Don Henley Recounts Making Eagles Classic “Hotel California” at Lyrics Trial, Denies Being a “Drug-Filled Zombie”

Credits: Toronto Sun

Seated in a New York courtroom witness box, Don Henley opened a large brown envelope Tuesday and paged through the aging yellow sheets of a legal pad.

“Well, it’s got two song titles written on the top,” he explained when asked what it contained. ” ‘After the Thrill is Gone’ and ‘One of These Nights.'”

Then came another envelope and pad, and another, and one more. They bore 1970s drafts of lyrics to two other Eagles hits, “The Long Run” and “The Sad Cafe.” The four pads were in what Henley identified as his handwriting and occasionally that of band co-founder Glenn Frey.

Eagles’ Don Henley (Credits: Billboard)

It was the first glimpse in court of some of the physical pages at the heart of a trial involving Henley’s decade-long effort to reclaim handwritten drafts of lyrics to songs, including the megahit “Hotel California.”

After spending Monday telling the New York court about topics ranging from Eagles songwriting to his past personal troubles, the Eagles co-founder underwent further questioning Tuesday from lawyers for three collectibles experts who are on trial.

Henley was asked about the writing of “Hotel California” and how he hadn’t noticed for decades that the handwritten pages were missing. He was also queried about his past cocaine use – retorting that he was no “drug-filled zombie” – and even about a $96 limousine bill from 1973.

He continued to insist that he never voluntarily parted with handwritten sheets from work, including the Eagles’ 1976 release “Hotel California,” the third-best-selling album ever in the U.S. “I believed that my property was stolen,” Henley said.

The album produced one of rock’s most enduring hits, the song “Hotel California,” credited to Frey, Henley and guitarist Don Felder. Henley recalled that Felder provided a “very basic” tape with guitar chords and a drum-machine beat.

Frey and Henley worked from that to craft the lyrics, and three guitarists – “four, if you count the bass” – contributed to the recording, Henley said.

A prosecutor objected that the questions weren’t relevant, but Judge Curtis Farber let them continue. “I don’t know the relevance, but it’s interesting,” the judge said to laughter from the courtroom audience.

Farber will decide the verdict, as the defendants chose not to have a jury. In 2016, “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King asked Henley about the meaning of “Hotel California.”

“Well, I always say, it’s a journey from innocence to experience. It’s not really about California; it’s about America,” Henley said. “It’s about the dark underbelly of the American dream. It’s about excess, it’s about narcissism. It’s about the music business. It’s about a lot of different. … It can have a million interpretations.”

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