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The Eagles' last flight?

The new album is a hit at Wal-Mart, but the band may be nearing the end of the road.

November 06, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

The next three albums -- "On the Border," "One of These Nights" and "Hotel California" -- moved away from country twang and toward a dusty, Western sort of rock with more guitar sinew. A lot of that was due to the addition of guitarist Don Felder in 1974, and then Walsh in 1976. These changes were not made gently. Leadon, frustrated with the rock direction, announced his resignation by pouring a beer over Frey's head. Bass player Meisner, sick of the chaos, left in 1977. The Eagles recruited Schmit, who was stunned by the backstage strife.

"I thought at first it was just the normal tensions, you know, but these were really intense," Schmit said. "And then came that night in Long Beach."

The "Long Night in Wrong Beach," July 31, 1980, found the Eagles muttering dark threats to each other between the choruses. After the show, there was a brawl backstage. Schmit watched it all in shock. "I remember after weeks it sank in: This really was the end of it all."

Frey scoffed when asked if it was meaningful that what came together in Southern California also splintered here.

"Bands have arguments in Memphis, sometimes they have arguments in New York," he said testily. "Look, we disagreed all over the world."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
The Eagles: A story on the Eagles in Tuesday's Calendar section said the band signed with Elektra Records in 1971. The band actually signed with a label called Asylum Records, which merged with Elektra in 1973. Additionally, the article incorrectly said the band's new "Long Road Out of Eden" was the first Eagles album since the Carter administration; as the article correctly said later, the Eagles reunited for an album of studio recordings and live performances in 1994.

Together again and again

The band members went their separate ways after their California divorce, but they came back together for the kids. The fan appetite and the big money it represented led to a 1994 reunion with a delicious name: the Hell Freezes Over Tour. The group was Henley, Frey, Walsh, Felder and Schmit and they broke records. A concert album (along with a few new studio tracks) sold 8.5 million copies and in 1998 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The band circled the world twice on tour but there wasn't a lot of warmth backstage. The five members played together for the last time at Staples Center on New Year's Eve 1999.

A few weeks later, the band fired Felder and lawsuits followed. Felder claimed Henley and Frey wanted to hoard the band's money. The two founding members countered that band chemistry would improve without Felder. (There was a settlement but legal subplots remain; also, Hyperion Books in September cited "legal reasons" for the cancellation of Felder's tell-all memoir about the band's debauchery and bickering.)

The Felder affair reinforced the nagging image of the band's as a sour, mercenary collective. One way to measure the ubiquity of the Eagles is to gauge the bile they inspire. Punk rock was, to many observers, a direct response to the Eagles, and hating the Eagles even made it to theaters as a recurring gag in "The Big Lebowski." The new deal with Wal-Mart brought hectoring. Henley said the impetus for the deal was the environmental initiatives by the world's largest private employer but Frey said it was simple math: "If this is our last album, I wanted to sell as many copies as possible."

The band members stopped listening to the detractors years ago, but even they said they were ready to retire the franchise at the start of this decade.

"The old songs are part of the cultural lexicon and they have been good to us, but at some point singing them over and over just isn't any fun," Henley said.

In summer of 2001, the band was in Europe on tour when a funny thing happened. With Felder out of the picture, the band found that it was acting like, well, a band again.

"We didn't just play, we started hanging out again," Frey said. "It was a pleasure to go to sound check. There was a lot of fun and lot of laughs on the charter flights from country to country."

Steuart Smith, Felder's replacement, became "a catalyst, a source of rejuvenation for us," as Henley put it. The band decided to go into the studio and chose a fateful date: Sept. 11, 2001. World events seeped through the studio walls. One of the first pieces of music they worked on was an extended jam that coiled with ominous power.

"I remember thinking we're never going to write the lyrics to this thing, it's just too long and too scary," Frey said. But Henley, who had written the epic Eagles song "The Last Resort," responded with another "magnum opus," as Frey called it.

That forlorn rumination on the Middle East and geopolitics became the title track of the new album, even though much of the CD is relationship songs and honeyed harmonies. In fact, the album covers just about every Eagles musical territory and creative surges kept adding to it.

"We were done with the album a few times," Walsh said, "but it wasn't done with us." Maybe so, but the famously dour Henley frets that the album should have been leaner. "I think there are only a couple of superfluous things on there." He declined to elaborate. "That would break the band up. Again."

The most likely thing to break up the Eagles is time, distance (Henley lives in Dallas, the others in different parts of California) and the tug of family. The band just opened the Nokia Theatre with a run of shows but on opening night Henley was backstage talking about his family.

"I talked to my kids a little while ago; I had to remind them I had a concert tonight," Henley said with a chuckle.

Last summer he was the first Eagle to turn 60, and he celebrated by surfing in Malibu with his 9-year-old son and pal Jimmy Buffett. Smiling, Henley seemed just as interested in being a beach boy as in carrying on as an Eagle.

"This is the final statement. We got back together and went around the world twice on tour but then there was nothing left to do without new music. Now we have this album that fits in with our body of work. There won't be another Eagles album after this. That's what I think today."

--

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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