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Time for an Eagles ‘History’ lesson

Posted 12:15pm on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013

If all you know about the Eagles is that they had a few hits in the ’70s, well, you don’t know the Eagles.

So may we recommend the most entertaining way to learn more about the enduring, beloved (and sometimes despised) American rock band: Take a history class. As in History of the Eagles, a three-hour documentary that debuted on Showtime in February and came out on DVD in April. Eagles fans have been gobbling it up ever since, and surely they’ll be ready to dish out all sorts of trivia and dirt on the band at two sold-out shows at American Airlines Center in Dallas this weekend.

Considering how many times we’ve watched History of the Eagles, we decided it would make sense to take notes and share some of our favorite facts, just in case there’s a test.

(Highlighters ready!)

Part 1

• The documentary opens with a scene of the Eagles in 1977 in a locker room getting ready for a concert in Washington, D.C. Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, Joe Walsh and Don Felder are singing Seven Bridges Road in perfect, breathtaking harmony. Apparently, they’d do this as a warm-up before many shows. But as we learn later, there’s not much harmony among the fellas.

• Dang, Don Henley’s got a cool 1970s ’fro. Felder sure does love flannel. And why’s Frey wearing sunglasses on his head onstage?

• Joe Walsh loses his train of thought during an interview. He’s high. During the ’70s, most of the Eagles say they were.

• Meisner’s voice is so sweet on Take It to the Limit. He was also the best looking of the bunch in the early ’70s. So how exactly is it that in later interviews he looks like my grandma?

• Don and Glenn express anxiety about keeping the songs coming. “Sh-- don’t float,” Henley says, flashing some of his trademark perfectionism.

• Frey says that “90 percent of the time being in the Eagles was a f------ blast,” but about 50 percent of the documentary is filled with stories of tension and disputes, so you do the math.

• Frey wanted the band to rock harder, so he was instrumental in pushing Bernie Leadon, a banjo player and country guitarist, out and getting Joe Walsh and Don “Fingers” Felder in. Ironically, Felder would become the biggest thorn in his side.

• When the documentarian plays audio of Frey fighting with a “Don” onstage early in the documentary, it later turns out to be Felder, not Henley. Though both admit they had their share of disagreements, too.

• Joe Walsh puts things in perspective the best. “It’s just the chemistry that works. We gave up trying to explain it.” Despite all the drugs and alcohol, he might have the best handle on what happened to the band.

• Though Frey grew up near Detroit and Henley in the East Texas town of Linden, they both said it was like “a bolt of lightning” when they first saw the Beatles, and it started them on the path toward rock ’n’ roll.

• Frey moved to L.A. and met Jackson Browne. He moved into the apartment above his in Echo Park with fellow songwriter J.D. Souther, and they both learned a lot about songwriting from Browne, who wrote the songs Doctor My Eyes, Running on Empty and part of Take it Easy.

• Henley played drums and went to the University of North Texas for 3 1/2 years. He says he flunked beginning music theory, but didn’t care because he was an English major.

• Don and Glenn met in L.A. Both played in Linda Ronstadt’s band. So much flannel! They decide they’d rather be in a band with each other, so they quit, but they said she didn’t hold a grudge. She may be the only one.

• After adding guitar and banjo player Bernie Leadon and bass guitarist Randy Meisner, the Eagles persuaded David Geffen and Asylum Records to record their first album. Geffen remembers they were very ambitious, especially Frey. And he loved Henley’s voice. But he’d later be sued by the Eagles, and then sue Henley. Oy.

• The Eagles didn’t like producer Glyn Johns’ style in the studio. Too many rules, they said. No drugs or alcohol. Johns says he was the “designated driver” of the ’60s.

• Don Henley says the success of the first album scared them.

• They decided to do an outlaw album for their second album, Desperado. The band and Johns loved it, but it bombed. Linda Ronstadt recorded Desperado and “popularized it,” says Henley. He was also impressed by her penchant for tequila.

