempchin explained to CultureSonar. "Your looking was getting in the way. In that context, the guy is saying, 'You can reject me, you can approve me, you can show up, you can not show up, but what you do is not gonna have any effect on the real me.'”
In addition to helping write another iconic Eagles song, "Already Gone," Tempchin also worked with Frey in later years on solo tracks like "Smuggler's Blues" and "You Belong to the City." The songwriter has also teamed up with various other artists throughout his career, including Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Tanya Tucker, Olivia Newton-John and Glen Campbell. Still, the early success on that debut Eagles album was a ride Tempchin would never forget.
"The times happen, and you are just on the train," he recalled to Rolling Stone. "Sometimes you see where it’s going, sometimes you don’t. But we knew it was great and we knew it was going somewhere.”