During a November 2016 interview with The Washington Post, Don Henley all but announced the Eagles' demise. Glenn Frey, his musical partner of 45 years, had died 10 months earlier, and Henley couldn’t envision the Eagles without him.
“I don’t see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band,” Henley told the Post’s Geoff Edgers. “It would just seem like greed or something. It would seem like a desperate thing.”
Henley, of all people, should know never to say never.
After the Eagles, one of the most popular American bands of all time, bitterly disbanded in 1980, Henley huffed that they would reunite “when hell freezes over.” Fourteen years later, the Eagles reunited for a tour dubbed — what else? — Hell Freezes Over.
But Frey’s death at age 67 in January 2016 posed a far more serious obstacle than hurt feelings. The guitarist and singer, who painstakingly co-wrote many Eagles hits with Henley, had battled rheumatoid arthritis and the inflammatory bowel disease acute ulcerative colitis for years. Drugs prescribed to combat his chronic pain weakened his immune system and made him vulnerable to a fatal bout of pneumonia. His farewell performance turned out to be the final stop on the aptly named History of the Eagles Tour on July 29, 2015 in Bossier City.
A potential means for the band to carry on without him presented itself at Frey’s memorial service: his son Deacon sang “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” one of Glenn’s signature hits, with Henley, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and bassist Timothy B. Schmit.
Months later, when he granted that interview to the Post, Henley still hadn’t convinced himself that reviving the band was the right thing to do.
But eventually, he did.
Change is nothing new to the Eagles. Henley and Frey were members of country-pop heartthrob Linda Ronstadt’s backing band when they first resolved to strike out on their own. They recruited guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner for the first version of the Eagles.
Sometimes co-writing with the likes of Jackson Browne and JD Souther, they conjured a harmony-laden style that stood not just on a corner of Winslow, Arizona — to quote the Eagles classic “Take It Easy” — but at the crossroads of country and rock. Their “California country” proved enormously popular and has been a staple of rock radio for more than four decades. The Eagles sold millions of albums and sold out stadiums, as new guitarist Don Felder gave their sound additional heft.
The band parted ways with Leadon, brought in Walsh, and soared even higher with the landmark “Hotel California.” Meisner left messily after the "Hotel California" tour, replaced by Schmit. Burned out following “The Long Run” album and tour, they fell apart in 1980.
Their 1994 reunion tour did big business, even as some observers scoffed at a then unheard-of ticket price of $100. Felder was fired in 2001, but the core of Henley, Frey, Schmit and Walsh carried on just fine without him. They cut a new album, released a warts-and-all documentary, and kept filling arenas around the globe.
And they still are. Since the Eagles returned to the stage in the summer of 2017, Deacon Frey and singer/guitarist Vince Gill, whose successful solo career in country music followed a stint in the Eagles-like country/pop band Pure Prairie League, have filled the void left by Glenn Frey’s passing.
They'll be at the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday. Show time is 8 p.m., and there is no opening act. Eagles tickets still aren’t cheap. Floor and lower-bowl seats are $226 plus fees; upper-bowl seats are $46.50 and $96.50. Verified resale tickets are even pricier.
Reviews from early stops on the tour indicate that Gill and Deacon Frey take turns singing Glenn Frey’s old songs. Deacon generally sings lead on “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.” Gill handles “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town.” The rest of the ensemble, including a platoon of supporting musicians, fills in the signature soaring harmonies.
Bottom line: Eagles may come and Eagles may go, but the songs remain the same. And they are what count, more so than who wrote or even sings them.
Coming to that realization, it seems, is in part what persuaded Henley to continue the band without his longtime partner. “It isn’t so much about us as it is the songs,” he told Rolling Stone last year. “That’s what people come to hear.”
Note: The timeline of Randy Meisner's departure from the Eagles has been corrected in this version of the article.