Longevity and success are a rare combination in music. Look to the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel for artists that can, after decades in the tumultuous music business, continue to sell records and sell out stadiums with ease.
You can add the Eagles, and Don Henley, to that select group. But Henley’s success, both with the Eagles and as a solo artist, had to begin somewhere. Luckily for Henley, he knew the right people, specifically, a man by the name of Kenny Rogers.
“Kenny is an extraordinary guy; amazingly generous and honest,” Henley says of Rogers.
“It was back in the Summer of 1968. I had a rock ‘n’ roll band in high school, with my high school buddies and we were in Dallas, Texas… and we were in a clothing boutique there,” recalls Henley, jokingly mocking the clothing style of the era. “Kenny was in there because he was on tour with his group, The First Edition.”
At the time, Rogers and The First Edition had achieved a great amount of success thanks to their cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”; Rogers’ first first Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts.
“One of the bolder kids in my band walked right up to him and said, ‘… we’ve got a little band here and we’re gonna play in a club tonight here in Dallas. Would you like to come and hear us?’ And he [Rogers] went, ‘Yeah.'”
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At that time, Rogers had been searching for groups to produce, liked what he heard from Henley’s young band and decided, when his schedule permitted, he would produce them. During the Summer of 1970, the call came from Rogers came and Henley was on the move to Los Angeles with his band to record a single for Aimless Records, a label that was also home to Glenn Frey.
The record didn’t fair well because, as Henley puts it bluntly, “we were lousy songwriters.” The next year was spent picking up gigs to make ends meet throughout Los Angeles as Henley passed the time and looked for his next move. Eventually, he and Frey would cross paths again at the Troubadour, with Frey asking if Henley would join him and Linda Ronstadt on tour as J.D. Souther’s replacement while he parted ways with Aimless Records.
There was just one problem in Henley’s way; he was still under contract with the same label. That’s when Rogers stepped back into the picture.
“Kenny, to his eternal credit, once David Geffen decided to sign me and Glenn, when we started the Eagles, Kenny got me out of my contract with that label, got me out of my publishing deal, gave me everything back, and said, ‘Here ya go.’ So, that just doesn’t happen in music,” says Henley. “So, I owe him big time.”
“Kenny gave me some good advice,” says Henley, adding, “He said, ‘Ya know, Don. You really better be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet those same people on the way back down. And I never forgot that.”
Henley and Frey would form the Eagles, sell a few million records, start a solo career, then rejoin the Eagles to sell a few million more and perform sold out shows in huge arenas.
Henley attributes his longevity, and that of the Eagles, to something unheard of during a time where every move and meal are documented for the public to see.
“I’m not from this over-sharing generation,” he says. “In the Eagles, we kept some sort of a mystique going; if you put it all out there, there isn’t anything to wonder about. I think that’s why we’ve had such longevity, because we haven’t been in the spotlight that much.”
“I like to have a private life, I think everybody deserves to have a private life,” Henley continues. “I live a very normal life in Dallas, Texas. I go to the supermarket, I go to the gas station, I get the car washed. I like to push the cart in the supermarket late at night because you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Muzak version of ‘Desperado’ while you’re staring at the frozen peas.”
Henley will release Cass County, his first album in fifteen years, on September 25th. The album, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, will feature duets with Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, and Miranda Lambert, among others. “Some of these people I knew, Some I didn’t know. But I’ve got a lot of nerve, so I’ll call up anybody,” says Henley. “To my great surprise and delight all of them said ‘Yes.’ I didn’t get a ‘No’ from anybody. I’m a lucky guy.”
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