Friday, July 22, 2011

Don Henley

Henley was born in Gilmer, Texas on July 22, 1947. He began college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas and transferred to North Texas State (now University of North Texas) in Denton, Texas from 1967-1969. Henley had to leave school, however, so he could be with his dying father.

Shortly after his father's death, Henley moved to Los Angeles to record an album with his band Shiloh. The album was produced by friend Kenny Rogers. In Los Angeles, Henley met Glenn Frey and the two became members of Linda Ronstadt's band.

With Ronstadt's encouragement, Henley and Frey formed a new group with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner in September, 1971. The Eagles flew off and never looked down as they enjoyed one of the most successful careers in the Rock Era.  The group was known for their incredible, tight harmonies and production and the consistent quality of their releases.  Twelve of their 18 singles through 1980 were Top 10 hits for most radio stations with five going to #1.  In addition, "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Already Gone" are in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*, not because of their chart performance but because of the huge popularity of the group and the tremendous airplay that they have achieved.  

Further, songs like "Tequila Sunrise", "The Last Resort", "Wasted Time" and "In the City" have gotten considerable airplay in the years since.  Henley wrote most of the lyrics for the group's hits with songwriting partner Glenn Frey providing a good deal of the music. Henley quickly became one of the best lead singers to also play drums, singing on such classics as "Witchy Woman", "Desperado", "One of These Nights", "Best of My Love" and "Hotel California".

Just as the Eagles' success seemed to come out of nowhere, so did the band's seemingly permanent breakup in 1980.  Personal tensions and a difficult concert tour led to the split.  In 1981, Henley teamed with girlfriend Stevie Nicks (whom he dated in the late 70's and early 80's) for the classic song "Leather and Lace".  It went to #1 for most radio stations.  In 1982, Henley became engaged to Maren Jensen, an actress in the television series Battlestar Galactica.  

Henley began a long successful solo career with his debut release I Can't Stand Still in 1982. The album's title reflects Henley's conscious decision to cease being silent about matters that he cared about deeply. He saw things deteriorating in America and wanted to address those issues. Concerned with the lack of education funding that began in the 1980's and the effect it would have on those children (who are now in their 40's, many of whom are unemployed), Henley wrote the song "Johnny Can't Read".  People were attracted to the song because it essentially says that there are numerous factors responsible for the decline--teachers, parents, society, the president (Reagan) and most of all, Johnny himself.  As Henley says in the song "RECESS IS OVER!"  Jensen sang backing vocals on the song, but the couple separated in 1986.

The biggest hit from the album, "Dirty Laundry", was a commentary about television news and its fall from glory. Specifically, Henley sang about the trend in accentuating the negative and about "the bubble-headed bleach-blonde...who...comes on at 5...and.. she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye." Henley's biting criticism hit home and, while it probably didn't change things much, it won him a lot of fans who agreed with him. "Dirty Laundry" reached #3, sold over a million copies and earned him a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. The title track from I Can't Stand Still was also released as a single.

Henley's follow up album was Building the Perfect Beast in 1984. "The Boys of Summer" hit #1 and won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance and a nomination for Record of the Year while the video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year and was nominated for Best Concept Video, Best Male Video and Viewer's Choice. "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" reached #9. 

Casual listeners may think it's a party song about a girl dancing but they don't know Henley well. The song is another Henley commentary on the apathy that had become prevalent in America. When you listen to the song, you will hear one line talk about the girl and her happy-go-lucky life, while the next line mentions the serious things that are happening in the world, the girl apparently oblivious to all that is going on around her. "Sunset Grill" and "Not Enough Love in the World" were other hits for Henley on the album.

Henley's peak as a solo artist came with the release of The End of the Innocence in 1989. The title song was his collaboration with elite piano player Bruce Hornsby and was a continuation of Henley speaking out. The song told the story of American president Ronald Reagan, who seemed to coast by in popularity despite making decisions that were unpopular with the American public. Reagan was dubbed "The Teflon President" because problems and scandals (most notably the illegal guns for hostages Iran-Contra affair) seemed to bounce off of him. 

