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Reborn Eagles Lose Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Musicians advocate Henley is sued by a fired bandmate who calls him a hypocrite in royalties fight

December 08, 2002|Jeff Leeds | Times Staff Writer

Rock star Don Henley has become an outspoken advocate for musicians' rights, complaining loudly and often about greedy music labels that allegedly shortchange bands out of their royalties.

"Record companies have been screwing artists for ages," he said in an interview last year. "It's time we organize and fight back."

But now, in a little-noticed court case bubbling through the system, the 55-year-old Henley finds himself accused of essentially the same unfair practices by one of his own former bandmates. Longtime Eagles guitarist Don Felder has sued Henley, claiming that the singer and fellow band member Glenn Frey cheated him out of his share of album and concert earnings.

The legal showdown follows an internal dispute last year in which Henley and Frey fired Felder, a member of the band since 1974. The case could expose the inner workings of one of America's best-selling bands and decide what will become of hundreds of millions of dollars the Eagles earned after reuniting in 1994 for a successful tour and new album.

Feuds among band members are not uncommon in the music business. The Eagles turmoil is the latest in a long history of intra-band legal wrangling that runs from the Beatles to Guns N' Roses to Destiny's Child. But this dispute is unusual because it involves bandmates who had managed to play together for such a long time.

And it could be a particularly big blow to the reputation of Henley, who has blasted the music labels' contracts and accounting practices in testimony before California lawmakers. He also leads the Recording Artists Coalition, which this year demanded fairer agreements and additional disclosure of financial data from the industry.

Felder's lawsuit accuses Henley and Frey of bullying him into "one-sided" agreements divvying up band profits, withholding financial information and firing him without cause.

Felder, 55, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement to The Times referring to Henley: "It is absolutely the height of hypocrisy for him to attempt to reinvent himself as the champion for artists' rights."

The lawsuit, filed last year in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks past earnings and potentially lost income totaling more than $50 million. Felder is seeking to dissolve Eagles Ltd., the corporation that holds rights to the band's name, some unreleased recordings and other property.

Henley, who is scheduled to give a deposition in the case Tuesday, could not be reached for comment last week. But Daniel M. Petrocelli, the attorney representing Henley and Frey, said the band's various contracts had been disclosed and "fully approved" by Felder.

"He's not offering to return the 15 or 20 million he made since 1994, is he?" Petrocelli said. "Everything in that complaint is: 'I regret what I did, even though I made $15 or $20 million, and I want to rewrite history.' Felder jumped at the chance to get back in this band when it reunited, because it made him a lot of money."

Henley and Frey countersued Felder in August, alleging he breached his contract by writing and trying to sell a "tell-all" book about his life in the band. The book has not been published.

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Possible Settlement

Record executives who have been following the case say they expect the two sides to reach a settlement eventually. But Felder has complained that Henley and Frey have withheld crucial documents during the discovery process, prompting a judge in the case to sanction them $5,600 earlier this year.

Irving Azoff, the band's longtime manager and Henley's personal manager, said: "I'm really proud of what Don Henley and other artists have accomplished" in pressuring labels to reform their business practices.

Felder, he added, "should be saying thank you."

Azoff said the lawsuit would not interfere with the band's plans. The Eagles have toured without Felder for the last year, adding guitarist Steuart Smith to their lineup. Azoff said the band was recording a new album and planned to mount another tour next year.

The Eagles are regarded as one of the most successful American bands ever, having sold more than 80 million albums in the U.S. alone since forming three decades ago. The band's "Greatest Hits 1971-1975" ranks as the best-selling album of all time, with an estimated 28 million copies sold, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

The Eagles were founded in 1971 by Henley, Frey, bassist Randy Meisner and guitarist Bernie Leadon -- four musicians who had played backup for Linda Ronstadt. After scoring early hits such as "Witchy Woman" and "Take It Easy," the band added Felder to its lineup in 1974 as part of a shift to a harder rock sound. The band also made him a shareholder in Eagles Ltd.

The band continued its ascent toward megastardom but was beset by infighting. Leadon left in 1975. Meisner left two years later, after the completion of the album "Hotel California," whose title track was co-written by Felder.

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