4 Feb 2017

Don Henley: statesman of rock

From Saturday Morning, 9:35 am on 4 February 2017
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Photo: Supplied

Don Henley is a founding member of The Eagles – the biggest-selling American band in history.

After they broke up in 1980 Henley went solo as a singer-songwriter and had powerful pop hits like ‘Dirty Laundry’, ‘The End Of The Innocence' and 'The Boys Of Summer'.

This March, the 69 year old brings a 15-piece band to New Zealand to perform songs from his entire career, including hits from The Eagles, who reformed in 1994.

Henley is reluctant to talk about politics – “I get into trouble when I talk about politics” – but says current events in the US are like a bad dream.

“I can’t watch the news. I’ve turned to other things like listening to music and reading and poetry and literature and trying to let it pass.”

“Last year was a terrible year in so many respects. We lost Glenn [Frey] and we lost a whole lot of other really talented people in the music industry.”

After Frey’s death, Henley said he would no longer play with The Eagles, but he leaves that door open now.

“We just passed the one-year anniversary of his passing. We wanted to give it a year to mourn and to absorb his death. Now that the new year is upon us, we’ll take another look and see what might be possible.”

The press has made much of the excessive lifestyles of The Eagles in the ‘70s. How does he feel about the description of their music as “country-rock with a cocaine sheen”?

“It insults me, actually. We worked incredibly hard on those songs, spent weeks and months and long hours polishing our craft. We had some recreation in there and we had fun, but basically we had a very strong and admirable, I think, work ethic… If we were so messed up, we couldn’t have produced all that work.”

In recent years, Henley has applied himself to environmental as well as musical projects.

While watching the news in 1990, he saw some developers talking about building an ‘office park’ near Walden Pond – the Massachusetts lake where 19th century writer Henry David Thoreau lived for two years in a cabin.

A couple of months later Henley flew to Walden for the first time, eventually setting up the Walden Woods Project to protect the land around the pond.

He is also founder and director of the Caddo Lake Institute, which protects and studies a wetland on the border of Texas and Louisiana.

“Between those two organisations and my music career and raising three teenagers I’m a very busy guy,” Henley says.

Don Henley and his band will play Christchurch on 21 March, Auckland on 23 March and Wellington on 25 March, 2017.