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Exclusive: previously unpublished Eagles interview

On playing with Guns 'N Roses, the effects of peyote, and the lyric police

On April 17, 2001, the Eagles were in Los Angeles during rehearsals for a European tour. They were also about to begin work on their comeback album Long Road Out Of Eden – their first new album since The Long Run in 1979.

In this previously unpublished interview, Classic Rock writer Paul Elliott spoke to the four members of the band – Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit – about their plans for the new album, their history, and why they had recently parted company with guitarist Don Felder.

It’s been a long, long time since the Eagles made a record…

Glenn Frey: That’s our Holy Grail, our quest. A lot of things have to come together for the Eagles to do anything. We’re living in different places, we all have families – it’s a lot different to what it was in the late 70s. But now the time is right. We can’t do it long distance with Don living in Dallas and coming to LA for two weeks at a time. We all have to be in the same zip code for a period of time for the songs to get written and for it all to happen naturally.

Don Henley: It’s tricky at this stage of the game. We’re 30 years on here, and we’re known for all that stuff in the 70s. So it’s going to be tricky to be who we are and yet be contemporary. It’s a fine line. We don’t want to sound like we’re trying too hard to be trendy, and we don’t want to sound antiquated either. So it’s like walking a tightrope.

How are we going to sound fresh and new and still sound like the Eagles?

Joe Walsh: We’re not making an album because we have to. That’s a big difference. We’re making one because we really feel it’s time. We have something to say.

Glenn Frey: We’ll make a record for us, songs we like. We think it will sound like an Eagles record. I’m not being sarcastic. Honestly!

The last time you made a record – The Long Run – you had the immense pressure of following Hotel California.

Don Henley: It made us ill. Well, we made ourselves ill (laughs).

Is this next record as big a challenge?

Don Henley: Hopefully we won’t have to think about it that way.

Timothy B. Schmit: I don’t think that vibe’s there. It’s almost like, is there that much to prove? Nothing’s going to be released unless it’s really great.

Don Henley: It’s been over 20 years since our last album, so we don’t really have to compare or compete with that. I think we have a sense of a fresh start. But I don’t think any of us wants to just dash something off and hope that it sells based on past laurels or fame from the old days. It has to be a credible album.

Glenn Frey: The table is set right now. Don’s through promoting his solo album (2000’s Inside Job), and I’d rather make an Eagles album than a Glenn Frey contemporary solo album. So everybody’s got their eyes set on the big prize.

Is there an element of fear in making a new album – that it might not match your past work?

Glenn Frey: Yeah, we’ve talked about that. It’s a double-edged sword. Whatever the Eagles do is going to be highly scrutinised. There’s going to be a lot of expectation. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we would do anything that would tarnish our legacy. We discussed it: what do we want to do, what do we expect out of this? And the genesis of it was: we’re going to be the Eagles! We’re going to make a record with the talent that we have. And I think… well, we won’t put it out if it’s bad, how about that? I just figured it out!

Don Henley: Certainly, we don’t want to fail. We’ve never really known much failure. And I can’t think of another instance where a band has not made an album of new material in twenty years and has then made a triumphant return. So that, to me personally, is pressure – to prove that we can do it. And that’s why we’ll do this as quietly and as low-key as possible, behind closed doors. I just don’t think we’ll go to the lengths that Axl Rose goes to – to keep people away.

Speaking of Axl, you played drums with Guns N’ Roses one time in 1989 when their drummer Steven Adler was experiencing some ‘lifestyle’ issues…

Don Henley: I played with them on the American Music Awards, just for a laugh. It confused a lot of people. Those guys were a mess.

Did you have any advice for them?

Don Henley: No. It didn’t seem like they wanted any words of advice (laughs).

For the new Eagles album, will you write songs together, as you did in the past, or separately like Lennon and McCartney did during the end times of The Beatles?

Don Henley: In our heyday, we wrote them together. And to make this an authentic Eagles project, Glenn and I are going to have to co-write at least three or four songs together. I know how The Beatles did it in the final days. And that’s fine. That’s still my favourite group in the entire world. But I hope that we can do it in a more authentically collaborative fashion than that. But if we have to do it that way – separately – by God we will!

The Eagles’ motto in the 70s was ‘Song Power’. Are you confident you’ve still got it?

Don Henley: We can write good songs. I feel – we all feel – more enthusiastic about this right now than we have since probably the mid-70s. While we can’t go back and create those fabulous desert days of yore, when we were the hip young LA cowboys, I think musically speaking we’ll be all right. A good song is a good song. And we can produce them in a way that will be contemporary – without destroying the essence of whatever it is that people like about us. I don’t think we’ll have to go out into the desert and take peyote and puke, like we did in the old days…

Is that what peyote does to you?

Don Henley: Well, it didn’t make me puke, but some of the other guys puked for all of us. These Indian tribal rituals we did with peyote, they were beautiful, sacrificial. I’ve got pictures of us puking.

For all the excess that you went through back then, you all look remarkably healthy.

Glenn Frey: Our parents gave us some good genes – that’s all I can say! We’re all feeling pretty good. You’re in a business where your skills don’t have to diminish. You keep your voice in shape.

Joe Walsh: It’s not like there’s a mandatory retirement age in rock’n’roll.

