Contrary to popular belief, Smuggler’s Blues was not inspired by Miami Vice. Instead, the exact opposite was true.
As Glenn Frey explained in the book, Behind The Hits, he based the song on some of the dealers and smugglers that he met while both a member of the Eagles and during his solo career. “You don’t spend 15 years in rock and roll without coming in contact with entrepreneurs. I’ve wanted to write a song about drug smuggling for a long time, but I’m glad I waited for this one. It says everything I wanted to say on the subject. I’m proud of the lyrics – it’s good journalism.”
The song appeared on Frey’s second solo album and was heard by Miami Vice‘s executive producer, Michael Mann. Mann requested that one of the show’s writers, Miguel Pinero, adapt the song into an episode. That episode, which was named after the song, premiered on February 1st, 1985. The song was played throughout the episode and some of the lyrics were even included in the dialogue. Glenn Frey himself appeared as a pilot. As a result, the episode not only helped to make Smuggler’s Blues a hit but it also launched Frey’s acting career as well.
The video, which was cinematic at a time when many bands were still releasing simple performance clips, was directed by Duncan Gibbins. Gibbins went on to direct a handful of thrillers before his tragic death in 1993. Gibbins was staying in Southern California when a wildfire engulfed the house that he was renting. Gibbins narrowly managed to escape from the house but then saw that a cat had been trapped inside. He went back in and, while he did rescue the cat, he suffered severe burns at a result. Gibbins jumped into house’s swimming pool. not realizing that the burns would allow the chlorine to enter his bloodstream. Gibbins died later that day at Sherman Oaks Hospital, still asking if the cat had survived. (Other than a few minor burns, the cat was unharmed.)
Gibbins work on Smuggler’s Blues is impressive and still influential. The video was honored as “Best Concept Video” at the 1985 MTV Music Video Awards.