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Sunday 22 September 2019

Don Henley: A pretty fly guy

The Eagles' first album for 28 years has gone to No 1. It's like old times without the debauchery, Don Henley tells James McNair

Midway through the first CD of The Eagles' new double album, Long Road out of Eden, there's a fabulous Don Henley/ Steuart Smith ballad called "Waiting in the Weeds". Like Henley's 1985 solo hit, "The Boys of Summer", it tackles themes of ageing and loss, but it also explores how it feels to be a member of one of the world's biggest rock bands as you ready your first new album in 28 years.

"There's a line that goes, 'I've been biding time with crows and sparrows while peacocks prance and strut upon the stage,'" says The Eagles' drummer and co-lead vocalist of the song he penned at home in Dallas last August. "'Waiting in the Weeds' is about life's cycles, and you could say it makes reference to The Eagles. It's about having faith that your time will come around again and quality will prevail."

Henley and I have met in west London ahead of a rare club show by The Eagles at the indigo2. Dressed all in black, and fortified by a Starbucks takeaway, he is less curmudgeonly than billed and even smiles a bit. Asked how he celebrated turning 60 in July, he says he went surfing with his nine-year-old son. "All the debauchery stopped a long while ago, so I'm in pretty good shape. I still like a glass of claret, but that's about it."

The Eagles are busy family men now, each of them "deeply involved in being a good parent and not having our kids grow up to be Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Things are different to when we were young and single and self-absorbed. Back then all we had to think about was music and girls."

Girls - and lots of drugs, let's not forget - feature highly in Heaven and Hell, a recently published cuss-and-tell by former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. And if the band's current incumbents (Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B Schmit) are uncomfortable with their former band-mate's account of life in the eyrie, it's at least partly because it highlights the kind of pot-kettle-black existence The Eagles once led.

Long Road out of Eden has had mixed reviews, but that hasn't stopped the album entering the UK charts at No 1. Henley admits that The Eagles were somewhat intimidated by their own back catalogue, not least because "those old songs like 'Desperado' and 'Hotel California' are connected to a time in people's lives that they can't get back."

Many critics have suggested that the new record would have worked better as single album. Interestingly, Henley agrees: "I strongly opposed a double album", he goes on, "but Mr Frey wanted a double record and he's the boss. Everybody thinks I'm the boss, but I'm not. Part of it was band politics, of course. When you have four lead singers you want everybody to be represented. I wrote 'Do Something' with Timothy, and Joe sings a Frankie Miller song ['Guilty of the Crime'], and he wrote 'Last Good Time in Town' with J D Souther. Frankly, Joe and Timothy didn't bring in a lot of stuff. We were waiting for it, but it never came."

Some killer, some filler it may be, but the good songs on the new album are very good indeed. Witness "No More Walks in the Wood", a harmony-rich, part-a cappella showcase with words adapted from a work by the US poet and Professor Emeritus at Yale, John Hollander. Henley came across the poem (then entitled "An Old-Fashioned Song") while perusing The Oxford Dictionary of American Poetry. Having set it to music and made a demo on which he sang all four harmonies himself, he asked Hollander, now in his seventies, for his blessing. "He sent back a very cordial note saying that we could do the song. I said, 'Great! Go and get yourself a good lawyer, because this is the music business!'"

Henley now spends most of his non-band time in Dallas. He does the school run, enjoys a "paparazzi-free" life, and busies himself with two environment-related non-profit organisations: the Walden Woods Project and the Caddo Lake Institute. The latter concern comprises 30,000 acres of wetland reserve. "We teach in the schools and we fend off any projects that would be harmful to the lake," says Henley, before returning to his favourite topic. "We file lawsuits and we go to court and we do lobbying in the Texas legislature."

But what of his Eagles band mates? Are they still friends? Do they see each other socially? "I'd be lying to you if I said there weren't still difficulties in this band," says Henley, "but anybody who plays in bands will tell you that they are all about compromise. You have to remember that there's this thing out there called The Eagles that's much bigger than the individuals concerned. Some days I feel like going, 'F**k it!' But what can you do? None of us is going to change now."

'Long Road out of Eden' is out now on Polydor

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