• Irving Azoff, “Satan,” as Henley affectionately calls him later, became the Eagles manager, and he talks about the “Spread Eagle” post-concert parties. “There were always girls,” Frey says of Eaglemania.

• The band split with Glyn Johns. He and Frey are like “oil and water,” Henley says. Bill Szymczyk, a recording engineer who produced Joe Walsh’s album, stepped in.

• Joe Walsh was a bona fide rock ’n’ roll guitar player and a solo artist. Frey started thinking: “Joe Walsh for Bernie Leadon. Maybe the vocals won’t be quite as good, but, boy, are we gonna kick some a--.”

• Walsh joined and brought his humor and chaos. He trashed hotel rooms and did a number on one in Chicago with John Belushi, to the tune of $28,000.

• Felder wanted to write something for two guitars, so that’s how he started the intro to Hotel California. The seven-minute single became a hit and the Eagles’ most talked-about song.

• “We were all alphas,” Walsh says, trying to explain the dynamic and creative tensions in the band. You could bring a great track to Henley and Frey, and it would get rejected. Felder wrote Victim of Love and wanted to sing it. But Henley and Frey said his vocals didn’t come up to “band standards.” Ouch.

• Felder admits now that there was no way to argue with Henley’s vocals. Even Frey allows that “if you look at my vocal participation in the Eagles, it was less and less. We had Don Henley.”

• Things came to a head at a 1980 Long Beach benefit for Sen. Alan Cranston. Felder didn’t like doing benefits, Frey says, and he was dismissive of Cranston when he tried to thank him. Frey was infuriated, and by the time they went on stage, he says he wanted to kill Felder. You can hear audio of them fighting onstage. Very uncomfortable but also fly-on-the-wall fascinating.

• When they got offstage, Felder broke a guitar and bolted. Frey says that was the last straw. The band broke up.

• “Someone wrote, ‘The Eagles went out with a whimper, not a bang,’ and that was true,” Frey says. Their last performance was July 31, 1980. They reunited 14 years later, April 25, 1994.

Part 2

• In 1980, the classic-rock format hit radio, so it was like the band never went away, Frey says.

• Frey talks about having fun with his solo career, which included hits like The Heat Is On and a couple of acting gigs.

• Henley’s solo days were more successful. But he hated the whole MTV thing. “I didn’t really want to be an actor, too.” A dig at Frey, who ended up on Miami Vice and in Jerry Maguire.

• Henley signed with Geffen Records, and quickly ended up in fights with the label. Geffen said, “He’s always been a malcontent. And that’s just life.” Henley left Geffen and got sued for $30 million. He seems most bitter over this, and talks about his wife, who has MS, having to go to California for a deposition.

• Frey was the holdout on Eagles reunions. “There’s more to life than being in the Eagles.” Like counting your money!

• The Common Thread album was what turned Frey’s head. Henley and Azoff went to Nashville to get country artists to record Eagles songs for the Walden Woods Project. Frey decided to attend a video shoot of Travis Tritt recording Take It Easy.

• The band put together a show for MTV as a comeback without much time to rehearse. “There was a lot of terror,” Henley says about the first show back. “It was rough.” It was going to be a three-month reunion. It lasted almost three years because of the wild popularity and ticket sales.

• The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 by Jimmy Buffett. “Looks good on my résumé,” Walsh says.

• Problems persisted, because Frey insisted that when they got back together that he and Henley would make more money than the other guys. Felder protested and Frey gave him an ultimatum: Sign the deal or get out. Felder signed, but it didn’t take a brain surgeon to tell it wasn’t going to end well.

• “It just broke me heart,” Felder says about being kicked out in 2001. But not so much that he didn’t sue.

• Frey, in a rare show of remorse: “I regret that I didn’t handle some of the adversity the Eagles faced in the late ’70s better. In this second run, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the peace, and keeping everybody together. So here we are.”

-- Rick Press

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