Glenn Frey: It’s not like soccer or tennis, where at some point you just can’t play the game anymore. I’m watching all the singers and songwriters who are older than I am, and they’re all my idols. You go, Mick! Tony Bennett – it’s the same voice. Hasn’t missed a lick.

There has, however, been a change in the Eagles’ line-up recently. Guitarist Don Felder is out. Can you explain why?

Don Henley: Not really. I’ll say this: it’s something that’s been coming for quite a long time. There has been unrest for many years now, and it finally got to the point where it was intolerable. And the new Eagles – I think the band will be more creative. I think this will spark a whole new round of songwriting and bring back some joy and camaraderie that has been absent for a long time. So I think it’s a very good thing for the band, both personally and creatively – musically speaking. This was certainly not the first change we’ve made. And every time we make a change, things seem to get better. We fully expect that to be the case this time. And that’s about all I can say right now. I could go on a complete rant, but…

Timothy B. Schmit: The word ‘unrest’, that’s a good one.

Don Henley: That’s kind of an international word that they use for countries in the Middle East.

Are you saying that the spirit within the band is as good as it’s ever been?

Don Henley: Well, it’s hard to get back to a sense of innocence and camaraderie that you had 30 years ago, because you know what you know. You can’t really regain that total innocence.

Glenn Frey: We’re a band. We’re like The Who, the Stones. We know each other pretty well. It works.

You’ve all had solo careers. Is it easier, or more fun, being in a group?

Joe Walsh: When you’re pursuing a solo career, it expands your perspective and such. But you know, there’s a lot on your shoulders when you’re the boss, in charge of hiring and firing. There’s a lot of non-musical stuff that comes along with it. And it makes your solo career a little lonelier than when you have the security of a band.

How would you define the roles of the four members of the Eagles?

Glenn Frey: Oh, that’s easy! I’m the rhythm guitar player, piano player and arranger. Joe is the lead guitar player. Timothy is the high singing bass player. And Don is the drummer, the main singer and the lyric police.

The lyric police?

Timothy B. Schmit: Absolutely! I can tell you a little story. One time, before we recorded Hell Freezes Over (the band’s live reunion album, released in 1994), I went over to see Don and Glenn and we had the basic idea for a song, People Can Change. I had a whole legal pad full of ideas, and you know how your second grade teacher used to take a red pen to mark your work and cross things off? That’s what Don did! I didn’t take offence to it. He’s good at what he does.

Nobody likes a know-it-all, Don.

Don Henley: That’s true. But what I learned about lyrics, and rejecting lyrics, I learned from Glenn and (early Eagles collaborators) J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne. So it’s just coming back to haunt them. They made me the opinionated prick that I am today! Now Glenn’s pretty good at policing lyrics himself. Sometimes I will defer. We all get too close to things to see them sometimes, and it’s great to have him come in, if I get stuck he’s great at unsticking. He wrote some of the best parts of Hotel California and Desperado too. I get credit for a lot of that, but the fact is that he wrote some of the pivotal lines that I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. He’s a great at arranging too – his nickname is The Lone Arranger.

Continued below...

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Those old Eagles songs – Hotel California, Desperado – have dated well. Broadly speaking, do you feel that 70s music aged better than 80s music?

Don Henley: Yeah. I think the 70s has been unfairly maligned, and time will tell. Of course there was a lot of crap in the 70s. There’s a lot of crap in every decade. I don’t think the 80s was any great shapes either. Or, certainly, the 90s…

You have the biggest selling album of all time in America with Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)

Glenn Frey: That feels pretty good. You know, don’t wake me up! These are things that come with time – these record sales and achievements. And they’ll all be eclipsed by somebody else. Now, we’re figuring out so many different ways for people to access music. But nonetheless, it’s a hell of a lot of records (laughs). So that part is great.

So who is going to buy a new Eagles album – young people as well as old?

Don Henley: A lot of people of our generation will go out and buy it in an effort to recapture their lost youth. There’s an association with our music with some of the best times in their lives. We wrote the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives – as did many other groups. We’re not the only ones. So I think that’s a great part of it, although I’m told that a lot of high school kids are discovering us now. That’s good.

Joe Walsh: At our shows, there are grandparents with grandchildren out there, and the grandchildren know the words. It’s like, whoah!

Glenn Frey: We continue to garner new fans. It’s a lot of fun to see. We’re like the Energizer bunny in that commercial. We just keep going and going and going…

You’re the band that wouldn’t die.

Glenn Frey: Go figure... The band broke up in 1980, but they kept playing our music. They started classic rock radio stations and the Eagles never left. It’s just sort of been that way, and it continues to be that way.

Postscript:

Long Road Out Of Eden was eventually released in 2007, after six years in production. The album’s epic title track – written by Henley, Frey and Schmit – was a modern classic. And yet, the song that best captured the quintessential Eagles sound, How Long, was written by J.D Souther and originally recorded for his self-titled solo album in 1972.

Long Road Out Of Eden was the Eagles’ sixth US Number 1, and was America’s biggest selling album of 2007. It was the triumphant return that Don Henley had hoped for.

2014

The Eagles returned to the UK in June on the History of The Eagles tour, playing tracks featured on the documentary of the same name.

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