“Meat and potatoes.” It’s a recurring phrase during conversation with Timothy B. Schmit when discussing his technique. He loves jazz, but quickly points out that he is “not a good improviser” and “not one of those guys”.
He played an upright bass, inherited from his father, while recording his new solo album, Day By Day, but notes, “I’m a terrible standup bass player, but if you have patience as an engineer, I can make it happen.” Each time, without fail, he returns to his nutritional analogy.
Meat and potatoes, however, are a dietary and music staple. Trends come and go, but meat and potatoes stay. There is always an audience, always a demand, always a palate for tasty food and tasty chops. Meat and potatoes have been featured on countless menus, just as Schmit’s solid basslines and pristine vocals have been featured on countless recordings and live performances. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a genuinely nice guy, which speaks to the frequent callbacks and his decades-long post in the Eagles.
Day By Day is Schmit’s seventh solo album and his first since 2016’s Leap Of Faith. He recorded the dozen original songs at his home studio, Mooselodge, during breaks with the Eagles and a long stretch of pandemic lockdowns and cancelled tours.
“This is my third album of just my own compositions, without collaborating with anybody or doing somebody else’s songs,” he says. “I look at it as a trilogy, these albums, because it’s all just me.
“The Eagles have been busy on and off for quite a few years again,” he adds, addressing the gap between his own projects. “Sometimes we take large breaks, a whole year, and sometimes we take six months or three months. That’s my exceptionally great job that I need and want. And what is really good for my psyche and spirit is writing songs, recording them, and producing them.
“Between the Eagles’ stuff, I would come home, settle down, and try to write. I say ‘try’ because it’s work for me. It’s work that I enjoy, although sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating to get to a point where I can’t go further with a song. I persevere and then put it away for a little while and write something else.
“But it’s a process I really love. It takes a long time because I’m busy with the Eagles, and then Covid happened. I probably wrote half of this album, and certainly recorded half of it, during that time. That’s why it takes so long, and that’s why there’s an album now.”
Schmit grew up in Sacramento, California, where he and two childhood friends formed a folk trio that they simply called Tim, Tom, & Ron. By the time they graduated high school, they were enamored with the music of the so-called British Invasion of the day, and had also graduated to electric instruments and a drummer, George (it merits note that the bandmates remain close friends and still keep in touch.)
The four-piece became The Contenders, who became The New Breed, who became Glad. During their years together, they released several singles, recorded a couple of albums, and charted a Number One song on Sacramento radio that also landed in the Top 20 in San Francisco.
Early into this trajectory, at age 14 or 15, it was decided that Schmit was destined to play bass guitar – which he did on a guitar or borrowed instruments until 1963, when he was able to afford his first Fender Precision.
Through a turn of events that included selling it early on and repurchasing it decades later from its then-owner, the bass is still with him.
“I used to go to the music store and stare at it on the wall, knowing that I was so far away from getting it,” he says. “I did some work for my dad, babysat my infant brother for a summer, did this and that, and finally got enough money together to buy it.”
The P-Bass made way for a 1963 Gibson EB-2, also still in his possession. That’s the bass he brought to Poco in 1969, until he bought a Candy Apple Red 1964 Fender Jazz from a surfer for $175. “In my hippie dreams, the color wasn’t very cool,” he says, “so I hand-sanded it, which took forever.”
That instrument was featured on all his recordings with Poco and on the Eagles’ 1979 The Long Run album, his first studio project with the band, whom he joined two years prior during their Hotel California tour.
He added a 1961 Jazz as a backup, which came to figure prominently onstage with the Eagles.
“This is a super-funky one,” he says. “We call it Woody because it is a piece of wood. Somebody did a worse sanding job on it than I did on my other one. There’s initials carved into it. I bought it as is, and I’m really glad I did. I play it quite a lot. Those were the only two basses I had for a while.”
For a period of time in the 1990s, he played a white custom-made Carvin. “That bass was great,” he says. “I used it for a long time on recordings and with the Eagles. But it was a neck-through bass, and whenever it needed tweaking... it just got to the point where it couldn’t be tweaked any more. I still have it, but now it’s a museum piece.”
He owns some 20 or 25 basses, by his estimation, including a mid-1960s Hofner that he used on Day By Day. Mostly, though, he’s a dedicated Fender man.
“I have six basses onstage with the Eagles and one backup, a 1966 Jazz,” he says. “A couple are a half-step down and one is a full step down. The bass my tech and I call Number One is a 1962 Jazz. It’s got halfrounds on it and a great feel. I’ve probably had it for 10 years. That’s the one I play most onstage, and I played it on my new album.
“‘Woody’, my ’61 Jazz, has flatwounds. It’s great onstage and in the studio. That’s one of those basses where you instantly know it’s going to sound good. You don’t even have to plug it in; you play it, and you can feel it and hear it. I play a white 1964 Fender Custom Shop on three songs: Life In The Fast Lane, Joe (Walsh)’s In The City, and we do a version of the James Gang’s Funk #49. That bass sounds a little different, and I like that sound for those songs. I don’t use that one in the studio.
“I have a black Jazz; I’m going to say it’s a ’62 or ’63. This is an interesting-looking bass and it’s got a great sound for certain songs onstage. I bought it really used. Part of the finish on the back is scraped off and you can see that it was originally sunburst. My tech thinks that someone had this bass, wanted a black one, and they just took it back in and sprayed over it.
“I have a 1965 Jazz that’s in mint condition. It’s got a super-thick neck, bigger than I would normally play. That’s the one I tune down to D. I play it on slower songs, like Wasted Time from Hotel California, because we do that song a whole step lower than the original. It holds the tone and sounds great.
“Don (Henley)’s The Boys Of Summer requires a fretless bass. I have a Pedulla Buzz, which Jennifer Condos, one of Don’s former bass players, turned me on to. Those basses sound really good. We used to do New York Minute, and I played it on that too, but right now I only use it for one song. I’m not really a fretless player. I can get by, but I’m not great at it, so I don’t use it in the studio.”
And there, once again, is the humility. For all that Timothy B. Schmit has done and all that he continues to accomplish, in many ways he remains the aspiring youngster from Sacramento.
Despite becoming a multi-platinum singer, songwriter, and musician in one of the industry’s most enduring bands, he still considers himself a work in progress – solid, reliable, grateful, and always striving.
“I do call myself a ‘meat and potatoes’ bass player, but that’s exactly what is called for with anything I might be doing,” he says, when his affinity for the phrase is pointed out.
“I don’t mean to overdo, ‘Oh, little ol’ me’. I’m just so fortunate to be able to do this. I’m not denying any talent I might have, but there are so many great players out there. I think I’m good at what I do, but ‘great’ is a little much for me. I just do what I do, and I’m glad that people appreciate it.”
- Day By Day is out now via Benowen Records.