Jack Tempchin met Glenn Frey before he was famous. When Frey put together his band, The Eagles, they recorded Tempchin’s “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and forever forged Jack’s path as a songwriter.
When The Eagles recorded Tempchin’s “Already Gone,” another song was plucked from obscurity and became an unlikely hit. Something about Frey’s voice, wrapped in those amazing Eagles harmonies, on Tempchin’s words and music, was both haunting and inviting. So when The Eagles broke up, he turned to Tempchin to co-write solo material, including the decade-defining “You Belong To The City,” composed for “Miami Vice,” as well as “Smuggler’s Blues,” “The One You Love,” “I Found Somebody” and “True Love.”
Born in Ohio, Tempchin was raised in San Diego, where he had a big house by Balboa Park – with a candle factory in its garage – that became a beloved hippie crash pad. Frey, who was in a duo then with J.D. Souther called Longbranch Pennywhistle, spent the night at Tempchin’s house. Tempchin played them “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and Frey loved it so much he taped it. The next day Frey told him he had a new band that had been together eight days, and they wanted to record the song. Tempchin’s reaction: ““Whoa, yeah!”
Tempchin wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” during a gig in El Centro. “The waitress I was gonna take home changed her mind,” he says. “So I just picked up my guitar and wrote some really stupid lyrics. You have to write a lot of really bad stuff before you come up with good stuff. I was falling in love with every woman I saw, even from a distance and put them into the song. I wrote the final verse at the Weinerschnitzel on Washington Avenue waiting for a Polish hot dog. If you were a woman in San Diego around that time, you could be in this song. But you’d never know.”
Frey and The Eagles went to England to record the first album. When they came back, Frey played it for Tempchin who was overwhelmed: “I told him it was the best thing I had ever heard! I had heard Glenn play solo, but I had no idea he was such a great arranger, and harmony singer … I felt it was the best album ever.”
Asked why he wasn’t in The Eagles, he said, “Because I wasn’t good enough.” As for “Peaceful,” he never expected it to be a hit: “It is not a normal love song. But the Eagles, with their arrangement, breathed all this life into it. I remember when Glenn first heard it, he suggested I make it a little more vague, so more people could relate to it.”
It was with his pal Robb Strandlund that Tempchin wrote a country song that became a pop hit: “We got drunk in a back room in a coffee house at San Diego State,” remembered Jack, “and wrote ‘Already Gone.’ In about fifteen minutes. It just kind of came right out.”
When it came time for the third Eagles album, Frey turned again to Tempchin for material. He called and said, “You know that country song? I think we want to make it a rock song.” That was “Already Gone.” As Tempchin recalled, “I thought this is gonna be a piece of cake, this songwriting thing! Glenn and I called our songwriting method ‘El Blurto.’ Just blurt out anything. Then type it up.”
“You Belong To The City” was blurted out when Tempchin and Frey were sent a tape of a new TV show called “Miami Vice.” “The sax,” he said, “the whole feel, was inspired by the style and vibe of that show. We wrote it quickly.”
His biggest non-Eagles hit is “Swaying To The Music (Slow Dancing).” Recorded first by his own band The Funky Kings, which also featured Jules Shear, it later became a hit for Johnny Rivers. It was born at a San Diego club upon recognition that people waited for the slow dance, so as to get close to the girl they loved: “I thought, there needs to be a slow dancing song. And also I was just falling in love with the woman who became my wife, and it all ended up as ‘Slow Dancing.’”
Johnny Rivers heard the Funky Kings version on the radio, and discovering it was not a hit yet, recorded it and made it a hit: “[Johnny] has a way of interpreting a song where you don’t think he’s a great singer, you just think, ‘Wow, that is a great song.’”
Besides writing classic songs for and with others, Tempchin continues to seriously write ones for his own, and his most recent album is Learning To Dance, filled with beautifully crafted and inspired songs.
“There’s really nothing in the world like songwriting,” he said. “It has given me this wonderful life. To spend your days writing songs that the world can share, that is a good life. And, to this day, there’s nothing I love more than being in my car and listening to what I call Jack radio, all my demos and recordings of my songs. I never get tired of hearing them.”
Asked how he first started writing songs, he said, “I heard a Bob Dylan album at a party. Everyone was saying, ‘Nawww – that guy sounds funny!’ And I thought, ‘Whoa – that’s it.’ So I tried to be Bob Dylan over and over again in my life. And it always never worked. ‘Cause I am not him.”