Ahead of Hotel California tour, Eagles' Don Henley reflects on the iconic band's 'creative peak'
It’s been nearly 50 years since four gifted young musicians decided to start a group that they called the Eagles. Much has changed since then, in music and across life’s wider landscape. The band’s lineup evolved, lawsuits ensued. For a while, they called it quits.
Yet here they are, on a concert trek that crisscrosses the United States and will even land at London's Wembley Stadium. Kicking off Feb. 7 in Atlanta, the tour marks a first for the iconic rock band, who'll play the epic Hotel California album top to bottom, followed by a two-hour set of their greatest hits. At each show, a full orchestra and, on the final tune, a vocal choir will enhance the music, though it’s the songs, not their adornment, that makes the Hotel California tour essential.
"Hotel California" is among the best-selling albums of all time and won the Grammy for record of the year in 1977.
“It’s a big undertaking,” admitted founding member Don Henley, 72. “And there’s a theatrical element. While people are coming into the auditorium, we’re singing ‘Welcome,’ as in ‘Welcome to the Hotel California,’ in a spooky, drawn-out fashion. We have thunder and the sound of wind bouncing around all over the auditorium. Lights are flashing, as if they were lightning bolts.
“Then just as things come to a peak, a tall fellow, dressed in a black, antique European bellman’s costume and a cape, walks across the stage, holding the vinyl album 'Hotel California.' He takes it out of the jacket, blows off the dust – a symbolic gesture – places it carefully on the turntable and puts the stylus down. There’s even a hissing sound, like a needle on vinyl. Then we start the song and the curtain rises.”
That “symbolic gesture” nods toward the once fundamental importance of the album.
“The format is good for music because it gives artists a chance to write and record songs that are not necessarily hit singles,” Henley explained. “Albums by their nature are uneven. Some of the songs are catchy and radio-friendly, and some might be more thoughtful or topically oriented. I mourn the loss of that opportunity to artists, when record companies and radio just wants hits.”
The Hotel California tour has an additional resonance, with Deacon Frey, 26, taking the place of his father Glenn, who died in 2016.
“I’m the one who said ‘Let’s get Deacon into the band,’” Henley said. “That was a surprise to everybody, including him, his mother and his family. But I knew he could do it. It’s a little surreal for me when I’m on the drums and he’s directly in front of me; his hair and his profile are eerily reminiscent of his father’s. But it’s also been a healing thing for him and for those of us in the band who worked with his dad. Actually, he remembers our parts from the records so well that if we’ve let something slip over the years, he’ll say, ‘That’s not what you were doing on the record.’ And we go, ‘Oh, yeah. You’re right!’”
The Eagles have won six Grammy Awards and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Asked to reflect on why "Hotel California" stands out among the Eagles' classic catalog, Henley answered, “Every band has its creative peak. I think that was ours. We’d become very adept in the studio. We knew a lot about production. We knew more about songwriting. We had the musicianship. We were willing to make some changes and take some risks and try to do something different from anything we’d done before.
"And you know, the astronauts in the Space Station get a wakeup call every day. A lot of times the folks in the (NASA) control center would play ‘Hotel California.’”
Henley thought for a second, laughed and confessed, “Personally, I don’t know if I would want to start the day with that.”