Jack Tempchin is the writer or co-writer of dozens of familiar classic rock songs, including many of The Eagles flagship hits like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.” That foray would lead to a decades-long songwriting partnership with vocalist Glenn Frey, and he co-wrote many of Frey’s most massive hits like “You Belong to the City” that was written for Miami Vice and peaked number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. His composition “Slow Dancing,” his favorite, was covered by many artists including Olivia Newton-John, and it peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with a cover by Johnny Rivers. The Songwriter Hall-of-Famer chatted with CULTURE about how songs are formed, the music industry and how cannabis can be a creative tool.
How did it feel to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019, the same year as Cat Stevens, John Prine and other songwriters?
It’s been really great. Everybody makes a list: What am I going to do today? What am I going to do this year? What are my life goals? Being in the Songwriters Hall of Fame was never in any of my lists. It didn’t occur to me. But it’s been a big boost getting in there. This is who I am, I suppose. All the crazy things that I did in my life went into these songs.
When you were in the middle of writing “Slow Dancing,” did you know deep down that it was going to be a huge hit?
After I’d written it, I played it for some people, and I could feel it when I played it myself. I thought maybe it was a hit. I feel that I really hit the nail on the head. At the time that I wrote the song, I was falling in love with the person that I’m still with. Other songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling”—I had no idea that could ever be any kind of a hit song.
What began your long partnership with The Eagles?
About five years before The Eagles existed, Glenn Frey and JD Souther formed a duo called Longbranch Pennywhistle. They had some gigs in San Diego. So when I met them in San Diego, I asked them to stay at my house, which was a large hippie pad with five bedrooms and a candle shop in the garage. They stayed with me, and we became really good friends. My joke is if you want to get into music, just meet a superstar about five years before he gets famous.
When Glenn Fry, Don Henley and the others went their separate ways to establish their solo careers, what was your reaction?
Well it worked out for me because Glenn said, “Let’s get together and write some songs.” We’ve been really good friends. He had recorded a couple of my songs with The Eagles, but we had never written a song together at that point. That started a 14-year career of me writing songs with Glenn for all of his albums. It was incredible because my friend turned out to be one of the greatest writers of our time. As far as The Eagles, I was never in favor of them breaking up. I always felt like if they get back together, that will be great.
“We thought [cannabis legalization] would happen so much quicker. It took 50 years from the time I started smoking until the time it happened. It’s still not legal. It’s not federally legal, anyways.”
When Glenn Frey passed away, did it feel like a void was left there?
It was tough because we’d been friends for 47 years. I was sitting on the cliff above the ocean, where I go to write songs. I wrote a song about him called “Never Had the Chance to Say Goodbye.” Everybody has people that they lose. It was just so great to have gotten to know him.
Your music has crossed over from rock ‘n’ roll into the country industry. How do the industries compare?
They’ve always been totally different. In the early days, country was one-tenth of the sales as rock. So when you went to do a show in Nashville, they expected you to record it and mix it in one day like a factory, whereas in rock ‘n’ roll, you’d show up to the studio three hours late and spend two days recording—until SoundScan came on. Then overnight, people realized the actual record sales were different than what was being put on.
What comes to you first, the lyrics or the melody?
Usually it’s the idea that comes first. You have an idea for a song. Then you think of the title and the music comes with it and you put it all together. The idea—to me—comes first.
Have you ever used cannabis as a creative tool when writing songs?
Well yeah. Not so much intentionally, but most of the time, for a period of maybe 40 or 50 years I was high for a good percentage of the time. I would write songs when I was high, and then I would write songs when I was not high. I didn’t, however, have to be high in order to be able to write songs. Pot [has] been my friend.
Tell us about your line of wine from South Coast Winery.
I had trademarked the name “Peaceful Easy Feeling” for wine, and I found the South Coast Winery. They are an award-winning wine brand out of Temecula. They put my name on it, and my wife did the artwork for the label. Right now, I’m looking for an established marijuana producer with a high quality product that is interested in using the name “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” I have a song, and it’s called “I Want Everybody to Light a Joint.”
I rambled down the rainbow road to the Promised Land.
A peace sign necklace and a joint burning in hand.
They said, “Hey Longhair, you look like a girl.”
I said, “I’m getting free love and changing the world.”
I want everybody to light a joint.
Are you surprised by cannabis legalization?
We thought [cannabis legalization] would happen so much quicker. It took 50 years from the time I started smoking until the time it happened. It’s still not legal. It’s not federally legal, anyways. Why was it illegal in the first place? A mysterious question indeed. None of the reasons make any sense. It’s strange that it took this long.
So what’s next?
I have a new album I just made with Gary Nicholson producing. He’s won two Grammys for producing. I used a lot of famous musicians. I think it’s my best album and it’s got a few Glenn Frey songs that I co-wrote with him, one of which no one’s ever heard, [called] “One More Time With Feeling.” I’m pretty excited because I sent two of the songs to Jimmy Buffett’s label, and he heard them personally. He signed me on to Jimmy Buffett’s Mailboat Records. He’s probably having a “Coral Reefer” right now.