They haven’t exactly taken out full-page ads to announce disbanding, but the biggest-selling and most inescapable American rock group of the 1970s, the Eagles, have been grounded—permanently. The end came neither with a bang nor a whimper but with the quiet release of solo albums this past summer by Glenn Frey and Don Henley, the co-founders and creative co-captains of the group.
Eaglemania, per se, never existed for the quintessentially laid-back band, but in a lifespan of close to one decade the Eagles became a kind of American Beatles. They sold nearly $350 million in records and copped four Grammys, not to mention being named “Favorite Rock Group” two years in a row by PEOPLE’S readers. They had five No. 1 singles, (e.g., One of These Nights, Heartache Tonight), and their seminal 1976 LP, Hotel California, sold 15 million copies, while turning an L.A. freeway innovation into a ’70s metaphor with Life in the Fast Lane. But now the long run is over.
From the very beginning the Eagles had sounded discordant notes along with their country-rock harmonies and, in fact, were better known as a publicity-shy studio group than as a public touring band. “The Eagles talked about breaking up from the day I met them,” their manager, Irving Azoff, has said. But their shell was so rumor-proof that few knew of a schism, which widened considerably back in 1980, until reports of individual solo projects surfaced a few months ago. Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk, who has overseen five of the group’s albums, observes, “I marveled that for a year and a half nobody knew the band had broken up except the band. I thought they covered that up neat.”
The actual breakup, however, was not so neat. Relations among the Eagles deteriorated during the making of their aptly titled 1979 album, The Long Run, which took 18 months to produce. “They were just like regular Americans,” says author Ed Sanders, who was hired by the band to write the official saga in a forthcoming book. “They had their fights and squabbles.” Szymczyk recalls the tension-filled sessions at his Coconut Grove, Fla. studio: “They were very intelligent young men, and certain comments made here and there could send somebody to the beach.”
Frey (rhymes with “fly”) contends that the band simply wound down. “If we were to talk about the end,” he says, “I would say it’s simply a case of ‘We made it and it ate us.’ There was no way of escaping the pressure of being on top. Don and I couldn’t talk about girls or football for very long before our discussion had to turn to some huge problem facing the Eagles.”
The last straw came at their final concert, a benefit in July 1980 for Senator Alan Cranston at the Long Beach Arena. Band members are mum when it comes to discussing that evening—now referred to as “Long Night at Wrong Beach”—but Szymczyk reports that “Everybody picked that night to freak out on each other.” The Eagles went on to release a “live” album after the backstage bitterness, but the bond had been broken.
The Eagles leave behind a legacy of hearty partying along with their hits. One insider observes, “The Eagles made this music that’s smooth and melodic, but they’re actually a bunch of tough guys.” Henley and Frey met at L.A.’s Troubadour in 1971 and both joined Linda Ronstadt’s backup band. Together with Randy Meisner, formerly of Poco, and Bernie Leadon of the Flying Burrito Brothers, they developed their inimitable sound, as well as a reputation for trashing hotel rooms, ingesting foreign substances into their bodies and carrying on in a style they described as “monstering.” No doubt they were “monstering” in 1978 when manager Azoff was seen nodding gleefully while Eagle Joe Walsh caused $20,000 worth of damage to a Chicago hotel room with a chain saw. “When you’re in your 20s,” says Frey, “everybody’s a bit naive and insecure. It’s better to be with a group of guys to feed off that young-men-against-the-world thing.”
Author Sanders maintains that the hell raising was a normal reaction for kids who started their careers playing in garage bands in their early teens and ended up with “wall-to-wall women, moola, music, touring and attention.” He concludes, “I think they held it really well.”
After Long Beach, however, they could hold it no more. Frey was the first to leave the nest. “I just told Irving, ‘I’ve had it,’ and left town. I told him he could tell anybody in the band anything he wanted. I didn’t want to say anything I’d be sorry for.” Azoff, perhaps hoping the band would patch things up, kept things under wraps until the solo albums were finished.
But the break was irreparable. And for Frey, 33, it was a godsend. “It was a way for Glenn to have a better personal life,” says Sanders. Frey, who was once described as “the Warren Beatty of rock ‘n’ roll” when it came to romance, revels in his newfound monogamy with a woman named Janie (he won’t reveal her last name), to whom he dedicated his new album, No Fun Aloud. “The best feeling in the world is when you love somebody,” he says, “not the fact that you’ve got eight or nine girls who would walk in front of a freight train for you.” Professionally, the breakup was “a step forward” for Frey. “After you work at something for nine years,” he says, “you kind of want to be your own boss.”
If Frey felt liberated by the group’s demise, Henley, 35, was “shocked and hurt” at first. He said recently, “1980 was a terrible year.” The Eagles’ wipe-out was closely followed by the end of his long romance with actress Lois (The Great Gatsby) Chiles. Henley’s year hit a low point on Nov. 25 with a messy bust at his Mulholland Drive home. Along with two underage girls, L.A. police found 22 grams of cocaine, 16 Quaaludes and some pot. Drug charges were dismissed when Henley agreed to undergo a probationary two-year drug education program, but a Santa Monica Superior Court Judge fined him $2,500 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Of late, things are going better for Henley. His solo album, I Can’t Stand Still, was enthusiastically received by the critics and since its August release has joined Frey’s LP among the Top 40 albums. Henley has also been spending a lot of time in Colorado, where he’s been helping a girlfriend named Maren recover from a viral illness.
The other Lone Eagles are also enjoying their solo flights. Bass player Tim Schmit has his own hit, So Much in Love, on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High sound track and lives in Los Angeles. Don Felder and Joe Walsh are hard at work on their albums. Meisner, who left the band in 1977, has a burgeoning solo career, as does co-founder Bernie Leadon (who departed in 1975).
Unlike, say, the Beach Boys, who have survived into middle age by recycling their ’50s hits, the Eagles have no notions of becoming a musical museum. Sure, Frey says, he might consider working with Henley. But, he adds with the old insouciance, “I just rule out the possibility of putting the Eagles back together for a Lost Youth and Greed tour.”