Few lyrics are more instantly singable for fans of the Eagles than those from the band’s 1972 hit single “Take It Easy.”
Co-written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, “Take It Easy” helped propel the Eagles to fame in the ’70s and the town of Winslow, Arizona, just off Route 66, was forever changed once the song hit the charts.
The story behind the famous lyrics starts with Jackson Browne actually passing through Winslow once, but it was in Flagstaff that he found himself standing on a corner when a girl in a pickup cruised by, checking him out. Later, when he and his friend Frey were finishing the lyrics together they decided on Winslow because it sounded better.
Winslow, once a bustling tourist town, was all but forgotten by travelers after I-40 was built in 1977, bypassing it. But 20 years later Winslow experienced a renaissance. The Standin’ On the Corner Foundation was founded, the La Posada District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a park was built and people returned to visit the town then and forever immortalized.
Longtime Western artist and Libby native Ron Adamson played an essential role in recreating that famous corner on Kinsley and East Second Street. In 1998 Adamson was commissioned to create a life-sized monumental bronze sculpture of a guy and his guitar as a tribute to the Eagles’ tune that gave the town a permanent place in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Prior to that, Adamson dabbled in art for years, first at Libby Senior High and through his post-graduate years while working as a lumber grader around Northwest Montana. He started out as a woodcarver and quickly earned a reputation for his Indian bark carvings.
“It was something I could do on my lunch hour and breaks,” Adamson said. He got used to people watching him while he carved.
At age 20, he was one of the youngest artists invited to be the quick-draw artist at the prestigious Charlie Russell Art Show in Great Falls; nobody could believe how he could make those woodchips fly carving by hand.
Adamson still carves. His successful inaugural Libby Chainsaw Event held last month drew some of the most talented woodcarvers in the Northwest for a weekend of live wood sculpting and recognition from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
As a young artist, Adamson started creating bronzes in his homebuilt foundry by trial and error. Self-taught, he learned the art of bronze sculpting by observing the work in the Kalispell Art Foundry other foundries.
“I basically learned all kinds of ways to not do things,” he joked.
He garnered numerous Best of Show awards across the West for his larger bronzes depicting Canada geese, pheasants, mallards and falcons.
When the Standin’ on the Corner Foundation in Winslow contacted him in 1997 about creating a life-size sculpture for the city commemorating the Eagles’ hit “Take It Easy,” he knew opportunity was knocking.
The Foundation was considering a number of artists for the project. The vision was for a statue of a “’70s” guy in cowboy boots, with a hat raked low over his eyes.
Admittedly never good at drawing, Adamson sketched a figure in a vest with rolled up sleeves with a guitar slung over his shoulder standing on a platform. He presented a clay model before the Foundation. When they told him they needed the sculpture at street level, he began rebuilding it right in front of the group, with the guitar now balanced on the tip of the boot.
“Otherwise the guitar neck could take out a kid running past it,” he said.
“I left thinking, they’re not going to pick me. I work in a lumber mill. I never went to college. I can’t draw.”
But it worked. His creation was chosen.
Adamson, then 42, had the most daunting job of his career — he’d never cast a life-sized monumental bronze. He gave the musician shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, not unlike Jackson Browne’s haircut back in the day. But that’s where the similarities end.
“Browne’s manager at the time, Cree Clover, said she didn’t want the statue to be of him,” Adamson said. “Browne felt the song belonged to the Eagles.”
Adamson used his 6-foot tall son Dustin as his model (Browne is just over 5’ 8”). Both Dustin and his other son Jeff helped pour the bronze. Living in Gardnerville, Nevada, at the time, Adamson cast it in his foundry from the feet up, the body consisting of 44 pieces and the guitar four pieces. It took nearly two years to complete. The final push was a sleepless 40-hour battle to repair the guitar when the mold cracked, requiring copious welding and metal-grinding by the only other individual to have a hand in its completion, teenager Josh Ricketts, just hours before it needed to be in Winslow — a story left untold until now — it ultimately resulted in a significantly slimmed-down version of the body of the acoustic guitar.
Through the years, the statue has taken on a life of its own. Thousands of people have come to Winslow to have their picture taken with it.
Adamson has been back to Winslow a couple of times since “Easy” was installed in 1999. In September Winslow celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Standin’ on the Corner Festival, a two-day event packed with live entertainment that draws thousands of fans. Don Henley made an appearance at the 10th anniversary.
Adamson was invited to come up on stage. He thanked the crowd for standing next to his statue and wanting to get their pictures taken with it. He was floored by the crowd’s response as they shouted back their appreciation for his creation.
Over the years, the statue’s shoulders have been rubbed to a shiny brass patina from everyone wrapping their arms around him. The hand too, by people resting theirs on top of the one holding the guitar.
Seeing his statue again was a transcending experience for Adamson.
“When I got to really stand and look at the thing with no else around (early a.m.) there was an eerie sentiment,” Adamson said. “When I really studied the statue and looked at how it was worn smooth, I saw for the first time just how much people really enjoyed standing by “Easy” — this statue has been adored.”