Randy Meisner, Eagles bassist and singer who hit the high notes on Take It to the Limit – obituary

Meisner in London, 1973
Meisner in London, 1973 - Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Randy Meisner, who has died aged 77 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was a founding member, in 1971, of the Eagles; a bassist and singer with an impressive vocal range, his rather nasal tenor can be heard hitting the high notes on Take It to the Limit, and he played on the albums Desperado and Hotel California before quitting the band in 1977.

The four original Eagles – Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley – were brought together in Los Angeles as backing musicians to Linda Ronstadt on her album, Silk Purse. Meisner had already played with the US country rock band Poco and Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. Adopting the name “Eagles”, the quartet flew to England in February 1972 and spent two weeks recording their eponymous debut album, which spawned two Top 20 singles in the US – Take It Easy and Witchy Woman.

They returned to England the following year to record Desperado, a concept album which went gold and yielded the single Tequila Sunrise. Take It to the Limit, which Meisner co-wrote and on which he was lead vocalist, reached the Top 10 and featured on the band’s 1975 album One of These Nights, the Eagles’ first number one album in the Billboard charts.

Meisner had an impressive vocal range, heard on Take It to the Limit
Meisner had an impressive vocal range, heard on Take It to the Limit

Meisner remained part of the band’s line-up until they released Hotel California in 1976. He left the band the following year, however, at the height of their popularity after internal disagreements and was replaced by Timothy Schmit, who had earlier succeeded him as bassist and vocalist with Poco.

Randall Herman Meisner was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on March 8 1946 into a family of sharecroppers. His father was descended from so-called Volga Germans, settlers attracted to the Volga River region of Russia in the 18th century by Catherine the Great, many of whom left the country due to the rise of Russian nationalism in the late 1800s for the steppe-like American Plains.

As a teenager at Scottsbluff High School, Meisner began playing bass guitar in local bands, and by the late 1960s had moved to California where, in 1968, he co-founded Poco, with Richie Furay and Jimmy Messina, only to leave the band before the release of their first album after a disagreement with Furay.

He then became a member of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and played on James Taylor’s 1970 album Sweet Baby James, before joining the Eagles.

The Eagles in a desert valley, 1972: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner
The Eagles in a desert valley, 1972: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner - Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty

The disagreements that prompted his departure took place during the Hotel California tour, at a time when his first marriage had run into trouble and he claimed to be suffering from flu. His refusal to go on stage to do a third or fourth encore of Take It to the Limit at a gig in Knoxville, Tennessee, sparked an argument backstage with Glenn Frey, the band’s co-frontman with Don Henley, and Meisner left the band shortly afterwards.

He embarked on a solo career, touring during the 1980s with the Silverados, and released three albums, two of which, One More Song (1980) and Randy Meisner (1982), made the album charts. Subsequently he returned to session playing, backing singers including James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg.

In 1998 he joined Eagles past and present when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed Take It Easy and Hotel California. For several years he was part of World Classic Rockers, a touring act featuring ageing stars. But in 2013, when he was invited to be part of a History of the Eagles World Tour, he declined for health reasons.

Randy Meisner, left, and Glenn Frey of the Eagles onstage in Los Angeles
Randy Meisner, left, and Glenn Frey of the Eagles onstage in Los Angeles - Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Reflecting on his time with the band in an interview with the music web site lobstergottalent.com in 2015, he said: “The funny thing is, after we made those albums I never listened to them and it is only when someone comes over or I am at somebody’s house and it gets played in the background that is when I’ll tell myself, ‘Damn, these records are good.’ ”

In 1963, aged just 17, Meisner married Jennifer Barton. The marriage was dissolved in 1981, and in 1996 he married his long-time girlfriend, Lana Rae, who died in 2016 after accidentally shooting herself at the couple’s home in Los Angeles.

The previous year, according to court records and comments made in a court hearing, Randy Meisner had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had severe troubles with substance abuse. The judge in the case ordered that he be put under medical supervision.

Randy Meisner is survived by a daughter and two sons from his first marriage.

Randy Meisner, born March 8 1946, died July 26 2023