The Night the Eagles Imploded
The Eagles‘ music has always had plenty of mellow grooves and beautiful harmonies, but behind the scenes, there have been plenty of times when peaceful, easy feelings between the band members were in decidedly short supply.
The low point arguably occurred July 31, 1980, when the group — already worn down after the interminable process of recording 1979’s The Long Run — wound up its tour in support of the album with a benefit show in support of California Senator Alan Cranston. During a meet-and-greet before the concert, an exchange between Cranston and guitarist Don Felder proved too much for Glenn Frey to take.
According to Frey, when Cranston thanked each member of the band for doing the show, Felder responded with “You’re welcome, Senator … I guess.” Embarrassed and enraged, Frey fired back at Felder, sending years of pent-up tension unraveling onto the stage.
“I felt Don Felder insulted Senator Cranston under his breath, and I confronted him with it. So now we’re onstage, and Felder looks back at me and says, ‘Only three more songs till I kick your ass, pal.’ And I’m saying, ‘Great. I can’t wait,'” Frey later recalled. “We’re out there singing ‘Best of My Love,’ but inside both of us are thinking, ‘As soon as this is over, I’m gonna kill him.’ That was when I knew I had to get out.”
Looking back, the band’s breakup was perhaps inevitable. The Eagles toured and recorded constantly during the years leading up to 1976’s Hotel California, and following up its massive success proved a crushingly daunting task. “Your nerve coatings are only so thick,” Felder told Ultimate Classic Rock in a 2013 interview. “When they get worn really thin and frayed, that’s when people say things, do things, misbehave. Especially when you add fuel to the fire with drugs and alcohol. It just becomes a very volatile situation.”
It was perhaps never more volatile than the night of the Cranston show, which ended with a smashed guitar and a limo speeding off into the night. When bassist Timothy B. Schmit called Frey the following day, Frey told him the Eagles were finished.
“We all came out here from different places, developed our talent, saw what it took to succeed and got the job done better than any of us ever imagined. At that point it ended, and life goes on,” Frey shrugged years later. “We always vowed to quit when we were still on top and that’s what we did.”
For years, the various ex-Eagles maintained that the band had definitively run its course — as Frey put it, “I can’t see myself at age 41, up onstage with a beer belly singing ‘Take It Easy'” — but calls for a reunion never stopped coming, and after at least one aborted attempt, they finally found their way back together in the early ’90s, recording the Hell Freezes Over live album and embarking on the first of many hugely lucrative tours.
As before, the relationships between band members weren’t always as harmonious as their vocal blend, and by 2001, Felder was back out again — although at least this time, the separation was handled by lawyers instead of threats of physical violence.
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