Henley noted that, as Reagan's two terms were coming to an end, the innocence was over.  The song was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards and Video of the Year, Viewer's Choice, Best Cinematography and Best Editing at the MTV Video Music Awards while the album earned another Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.

"New York Minute" was one of the great tracks on The End of the Innocence and yet another great song was "The Last Worthless Evening" about Henley's quest to find true love.  To prove that his lyrics could cut both ways, Henley wrote "How Bad Do You Want It?" about the escapades of Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart.  Usually, the Grammys will award Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for one song but in this case, he was noted for the entire album. 

Dissatisfied with Geffen Records, Henley wanted to be released from his contract to sign with EMI. Frustrated with that experience Henley became active arguing for musician's rights. He testified at a California Senate hearing on the state's contractual laws on September 5, 2001 and the following year, was elected the leader of the Recording Artist's Coalition, which he and Sheryl Crow had founded. The goal was to raise funds to challenge the major record labels on several issues that many musicians felt unfair.

Specifically, Henley and the group wanted to challenge copyright ownership, long-term control of intellectual property and unfair accounting practices that led to many artists popular in the 1960's still not being paid royalties for their songs. Henley also testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2003. The group was successful in the Napster case getting that company (and others by extension) to pay royalties to recording artists. 

While Henley was waiting for his dispute with Geffen to be settled, he recorded "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" for the movie Leap of Faith and his duet with Patty Smyth ("Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough") was a huge #1 hit in 1992.

Meanwhile, Henley and Frey began to patch up their differences and to their fans' delight, the Eagles reunited in 1994 with a highly successful reunion tour and album called Hell Freezes Over. The live album and DVD contain most of the Eagles' biggest hits as well as four new very popular tracks--"Get Over It", "Love Will Keep Us Alive", "The Girl from Yesterday" and "Learn to Be Still".

In 1995, Henley finally found that love he had been searching for. He married Sharon Summerall. Glenn Frey, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne, Sting and Sheryl Crow were among the performers at his wedding. The couple have three children, two girls and a boy. Henley also has a daughter from a previous relationship who was born in 1975.

In 2000, Henley released the album Inside Job, an album that largely reflected Henley finally finding a wife. The big hit from that album was "Taking You Home", for which Henley was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocalist. He was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for the song "Workin' It".  In 2006, Henley performed a duet with Kenny Rogers ("Calling Me") and joined country star Reba McEntire for "Break Each Other's Hearts Again". In January of this year, Henley began work on another solo album.

As one can tell from listening to his lyrics, he is passionate about politics and has devoted a good deal of time and money to political and environmental causes, such as the Walden Woods Project. Henley founded the organization to protect Walden Woods from development. In 1993, the album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles was released with portions of the proceeds going towards the project. In 2005, Elton John assisted Henley with a fundraising concert to purchase Brister's Hill, part of Walden Woods, and turn it into a hiking trail.

Henley co-founded the Caddo Lake Institute in 1993 to underwrite ecological education and research. One of the achievements of the Caddo Lake Institute is the protection of the Texas wetland where Henley grew up. With the progress made in restoring the area, Caddo Lake was included as the 13th site on the Ramsar Convention's list of significant wetlands in the United States.

The Eagles are still together touring to this day and just enjoyed one of the biggest albums of their career Long Road out of Eden. Several of the songs on that album portray Henley's distinct dislike of U.S. President George W. Bush, specifically the Iraq War. The album was a huge success. Since their 1994 reunion, one thing the Eagles allow themselves this time, however, is the freedom to do individual projects.

The Eagles have now gone over 120 million in sales, making them the #1 group in the United States and one of the top five groups of all-time. They have won six Grammy Awards, and enjoyed five #1 singles, 17 Top 40 hits and six #1 albums. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Don Henley

As a solo artist, Henley has 11 hits and has sold over 10 million albums. He also has two Grammys and five MTV Video Music Awards to his credit.

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