A major American superstar who successfully made the transition from '60s rocker to '70s country rocker to '80s solo artist, Don Henley (b. July 22, 1947, Gilmer, Texas) is best known for his role as co-founder of the Eagles. During the span of their 10 year career, the band met enormous international success and sold over 80 million albums worldwide; at the time of their 1981 break-up, they had four No. 1 albums, five No. 1 singles, and four Grammys to their credit. Though Henley was the band's drummer, he co-wrote all 10 of the group's top 10 hits and sang lead on many of them. Both he and band co-founder Glenn Frey each went on to notable solo success, but significantly, as Frey's career began cooling down in the late '80s, Henley's was getting hotter by the minute.
Henley got his start playing in a late '60s Texas band named Shiloh, who moved to L.A. and recorded a debut album for Amos Records in 1970. Oddly enough, another Amos act named Longbranch Pennywhistle made its bow the same year; featured in that group's ranks was one Glenn Frey, who would soon invite Henley to join him in Linda Ronstadt's backup band, the Stone Ponies. He did, and by 1971 the pair had hooked up with guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner to form the Eagles. With a 1972 debut album boasting two top 20 singles--"Take It Easy," co-written by Frey and Jackson Browne and "Witchy Woman," penned by Henley and Leadon--the Eagles soared from the start. Though Frey and Henley had written no songs together on their first album, by the time of 1973's follow-up Desperado, they began a fruitful songwriting partnership that lasted for the duration of the group.
When Glenn Frey announced his plans to make a solo record in 1980, his decision would ultimately result in the break-up of the Eagles. But the band that three years earlier had scored a top 20 hit with "Life In The Fast Lane" had apparently also been singing from experience: Henley, in a legal scrape that generated much bad press that year, was given two years probation for drug possession and fined for "contributing to the delinquency" of a teenage girl. The roasting the singer received at the time, ironically, gave him sufficient fuel to start his own solo career with his first hit single, the top 5 "Dirty Laundry." An embittered protest against the scandal-hungry press, Henley's memorable song was driven by a pounding beat, over which he sang, "We got dirty little fingers in everybody's pie/ We love to cut you down to size/ We love dirty laundry/ We can do 'The Innuendo'/ We can dance and sing/ When it's all said and done we haven't told you a thing/ We all know that crap is King/ Give us dirty laundry!" The song helped push Henley's 1982 debut album I Can't Stand Still to No. 24; Frey's debut No Fun Aloud, which had been released three months earlier and boasted two top 40 hits, had only managed to reach No. 32.
With 1984's double-platinum Building The Perfect Beast, Henley's solo career markedly heated up. "The Boys Of Summer," the album's opening track, was a brilliant single which, with its memorable lyrics about a Cadillac bearing a "Deadhead" sticker and Henley's refrain, "Don't look back, you can never look back," conveyed a new maturity that has suited Henley well--and helped take him into the '90s perceived as a relevant artist. Three additional top 40 hits, including the top 10 "All She Wants To Do Is Dance," kept the album high in the charts well over a year.
Henley's third solo album, 1989's The End Of The Innocence, reached No. 8, went triple-platinum and--perhaps most amazingly--enjoyed a marathon stay on the charts of 148 weeks. Considering that the singer had previously been singing "don't look back," there was some irony in the fact that the album's first single--the top 10 title track, written by Henley and Bruce Hornsby--began by asking, "Remember when the days were long/ And rolled beneath a deep blue sky/ Didn't have a care in the world/ With mommy and daddy standin' by?" But rather than a simple nostalgia piece, the song railed against "this tired old man that we elected king" and lawyers. Henley's growing political activism and concern with environmental issues became increasingly evident on Innocence--and in his personal life as well. In 1990, the singer spearheaded a major campaign to preserve the Walden Woods, the forest area surrounding Henry David Thoreau's celebrated retreat at Walden Pond. By 1993, the cause was furthered by the all-star benefit tribute album Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles, featuring well-known country singers Clint Black, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood and others performing the songs Henley and his former band had made famous two decades earlier.
He was back with the Eagles in 1994 showing that the passage of time had not diminished their extraordinary popularity. Five years later Henley was in the headlines once more, orchestrating a campaign against the "work for hire" amendment to the Copyright Act which made record companies the sole owners of an artist's work in perpetuity. The issue was also addressed on the title track of his disappointing Warner Brothers Records debut, Inside Job. He lives near Dallas now, and is active in the battle to preserve Caddo Lake from developers and pollution.