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Don Henley

It’s highly likely that one might get post-EAGLES solo stars, DON HENLEY and GLENN FREY mixed up; their blend of FM-friendly, soft-rock balladeering – example respective mid-80s hits, `The Boys Of Summer’ and FREY’s `Smuggler’s Blues’ – typical hook-line songs aimed at an American market. Formerly the drummer and singer-songwriter of the multi-faceted EAGLES, from their time as country-rock “Desperados” to mainstream “Hotel Californians” (they’re still going strong in the 00s), the schmaltzy HENLEY could woo an AOR audience in droves with strong hit solo songs such as `All She Wants To Do Is Dance’, `Not Enough Love In The World’ and `The End Of The Innocence’.
Born Donald Hugh Henley, July 22, 1947 in Gilmer, Texas, he was raised in nearby Linden town, while he duly attended college and university; his schooling was cut short when he spent time with his ailing father, who was dying of an incurable heart disease. The lights of L.A. beckoned for the talented musician, his initial port of call arriving in 1970 by way of the KENNY ROGERS-produced one-set country outfit, Shiloh. A chance meeting with the aforementioned FREY, led him into sessions for former folky, LINDA RONSTADT; others on hand, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, almost immediately metamorphosed into future Grammy winners, EAGLES.
Relatively unique in taking effective lead (vocals) from behind his drum-stool, Don sang on the group’s greatest hits, `Best Of My Love’, `One Of These Nights’ and `Hotel California’. The EAGLES’ “Long Run” came to an abrupt finale at the turn of the 80s, while his own solo career nearly took the same route, when, in November 1980, a 16 year-old female was found naked and drugged in his Californian home; HENLEY pleaded no contest and was fined and ordered to attend a drug counselling scheme while on two years’ probation.
Recorded prior to this indiscretion during his time as beau of STEVIE NICKS, the pair duly dueted their way into the charts with `Leather And Lace’, a US Top 10 hit in the fall of ’81. Meanwhile, he was finally plotting his long-awaited solo career through the Greg Ladanyi co-produced I CAN’T STAND STILL (1982) {*6}. Housing three Top 50 hits, `Johnny Can’t Read’, the title track and the massive-selling `Dirty Laundry’ (all incidentally, co-penned with Danny Kortchmar), a stellar cast of sessioners from EAGLES, TOTO to The CHIEFTAINS (and his girlfriend at the time, Maren Jensen), were on hand to give him backing.
In ‘84, HENLEY moved to the Geffen label and secured a cross-Atlantic Top 20 single with the atmospheric `The Boys Of Summer’, a sunshine-fuelled dirge taken from his parent sophomore album, BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST (1985) {*7}. Adding musician/collaborator Kortchmar to the tight production team was inspirational, while TOM PETTY’s Heartbreakers (Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch), secured effective backing; `All She Wants To Do Is Dance’, `Not Enough Love In The World’ and `Sunset Grill’ were all massive US hits.
Four years in the making, HENLEY garnered further critical acclaim with THE END OF THE INNOCENCE (1989) {*6} album, another record stacked with US hits, including the Top 10 title track (penned with BRUCE HORNSBY), `The Last Worthless Evening’, `How Bad Do You Want It’, `New York Minute’ and `The Heart Of The Matter’. Never short on variety, at least in terms of guest stars, stalwart team songwriter J.D. SOUTHER shared studio duties with Axl Rose, SHERYL CROW, MELISSA ETHERIDGE, EDIE BRICKELL and PATTY SMYTH.
With HENLEY unwilling to record any new material, Geffen had to make do with a “greatest hits” set in ’95; a re-released `Boys Of Summer’ (a UK Top 20 hit in 1998) saw them through the final years of his contract. Eager for more creative control after numerous lawsuits and court appearances, HENLEY finally signed with Warner Brothers and wasted no time in cutting his first album for over a decade, INSIDE JOB (2000) {*6}. Given how radically the music scene had changed since the late 80s, it was strangely heartening to hear the former EAGLES drummer more or less taking up where he left off. So, no poorly judged trip-hop experiments or nostalgic covers, merely the pleasant sound of a singer-songwriter settling into middle age with only the occasional rant at society’s downward spiral; `Taking You Home’ was the only chart breaker from the Top 10 set.
While it was a “Long Road Out Of Eden” with the EAGLES in 2007, HENLEY began working on a country set in 2013. Roping in a who’s who of guests that initially included ALISON KRAUSS on harmony, 2015’s top-selling CASS COUNTY {*7} – named after stamping ground East Texas county – expanded to create room for the likes of MICK JAGGER (who featured with MIRANDA LAMBERT on Tift Merritt-penned opener `Bramble Rose’). With the ‘Stone doing his best Nashville drawl, others such as DOLLY PARTON, MERLE HAGGARD and MARTINA McBRIDE, respectively, were at home on `When I Stop Dreaming’ (a LOUVIN BROTHERS song), `The Cost Of Living’ and `That Old Flame’. Several songs scribed with co-producer Stan Lynch, easy-listening was the name of the game for 68-year-old HENLEY and his honourable hitchhikers.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2012-Sep2015

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