Eagles 'finished with Glenn Frey gone'

After Bernie Leadon left the band in 1975, the Eagles comprised (from left) Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner.
After Bernie Leadon left the band in 1975, the Eagles comprised (from left) Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner.PHOTO: COURTESY OF EAGLES ARCHIVES-SHOWTIME

Don Henley says the group was the late Frey's band and he could not see how they could play without the guy who started it

LINCOLN (Massachusetts) • The Eagles are finished.

Don Henley is direct. The way he describes it, the group he helped lead since 1971 died with his longtime musical partner Glenn Frey.

"I don't see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band," says Henley.

He sits inside the Tudor mansion in Lincoln, Massachusetts, that serves as the headquarters for the Walden Woods Project.

He founded the non-profit organisation in 1990 to protect the land that inspired 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.

He flew here for this interview, a reminder of how he has always separated what is public, being in one of America's most popular bands, from the private, his life as a husband and father in Texas.

You know all their little ticks and their eccentricities and their peccadillos and everything about them so well that they become predictable and you know their weak points and their strong points, and after a while, it starts to grate on you.

DON HENLEY on the Eagles working so intensely with one another

This should have been a time to celebrate.

On Sunday, the three surviving members of the final edition of the Eagles - Henley, guitarist Joe Walsh, bassist Timothy B. Schmit, all of them 69 - will receive Kennedy Center Honors.

But Frey's death in January has cast a bittersweet cloud over the proceedings. Cindy Frey will be given her late husband's medallion.

In February, the Eagles performed a tribute at the Grammy Awards. Jackson Browne stood in for Frey on Take It Easy, a song he co-wrote.

That week, Henley, Walsh and Schmit performed at a private memorial with guest singers including Frey's son Deacon. That may be the last time they play together.

"It would just seem like greed or something," says Henley. "It would seem like a desperate thing."

During their 1970s run, the Eagles became famous for not only the music, but also for their notorious backstage parties.

Fewer people saw the less glamorous side, the process that led to all those hits, peaking with 1976's masterpiece, Hotel California.

In 1975, worn out from the road, their first guitarist Bernie Leadon dumped a beer over Frey's head and quit. He later apologised and, nearly 40 years later, the band hired him to take part in the group's History Of The Eagles tour.

By the end of 1977, Leadon was gone, as was their first bassist Randy Meisner. Schmit arrived from the band Poco. Walsh and guitarist Don Felder allowed the group to shift effortlessly from soft rock to the electric funk of Life In The Fast Lane. Now they just had to get along.

"I would say struggling is a good word," says Walsh. "We were all struggling to keep doing what we were doing and more things were expected of us. I mean, one of the big things was how in the world are we going to top Hotel California?"

The Long Run album took almost two years to finish. By then, drugs were flowing, lyrics were not.

On a summer night in 1980, at a concert, an argument between Frey and Felder spilled onto the stage, was captured on tape and included in the surprisingly bare 2013 documentary History Of The Eagles.

"I'm gonna (expletive) kill you," Frey taunted Felder at one point. "I can't wait."

The gig marked the last time the Eagles would play together for 14 years.

Asked if they might reunite, Henley would famously say "when hell freezes over".

In 1990, Eagles manager Irving Azoff managed to get him to agree to a reunion, but Frey did not show up for rehearsals.

Three years later, he had better luck. Henley, Frey, Felder, Schmit and Walsh came together for a video shoot of Travis Tritt's cover of Take It Easy.

In 1994, the Eagles finally got back together for the Hell Freezes Over tour. They would continue to play live, even after firing Felder in 2001 - a dispute that led to lawsuits, resentment and the guitarist writing a tell-all memoir.

Felder has urged fans to sign a petition demanding the Eagles add him, Meisner and Leadon to the Kennedy Center Honours.

That has been discussed, but Mr Azoff, in talks with the Kennedy Center, has said only Frey, Henley, Schmit and Walsh should receive medallions.

Fans will never know how well the Eagles leaders got along in later years. Henley does not go into great detail about their relationship.

At one point during the interview at Walden, he spoke of the shift that occurs from working so intensely with one person.

"You know all their little ticks and their eccentricities and their peccadillos and everything about them so well that they become predictable and you know their weak points and their strong points, and, after a while it starts to grate on you," he says.

As far back as the 1980s, Frey had been forced to cancel gigs to deal with chronic intestinal problems. His rheumatoid arthritis grew worse over the years.

"He would have to tape his hands up like a football player," says Henley. "I watched his hands, his fingers, became bigger and more gnarled and stiff. I knew what those fingers used to look like."

"He was taking some really strong drugs to keep it under control," says singer J.D. Souther, who helped write a slew of Eagles hits, "but he's tough. There's a lot of courage and tenacity in this guy'."

There was no talk of anything ending when the Eagles wrapped their History tour in July last year.

When Frey met his doctor in Los Angeles last year, he learnt he had ulcerative colitis, says Mr Azoff.

The last time Henley saw Frey was in the hospital. On the third Monday of January, he died.

At the large, private memorial service in February, the remaining Eagles played one of Frey's signature songs, Peaceful Easy Feeling. Deacon Frey sang and strummed an acoustic guitar.

"Everybody was in complete shock," says John Boylan, Ronstadt's longtime manager. "Because he nailed it. And, of course, everybody in the room said, 'this could happen again.'"

Earlier this year, a reporter at the Montreal Gazette asked Henley if he imagined a future for the Eagles. He paused and then praised Deacon, referenced the idea of playing again with Browne, but cautioned that "there have been no discussions along those lines and we're still going through the healing process - trying to get through all of this".

Later, Billboard magazine referenced this interview with a headline that read: "Eagles could reunite, if Glenn Frey's son agrees to join the band".

"I didn't realise that Billboard had become a tabloid," Henley says, still annoyed. "It really pissed me off, frankly, because I hadn't talked to the kid about it or his mother. So, it's just another lesson in keeping my mouth shut."

Browne talked of what he heard at Frey's memorial. He admits he wishes that Henley would reconsider.

"This is a great band even if it went on without Glenn," he says. "They could have no trouble playing and singing those songs with guests. Like they had Bob Seger play at the memorial. They had me sing a song. They had J.D. Souther sing and he's an incredible singer these days. I didn't say this to them because they all seem resolute in saying, 'well, that would be wrong', but I see how the band could go forward without Glenn."

Mr Azoff has heard these questions before. It took him 14 years to get the Eagles back together the first time.

He was asked whether he could imagine the band ever playing again.

"I think Henley was the guy that came up with the words 'when Hell freezes over,'" he says and pauses. "If Hell can freeze over, pigs can fly. I'd never say never."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Eagles 'finished with Glenn Frey gone''. Print Edition | Subscribe