Nearly Four Decades Down, One Final Flight for the Eagles

Few working bands can conjure up time and place quite like the Eagles. And with a back catalogue that includes hits Life in the Fast Lane, Hotel California, Witchy Women, Take It Easy, Desperado and One of These Nights, there’s little doubt that the band’s best work is behind them.

“I had hoped that we could go for two more years and reach the 40-year milestone, singer-songwriter Don Henley told the Vancouver Sun in an exclusive interview. “But it’s looking more and more like the end of the trail is imminent.”

Henley has eaten his words in the past. He once famously quipped post-breakup in 1980 that the Eagles would reunite “when hell freezes over.” Fans will remember the band’s 1994 reunion tour and live album, fittingly called Hell Freezes Over. Still, with the key members of the group now in their early 60s (the band is collectively 247 years old), this tour will surely be the Eagles’ final flight.

It’s ride that, starting in the early ‘70s when the Eagles first became birds of a feather as a band, hasn’t always been smooth. Like Life in the Fast Lane, there was turbulence along the way, not much noticed by an increasingly hooked fan base.

“We weren’t the Stones but we weren’t the Osmonds either,” founding member Glenn Fry told 60 Minutes in November of 2007 after the release of Long Road Out of Eden, the band’s first all-original studio album since 1979. “Closer to the Stones than the Osmonds.”

Yet, save for the band’s breakup, that self-described “14-year vacation” from 1980-1994, internal power struggles and some well-publicized controversy with former member Don Felder – he was fired, subsequently sued Henley and Frey, they countersued, then Felder wrote a tell-all book called Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles – the band has endured.

So too has the music. “Every time we play a concert, we are reminded of how much these songs mean to people,” says Henley. “Some of this material has held up for almost 40 years and obviously we feel good about that and we’re grateful.

“It’s very satisfying, I think, for any artist who has created a body of work to see that work become a part of the culture. For us, the songs have always been first and foremost; the rest of the backwash from success is a side effect that we don’t much care for.

“We don’t actively seek publicity and basically live quiet, low-profile lives.  We’re not in the tabloids and rarely in the music magazines.  It’s always been primarily about the songs – the writing, recording and performing – and our fans know that we make an effort.”

So kudos to the boys – the current lineup is Frey, Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit – for touring on a new album. With its legendary status, the band could easily have coasted into the sunset playing best-of concerts for the sentimental set.

Fair to say though that this tour, which officially kicked off in 2008, still leans heavily on the hits. And the lengthy, two-act setlist (three hours, according to Henley) also includes Henley’s seminal solo hits Dirty Laundry, Boys of Summer and All She Wants to Do Is Dance. (Though cheesy soundtrack aficionados will be left with hanging heads, as Glenn Frey’s ‘80s solo hit, The Heat Is On, from the film Beverly Hills Cop, is mercifully not on the to-do list).

“It remains important to all of us to include several of the tracks from the Long Road Out of Eden album in the show, plus a couple of other songs that we don’t normally do,” said Henley. “We put some thought into the setlist and came up with what we think is a good balance of old and new stuff.”

All of which will be played with vigor by a band that Henley feels is much better today than the original version. Though one thing hasn’t changed: the pleasure the group gets from playing for an audience. “The songs move the fans, the fans give us their energy, and we give it back to them,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship.”

Sure, it can’t last forever. But this farewell, like all memorable moments, is a final fling that comes with its own soundtrack.

“I don’t do a lot of thinking about legacy,” Henley concludes. “But I suppose that, if we have a legacy, it will simply be the songs and the memories that they conjure up.”

“I guess that’s what we are – ‘conjure artists.’”


Story by Graeme McRanor originally published in the Vancouver Sun and nationally across PostMedia Network

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