The classic rock band's co-founder reflects on the retrospective focus of
their latest tour and the band's enduring influence
By Mark Brown Special to MSN Music
Don Henley is a deadly serious guy –
about his music, his charities, his work, his life. And why shouldn't he be?
Whether you're a fan of his work in the Eagles or his solo output, his spot
in music history is huge and undeniable.
Fans misread that demeanor at times as arrogance or pretentiousness. Granted,
Henley doesn't suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. But he's pretty damn funny and
honest, as proved by the recent documentary "The History of The Eagles," where
nothing is off-limits.
With the launch of a new leg of the Eagles tour – structured unlike anything
they've done before and with co-founder Bernie Leadon back in the fold –
Henley took a few minutes for an exclusive MSN interview. He answered a
tongue-in-cheek question about whether the Eagles were getting along onstage
lately or are just "acting" with a glib yet serious reply. Something is working,
because the tour is apparently going so well that Henley's solo album has been
pushed back to 2014.
MSN Music: [Original member] Bernie Leadon is back onstage with you.
How is that after decades apart? And of course, Timothy Schmit and Joe Walsh never (or barely) worked
with him at all.
Don Henley: Bernie's return has gone very well. It took a couple of weeks to
sort out harmonies, guitar parts, volume levels, etc., but once it all came
together it was like he never left. Bernie is a very accomplished musician and
he's an important part of the band's history. It's also good to have another
harmony voice in the stack. We're all getting along just fine, thank you.
This tour is unlike anything you've done before. There's you and Glenn [Frey] onstage together to
start, Bernie joining in, then the full band. Who figured out how to structure
Glenn did the lion's share of the planning, with some input from me. We've
been kicking ideas around for some time, now, and we may still make some changes
as the tour goes on.
On the one bootleg I've heard of the new tour, everyone is chatty,
spontaneous and seemingly happy. Is that great acting, or did the process of the
documentary and re-teaming with Bernie bring about some new
Gee, I don't know whether to ignore the "bootleg" part of the question or the
"acting" part. So, I'll just say this: This tour is obviously a corollary of the
documentary and, onstage, we are trying to tell the story of the band in a
personal, intimate way. That's hard to do in 20,000-seat arenas. Our previous
tours have been geared for arenas – they've been more or less "greatest hits"
type shows and it made sense for Glenn to do most of the emceeing, as that has
been his traditional role. But, on this tour, which is called, "History of the
Eagles Tour," it didn't make sense to have Glenn do all the talking. So, we all
chime in. Still, the show is mostly music.
Regarding band morale, I suppose the documentary did impart some perspective,
or at least serve as a reminder of how far we've come and how fortunate we are.
I think that as we've grown older, each of us, in his own way, has been working
on seeing the bigger picture more clearly. Perspective is one of the hardest
things to get, and even harder to keep. It's a slippery, elusive thing, but it's
one of the most fundamentally important achievements in life.
I know people who weren't fans who had their minds changed by the
documentary because it was so honest and put your career in context with the
era. What are the strongest reactions you've gotten?
We've gotten very positive feedback across the board. I've received some very
touching messages from friends, fans, fellow musicians – in some instances,
people who have known me for a very long time but didn't know what the band had
been through. As you imply, it wasn't just the story of a band; it was also the
story of an era. We were pleased and grateful that Robert Redford and the board
at the Sundance Institute saw fit to include the documentary in this year's
Sundance Film Festival, both in Utah and in London. It was very well- received
at both screenings.
Your history not only included all band members but the people who
helped perfect your sound, including producers Bill Szymczyk and Glyn Johns. How important were they
in the Eagles' success?
We learned a lot from both of them. They each had very different styles,
personally and professionally, but there was value in all of it. Like so many
things, that has become more apparent in hindsight. Szymczyk was at the helm
during the mega-platinum years and we put in some long hours with him, down in
Miami. But there were also several second engineers and tape operators [this was
before digital] who burned the midnight oil with us. Our success involved a
great many people who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Well, it got me some "cool points" with my 15-year-old son. I really enjoy
the new Daft Punk album. I understand what Messrs. Bangalter and de
Homem-Christo were trying to achieve. My son turned me on to "Random Access
Memories" and I, in turn, sat him down and played him most of the music that
influenced it. It was a great educational, bonding experience. It's wonderful
when generational and stylisic boundaries can be gracefully crossed. One of the
more interesting things about getting older is observing how things run in
cycles and how perceptions change with the passage of time. At the end of the
day, we're all just synthesizing and recycling; we're all using the same
building blocks, putting them together in millions of infinitesimally different
I think there are a number of reasons, including the fact that we never
bought into fads or trends. We stuck to classic elements – country &
western, bluegrass, blues, rhythm & blues, soul, rock – and combined them
into our own sound. As I've said many times, we are a musical mutt. We weren't
purists, we weren't cutting edge, but we never aspired to be. We were
painstaking but not perfectionistic in our songwriting and production values. We
dealt in universal themes, rather than the insular and the unaccessible. We
never let any of the "cult of fashion" or "cult of personality" crap overshadow
the music. We didn't have any robot masks or giant mouse heads, but for a long
time we managed to stay relatively low-profile or incognito as individuals,
letting the music do the talking. It was a different world, back then, in terms
of media; artists were able to cultivate a little mystique. This was before
"celebrity news" became a genre, before so-called "entertainment media" and
tabloid reporting merged and tramped into the field of proctology. We also had
demographics on our side, all of us being born near the beginning of the
post-WWII baby boom generation.
The Eagles have a long history of political activism, from benefit
concerts to your Walden Woods work. Have you soured on the notion? I read
something from you several years back saying our country had become
Political activism has to be carefully measured out over time. Otherwise,
there's a burnout factor. There's a time to engage and a time to stand back.
It's an uphill battle to accomplish anything, these days, when there is so much
one-issue, special-interest politics, so much counterproductive partisanship in
Washington. The band, as a whole, is not currently involved in anything that
could be called political activism, although we still do some charity work,
primarily for educational or medical causes. At the personal level, I continue
to be a part of the effort to stop the erosion of copyright and the abuse of
creative and intellectual property by global Internet service providers and
media companies. In particular, the Sovereign Nation of Google, which enables
thousands of copyright infringements daily and has built a multibillion-dollar
global empire, at least in part, on content created and owned by other people. I
also continue to chair the Caddo Lake Institute and the Walden Woods Project.
This is our 23rd year at Walden and there is still critically important work to
be done there, in terms of both education and preservation. I hope to complete
the mission before I'm 70, but it's going to require a tremendous amount of
fundraising, which is not exactly my favorite thing to do. Interested parties
can go to www.walden.org to learn more about
Mark Brown is a veteran music journalist who was pop critic for the Rocky
Mountain News until its demise. He is a frequent contributor to MSN Music and
its Reverb blog.
I had the pleasure of meeting Don Henley twice, in my opinion he is a wonderful person. He has done more for others then anyone will ever know. My 20th Henley/Eagles concert is 29 days away and I can't wait to see them again. I cannot get enough!
Why no mention of the very important part of the Eagle's history...... Don Felder. Arrogant is the best way to describe the narcissistic Don Henley. This article is another example of his uncontrollable urge to make everything about him and not the fans that made him rich. Don Henley is not a good person.