How the Eagles Split Affected Drummer Joe Vitale
When drummer Joe Vitale was invited to join Eagles for their Long Run tour of 1978-80, nobody was aware the road trip would end with the band breaking up.
For Vitale, who had a long history working with Joe Walsh, it was a dream come true to step up to the iconic band and perform its classic songs, giving Don Henley the chance to step out from behind his drum kit and sing at the front of the stage.
In a recent interview, Vitale told Rolling Stone he faced a challenge when learning how to perform Eagles songs just as they were recorded. “Sometimes it’s harder to play the same exact thing every night than it is being a musician where you just jam,” he said. “When you’re playing and not having to deal with an arrangement, just having fun, you aren’t even thinking, ‘Okay, what’s the drum fill coming up on 'Take It Easy?'
“But you know what? I really appreciated that. People pay a lot of money to see an Eagles show. They get a great show, and nobody ever goes home disappointed. I don’t know if they ever had a bad review. I never read one.”
The band was performing at California's Long Beach Arena in July 1980 when tensions came to a head. Don Felder was rude to California Senator Alan Cranston, upsetting Glenn Frey.
“As the night progressed, we both grew angrier and began hissing at each other under our breath,” Felder wrote in his 2009 memoir, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles. "He approached me after every song to rant, rave, curse — and let me know how many songs remained before our fight. ... Within a few days, I’d cooled down. The phone rang. It was our producer, Bill Szymczyk. ‘What’s the schedule for the band?’ I asked. A small silence fell. ‘There is no band at this time,’ he said. It was 1980, and the Eagles were history.”
Vitale said he didn't detect any other signs of problems during the tour. “They had that blowout they showed in the Eagles documentary,” the drummer explained. “I was there. They had a blowout with Felder. That is what happened. I think it had been brewing for a while. I think it was the old straw the broke the camel’s back.”
He called the situation “really sad." "I spent two years with one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands in the world," Vitale noted. "We’re playing stadiums and all these great big places, and all of a sudden, ‘We’re done now.’ … ‘Great, thanks a lot.’ Now, I’m just one of the sidemen. ... But, man … I was really happy to see that they got back together, even though it took 14 years. And thank God they did. That was too good of a band to just stop.”