ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of America’s most popular and influential music groups over the past three decades is showing strong signs of a rebirth. The Eagles , formed 31 years ago in Southern California, have been back out on the road with a 30th Reunion Tour celebrating the group’s first record, “Take It Easy,” and first public appearances, which were 30 years ago this summer.
Along the way the Eagles have hit the country charts many times, and their strains of country rock brought many young players and singers into the intersection of rock and country. A Nashville tribute album to the Eagles, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, was named the CMA album of the year in 1994 and led the group to re-form for their Hell Freezes Over album that same year.
Founding member Don Henley says that the reunion occurred because they “realized at some point, partially because of the Common Thread album, that we still had a big following out there and there were a lot of people who wanted to see us. All the people who didn’t get to see us the first time around or people who had grown up listening to our music and were too young to come and see us the first time around. We were kind of surprised by that. You know, we had no idea that we could go out and sell out football stadiums and arenas. Once we found that out, we kind of went, hmmm, maybe life does have a good fourth quarter.” As far as discerning a reason why the Eagles are one of the biggest selling musical entities ever — their Greatest Hits is the best-selling album ever in the U.S., at over 26 million copies sold — Henley says the answer may be simple. “The fact is, our music is an amalgam of just about every kind of American music you can think of. There’s a lot of rhythm and blues influences in our music, in songs like ‘One of These Nights,’ ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ and ‘Life In the Fast Lane.’
Both Glenn Frey and I are students of soul music and rhythm and blues — me growing up in the South and him growing up in Detroit. There’s some bluegrass influences in our music. Even some surf music, and folk music certainly has influenced our music. … And the country rock thing, I suppose that’s the easiest box to put us in. … We’ve been called a California band, but I think we’re really an American band. The members of this band came from all over this country.”
Asked about the Eagles’ influences on country music itself, Henley acknowledges it. “I suppose we have had some influence on country music,” he says. “You know, people say that a lot of the [country] records coming out now sound like us. I hate to pigeonhole anyone — including ourselves. But, it’s flattering to think that we might have influenced something.”
Now, the group are re-thinking their future again, and a new studio album is in the works. Henley says he can’t say much about it at present. “Not because I don’t want to,” he says, “but because there’s nothing much to report. We’ve been working on it for about six months now. We’ve got, I don’t know, eight or 10 things in various stages of completion. Nothing is finished yet. We’re just still kind of finding our way back, as far as being recording artists and writing together and things like that.”
Henley says what heartens him most is that the group is totally free of major record label affiliation. A prominent activist in the Recording Artists Coalition which is championing artists’ rights against the labels, Henley says, “We don’t have a record label breathing down our necks, so we can take our own sweet time. We’re paying for it ourselves and doing it at our own pace. It’s going to be interesting to see if it flies, you know. We’re competing with our own legacy. You know, people may not want to hear new songs from us. But we just want to make a good album with good songs on it, like we’ve always done. And the rest will probably take care of itself.”
Henley himself is looking toward Nashville for a sixth solo album that he says may actually be country. He says he was personally heartened by the artists who contributed their efforts to the album Common Thread and also pledged funds toward his Walden Woods Project — dedicated to preserving Walden Pond near Concord, Mass., where Henry David Thoreau studied and wrote about mankind’s relationship with nature. “Prior to that I had felt sort of removed and distant from the Nashville community. But now I feel very close to it. I have a lot of good friends who live there. You know, about half the rock and roll community has moved there from L.A. And I’ve even thought about it myself. I’m looking to buy a big farm and Tennessee’s mighty pretty.”
Musically, Henley says, he is seriously looking to record in Nashville on a solo project. “I’m gonna probably do some recording in Nashville coming up in the next few months. My next album may very well be a country album. Or my version of a country album, anyway.”