"My father was a small-business man after he got out of World War II," Henley said. "He despised chains, the big guys, who eventually helped put him out of business."
FOR THE RECORD:
The Eagles: An article on Don Henley in today's Calendar section describes Don Felder as a founding member of the Eagles. The group began in 1971; Felder joined in 1974. —
Wal-Mart: An article about the Eagles' Don Henley in Tuesday's Calendar section cited Wal-Mart as the world's largest company. The retailer is the second largest, behind Exxon Mobil Corp., according to the most recent Fortune 500 rankings. —
Now the son is in business with Wal-Mart, the biggest of the big guys. The Eagles, the rock band that claims the bestselling album in the history of American music, will soon release their first studio album since "The Long Run" in 1979, and, if you want to buy it, you'll have to get in line at Wal-Mart or wait 12 months to get it elsewhere. "They will have an exclusive on it for the first year," Henley said, explaining for the first time a core part of the "strategic partnership" announced in late October.
The Eagles have taken plenty of heat through the years for cashing in -- their tours have some of the priciest tickets around, and the history of backstage bickering has added to the aura of mercenary priorities -- but the 59-year-old singer-songwriter has always been a maverick and rock's most cerebral grump. He explains that anyone who sees some sort of disconnect between his famed Walden Pond preservation efforts and this new corporate deal is simply not paying attention.
"A lot of the people who have criticized us are obviously unaware of what Wal-Mart is doing in overhauling their operation," he said, rattling off the company's well-publicized initiatives to open eco-friendly "green stores," reduce packaging and use its market share to pressure vendors into pursuing environmentally conscious approaches.
And there's the fact that the Wal-Mart deal offered a promising escape route for Henley and his band mates; they have no traditional record label deal, and, after watching the file-sharing websites rise to power, they were open to any path to keep their connection with fans.
"This is the world we live in," Henley said. Then, with a chuckle, he added: "In the big picture, they can't be any more evil than a major record label."
A last Eagles tour?
The singer-songwriter, sitting recently in an L.A. studio, was in a cheery mood, all things considered. The day had started with a major crisis: "It blew up this morning," he said. Surprisingly, he wasn't talking about the Eagles and their effort to make new music without killing each other. "The water heater at the studio blew up this morning. Well, it didn't blow up, but it started leaking and it was going to blow up."
Then his 11-year-old daughter called from Dallas to get help with her French homework ("I had two years of it," he groaned, "but I'm useless."), which competed with the singer's last-minute fundraising duties to secure $900,000 to scoop up a farm adjacent to the Thoreau Institute in his beloved Massachusetts forest. All of that, though, was a welcome distraction from his true enemy at the moment.
"Yeah, anything to stay away from those legal pads," he said, referring to the unfinished lyrics for "Long Road Out of Eden," the title track to that new Eagles studio CD, which, come to think of it, will be the first Eagles studio CD given that "The Long Run" was released in the vinyl days of the Carter administration.
The album, he said, is due to Wal-Mart "in the next 60 to 90 days," but the real deadline on Henley's mind is the tour that will follow.
"We're inching our way toward some kind of completion here on the album, and we hope to get it out in time to hit the road this summer. We believe we've got one more world tour in us, and then that'd be about it. We might just ride off into that old sunset."
That's exciting news at the Concert Industry Consortium, which has brought promoters from around the country to Hollywood this week; an Eagles tour (along with reunions by Van Halen and the Police) means the Rolling Stones can take a year off as the beast of burden responsible for dragging baby boomers through arena turnstiles.
The prospect that this might be the last Eagles hurrah had Henley in a somewhat reflective mood. The band has always had sweet harmonies on stage, but that has always been a rich irony for anyone who watched their dressing room brawls. Henley said a detente has been reached.