Bass Players To Know: Randy Meisner

Randy Meisner

It’s safe to say that the pop/rock music of the 1970’s have been trending in this column series. After recently highlighting the classic records and notable bass players of Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, and Billy Joel, I figured it was worthwhile to keep digging. The iconic easy listening songs that continue to permeate our musical landscape are chock full of bass playing gold, and though we often take it easy while listening to the radio, it’s important to pay attention to what (and who) is supporting the song. This next Bass Player To Know, Randy Meisner, is best known for his work with The Eagles from 1971-1977. A mainstay on most of their hits, he has also worked with Poco, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and has released solo records.

So Who Is Randy Meisner?

Born in Nebraska in 1946, Meisner grew up on a farm and began playing guitar around the age of 10. After switching to bass in high school and gravitating towards Motown and R&B music, he performed at local dance halls and made his first recordings with the band The Drivin’ Dynamics. He joined a new group, The Poor, in 1966 and moved to California. In addition to playing with The Poor, he briefly joined the band Poco, followed by Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, and played on sessions with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. While working with Ronstadt, he played alongside Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Glenn Fry, who in 1971, decided to form The Eagles.

Between 1971 and 1977, Meisner played bass on the classic recordings Eagles, Desperado, On The Border, One Of These Nights, and Hotel California, in addition to frequently singing lead and co-writing some of the bands’ hits. After an exhaustive amount of touring, he decided to leave the band in 1977 to return home and work on other musical projects. He recorded two solo records, Randy Meisner and One More Song, and toured with his band, Randy Meisner and The Silverados. Throughout the late 1980s, he continued to do session work, toured with the band Black Tie, and eventually rejoined Poco in 1989. Since then, Meisner has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Eagles. He continued to perform until 2008 when he reportedly retired due to health issues.

Let’s Talk Style

Meisner is the kind of player that excels at functionality and musicality, perfectly at home supporting the song and holding out for the right moment to execute a low-end melody. Many of his bass lines are derivative of traditional blues and country bass playing, where the approach favors playing just the root, the arpeggio, or the root and fifth. The bass parts on the songs such as “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” and “Take It Easy,” adopt this classic country style, perhaps establishing a next generation of the Bakersfield Sound lineage. Though most of his lines are harmonically simple and make use of diatonic voice leading, he gracefully sits in the groove with the drummer, provides the necessary accompaniment, and allows the song to shine through.

As a groove player, Meisner’s attention to note duration is quite unique. He often players shorter, punchier notes with rests in between them; this assertive rhythmic approach helps to define the feel of the song as well as his personal style. This attention to note duration, and particularly in keeping his notes short and precise, is evident in songs such as “Hotel California and “Life in the Fast Lane.”

Where Can I Hear Him?

“One Of These Nights” (The Eagles: One Of These Nights)

The Eagles: One Of These NightsKicking off with an iconic bass riff, Meisner takes full advantage of the range of the instrument. He jumps between the lower root notes that define the chord progression and a simple yet memorable motif in the higher range. As the verse kicks in, he plays a groove based on a three-note phrase that adheres to the diatonic harmony of the song. Going from the minor tonality of the verses to the relative major chorus, Meisner plays a rhythm-and-blues inspired bass line that moves from the four chord to the one. He alternates the rhythm of the line to create contrast with the melody and playful substitutes notes in the major pentatonic scale throughout the extended outro.

Listen: iTunes | Amazon MP3

“Already Gone” (The Eagles: On The Border)

The Eagles: On The BorderThis classic hit features Meisner’s prominent bass part as the driving force. He plays well-articulated notes with precise duration throughout the verses, alluding to the tradition country “tic-tac” style playing. Going into the choruses, he adopts a bluesier approach by walking through the chord changes, hinting at the minor-to-major third, and playing with greater intensity as the song progresses.

Listen: iTunes | Amazon MP3

“Calico Lady” (Poco: Pickin’ Up The Pieces)

Poco: Pickin' Up The PiecesMeisner digs into a super funky long lost groove to start the song and support the verses. Accenting the various hits and chord changes, he takes on the role of counter-point in the choruses, mimicking the phrasing of the vocals and hitting strong “beat twos” alongside the drummer. Transitioning into the bridge, he plays a hyperactive yet appropriate part to provide contrast to the high, floating vocal harmonies.

Listen: iTunes | Amazon MP3

How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Randy Meisner? Please share with us in the comments.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. Jan Bernotas

    Love Randy Meisner although he never got the recognition he so rightly deserves. He should have been a bigger star in his solo career but “The Gods” Frey and Henley made sure he didn’t. The Eagles lost their Golden Eagle when they lost him.

    • Esther

      I totally agree Randy never did get the recognition he deserved. I too believe Frey and Henley made sure of that.

      • David Harvey

        Don and Glenn actually helped him out on the title track on “One More Song”, as they sang backing vocals. It’s very mean to suggest that they somehow conspired to prevent Randy from making it big on his own, as I don’t believe they would’ve been interested in even doing so and they had their own post-Eagles solo careers to focus on.
        Randy himself said that his first solo album was scattershot and not conceptualized to its best plus he had to make this album as a contractual obligation owing to Asylum having a members leaving clause before he could do what he liked.

  2. Rose Smith

    Love watching and listening to Randy Meisner play Outlaw Man, Tryin, and one of my all time fav’s is How Long all from ‘73. Love all the Eagles songs but…TITTL best Eagles song ever!!! The Eagles definitely lost their Golden Eagle when they lost Randy. I really think out of respect for Randy they should have retired TITTL. Not one singer in the group, original or new can even attempt to touch the perfection that was Randy Meisner singing TITTL!!!! Lost a lot of respect for Don Henley and Glen Frey when they squeezed Randy out!

    • David Harvey

      Randy actually wanted to quit, because he was just over the touring and the growing band dramas, and he decided to quit at the end of the Hotel California tour, so it was strictly his own decision. Bernie Leadon had left the band of his own accord in 1975.
      Yes, both Randy and Bernie’s compositions were retired from their tour setlists after their respective departure, and with “Take it to the Limit” being one of their biggest hit singles, it would’ve had to be reinstated at some point, so as not to disappoint the band’s millions of fans.
      On the History of The Eagles tour, Glenn sang the lead vocals on “Take it to the Limit” to honour, not disrespect, Randy, who was unable to come along on the tour because of health issues after a near-fatal choking incident.