Exclusive: Don Henley on the Eagles' return to NZ

By Russell Baillie

The Eagles' Don Henley talks to Russell Baillie about the band's return to the stage

The Eagles in their heyday (from left) Joe Walsh, Timoth B. Schmit, Glenn Frey and Don Henley.
The Eagles in their heyday (from left) Joe Walsh, Timoth B. Schmit, Glenn Frey and Don Henley.

Calling from Dallas, Don Henley apologises for being a little late, due to a Texas thunderstorm playing havoc with the phone.

But the man who, mainly with songwriting and singing partner Glenn Frey, powered the Eagles from behind the band's drum kit is sounding upbeat.

The band is heading to New Zealand for a fourth time, having been on the road since mid-last year in North America and heading to Europe for the northern summer.

Henley says they're selling as many tickets as they've ever done, something he puts down to last year's The History of the Eagles DVD. It was an authorised, if revealing, biopic of the group's fraught history in the 70s when the band became Californian rock royalty, with all the seedy privileges that bestowed, America's biggest-selling band.

They ended the decade with an acrimonious split.

The Eagles are now all in their late 60s but Henley won't be drawn on whether this tour is a final lap.

"I think this is going to last for a while actually and so we're not really worrying too much about the future right now. We are just riding this wave."

The tour is also named The History of the Eagles, and they're pretty much sticking to that jukebox - the songs that made Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) the third-biggest-selling album in history as well as those from Hotel California (1976) and The Long Run (1979).

So given all the hits you had, do you consider there's much difference between the band's biggest songs and their best ones?

The songs are hits for a reason, they appeal to people. We have a few album cuts that weren't hits that we like. Things like Wasted Time and After the Thrill is Gone and things like that.

But we actually don't have time to get it all in. It's a three-hour show and we do well to get in everything that people want to hear. They are the paying customers and we play what they want to hear. You know?

We are not one of those bands who play for ourselves. We play for our fans.

The Eagles' sound has long been defined by the group vocals. How are the voices holding up these days?

My voice is still good for a 13-show run and that is about all we do at a stretch. But everybody is in pretty good shape. I sometimes bring my fitness trainer with me. In fact, after I hang up he is going to go beat me up in the gym.

We take good care of ourselves. We are all at an age where we don't care anything about partying any more. Our primary concern is to put on the best show we can possibly do for our fans and so we gear our lifestyles towards that, plus we all have wives and children and families. We take them with us sometimes.

What did your family think of the doco?

Everyone was okay. My kids saw it but they didn't really talk to me much. One day we might sit down and I might explain a few things to them. There was no big uproar in our home. Everybody just took it very calmly and they were happy to see it was successful and people loved it so much. That was about it really.

What did the doco mean to you? Was it like a weight off your shoulders?
Actually we left a lot of things out, mate.

It was the authorised version ...

We didn't put everything in there. But we all think that the documentary strikes a nice balance. We didn't want it to be another tawdry rock'n'roll sex and drugs expose.

We wanted a little of that and we wanted to talk about our background and where we came from and our work ethic and the struggles and difficulties that we had getting to where we are now and how we persevered.

It's a good American success story and people like that. We are all very private people. I had some difficulty pulling back the curtain and allowing some of that stuff to get out there. But like I said, we didn't really go all the way into the gutter. So it's a good piece of film.

That Don Henley guy who's in the early parts of the doco - if you had the chance, what would you say to him?

What would I say to my younger self? Learn how to keep your mouth shut and remember that life is long and that we have a global media.

Thank God we didn't have Facebook and Twitter and TMZ back then. We had some privacy but I would have a long talk with him and tell him he could have skipped over some of the things that he did and things would have still worked out.

Would he have listened?

Probably not. But the good news is you can't change the past and we are all alive and well and still able to do our work and enjoy this success. There aren't many bands who get to have this kind of career for this amount of time and have this kind of audience. We fully realise how lucky and how fortunate and how blessed we are. We are very grateful.

The core four of you on the road, do you get on better these days?

We still have our differences, for sure. But we have less volatile ways of dealing with it. We are much more diplomatic and patient and we have learned to let the little things go and only address the things that need to be addressed. It all works out.

And being the kind of band that was a soundtrack to so many people's lives is privileged position ...

I've got three teenagers I am trying to raise to be good, responsible citizens and so that's what I think about most of the time. That, and songwriting.

I've got a solo album coming out in the fall. It's kind of a Nashville thing. Back to my country roots. It's not this modern country stuff. It's more traditional country. I am referring to it as an album for grown-ups.

You have Alison Krauss involved in it.

She's involved and Miranda Lambert and Vince Gill and Brad Paisley and Merle Haggard. A lot of incredible guest stars. I think it's a really good record.

Sounds like you'll have to buy a hat.

No. No hat. That's where I draw the line.

Talking of Alison Krauss, Robert Plant said in Rolling Stone last week that the Eagles aren't out on the road for the money, you are out because you are bored.

Did he?

He was decrying the pressure for a Led Zeppelin reunion. I imagine you don't need the money - but are you bored?

No, I am never bored. The truth is, we enjoy doing it. It is hard work, especially for gentlemen of our age but the fact is it's a fantastic job and it's a wonderful way to make a living and see the world and get to travel and we take our kids with us.

I really wish [Led Zeppelin] would get back together because they were one of the greatest bands of all time. I think maybe Robert is worried about hitting those notes. He may not be able to unbutton his shirt any more.

Like Led Zep, the Eagles were a big band who didn't get much critical respect in their heyday.

We had that in common. But it doesn't matter now much does it?

When I was younger it really bothered me. But now it doesn't make any difference.

TIMEOUT

LOWDOWN
Who: The Eagles, the American band who have sold more than 150 million albums with hits like Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, New Kid in Town, Desperado, Heartache Tonight, I Can't Tell You Why, Lyin' Eyes before splitting in 1980 then reforming for a series of reunion tours in 1994.

What:The History of the Eagles tour

Where and when: Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday March 14

Touring line-up: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, who will be joined by early Eagles member Bernie Leadon

- NZ Herald

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