While the Texas-born singer and songwriter may have been absent from the recording studio during the past decade (a greatest hits album, Actual Miles was released on the Geffen label in 1995), he was not resting on his laurels. When asked why it has been so long between albums for him, Henley answers, “After a couple of decades of being a public figure, a person grows tired of his own face, his own voice. If this malaise is allowed to continue unchecked, it can deteriorate into something that my pals and I call ‘Death By Show Business.’ This doesn’t refer to literal death -- although that is sometimes the case -- but more to a loss of enthusiasm and a withering of creativity -- a sort of atrophy of the spirit. One day you wake up and you’re wearing the pathetic clown suit. Although I always tried to lead a varied life that included charitable work, I had reached a point where I wanted to do something proactive -- something that wasn’t completely ‘me’ oriented.” So, in the decade of the ’90s -- which Henley describes as “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” -- he took a few detours.
In 1990, between touring stints in support of The End Of The Innocence album, Henley managed to found the Walden Woods Project which has gone on to become one of the most successful preservation/education endeavors in America. Henley’s Thoreau Institute, a later addition to the Walden Woods Project, is known and respected throughout the world as a facility that combines the best of history with state-of-the-art, cyber-learning techniques (log on at www.walden.org). In 1991, Henley, in addition to organizing benefit concerts, compiled and co-edited, with writer Dave Marsh, a book of environmental essays, the proceeds of which went to support the fledgling Walden Woods Project.
In 1992, he toured to promote the book and did more benefit concerts. In 1993, Henley brought his musical and environmental concerns together when he spearheaded Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles, an all-star, country music tribute that generated over 3 million dollars for the Walden Woods Project and went on to be named 1994’s “Album of the Year” by the Country Music Association.
In January of ‘94, Henley’s Los Angeles home, which he painstakingly designed and built, was destroyed by the now infamous Northridge earthquake. About a month later, he attended a summit meeting in Aspen, Colorado with Eagles partners Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and manager Irving Azoff, where it was decided that the Eagles would reunite for an album and a tour. Preparations for the tour commenced in March and the Eagles MTV concert was filmed in late April. Having no livable domicile in California, Henley encamped in a Los Angeles hotel and made arrangements for those belongings that were not destroyed in the quake to either be put in storage or shipped back to Texas. He had decided, for various reasons, to move to his native turf and did so in the late spring.
In June of 1994, when the Eagles tour alighted in San Francisco, Henley became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Sharon Summerall, of Dallas. They were wed in May of 1995, shortly after the tour was completed. Setting up a home in Dallas was followed by the birth of a daughter and, two years later, a son. The two-year construction of Samain Sound, his own personal recording facility, began in February 1997. With all these things going on, the real question is how Don Henley found the time and energy to create an album like Inside Job.
“We started pre-production in the fall of 1997,” explains Henley, whose creative team included the above-mentioned Stan Lynch, engineer Rob Jacobs, assistant engineer and computer technician Stuart Brawley, with special studio guests Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Glenn Frey, Jai Winding, the Heartbreaker’s Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, along with guitarists Jimmie Vaughn, Dean Parks, Frank Simes and many others.
“My approach is to let the material evolve; to try to achieve a balance of tempos, textures, subject matter, emotions, etc. I had a good, long gestation period and, after a while, these things start kicking around in your gut and they have to come out. I just do it and hope that it’s more focused, more mature than it was before. It’s a bit like sending your kid off to school and hoping that he’s understood and accepted to some degree. Since today’s musical climate seems to fluctuate between bubble gum and unintelligible ranting, I would like to think that there’s a place out there for my stuff.”
Recorded at various studios in Los Angeles (plus Henley’s own), and including material cut in Dallas in the summer of 1998, Inside Job is distinguished musically by what Henley calls, “some stylistic stretching.” “While I’m primarily concerned with lyrics and melodies, I was after something specific with the sound of this album,” he remarks. “I wanted to take advantage of all the technological advances in the state of the art, but at the same time integrate those advances with the sound of natural instruments and voices. Some of the equipment in my studio is the newest available and then some is vintage, such as certain microphones, limiters and the console itself, which is an old API model 515 that I nabbed about twenty years ago when the owners of the Record Plant in Sausalito decided to remodel. I had it completely rebuilt and it’s a beauty. I only wish it could talk. Anyway, it was fun to combine the new technology with the old and the result, I think, is sonically interesting. We recorded in both the analog and digital formats, depending on what was being recorded and what kind of texture we were looking for at the moment.”
Inside Job, in short, is of the same lineage as each of its predecessors, while simultaneously finding the artist at significant new crossroads, personally and professionally. “When I moved back to Texas,” he explains, “I discovered something remarkable about my hometown and its environs. I have found documentation which shows that legendary blues guitarist T-Bone Walker and renowned ragtime composer Scott Joplin were both born on the outskirts of Linden, Texas, the little community where I was raised. I don’t think that any of the townsfolk were even remotely aware of this until recently. Growing up, we always thought that nothing ever happened around there, but evidently that isn’t true. Oh, some local guy did invent the windsock, but that’s been more or less lost to history. I’m anxious to do more research on both Walker and Joplin when I can find the time.”
More remarkable things were yet to happen in that sleepy, little town than the young Henley could have imagined. Because of its geographical and cultural location, all sorts of music wafted through that particular corner of East Texas. The Louisiana Hayride, a legendary radio program akin to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, broadcast live musical performances across 28 states from powerhouse station KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana throughout the 1950s. In 1954, this program was the first radio broadcast performance of the young Elvis Presley. Henley’s father tuned in religiously and he and his young son would listen intently to the likes of Red Foley, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Faron Young and Patsy Cline. There were the summer vacations in the Ozarks where Don was exposed to bluegrass music and, of course, there was always the Western Swing of groups like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys which drifted east from Dallas and Fort Worth. There was a rich variety of blues and gospel music from both the black and white communities with veins running deep in the East Texas soil. Henley has often recounted the story of the African-American baptisms he witnessed as a young boy while hiding in the weeds beside a pond which was located in the woods near his home. “They would wade out into that muddy water with their arms stretched toward the sky. I remember the women being all dressed in white. The singing was unforgettable. At first, the whole thing was a little frightening, but the longer I watched the more I started to get into it. Underneath the fervor, there was a sincerity and openness about it -- an expression of faith and longing like I had never heard before. That experience stays with me, not necessarily in terms of its religious connotations, but in terms of its humanity.”
In his teens, Henley listened far into the night to powerful station WNOE in New Orleans, which broadcast the exotic sounds of that city northward, out across the still, Texas countryside. Southeastward from Tennessee came the deep, resonant voice of the famous "John R" (John Richborg), a white deejay who sounded black. His historic radio program was broadcast from WLAC in Nashville, a 50,000 watt, clear channel station that beamed its way, during the ’50s and ’60s, across a wide swath of America’s heartland -- and at night, when atmospheric conditions were just right -- into Henley’s little world. Also within range was KOMA in Oklahoma City and, last but not least, the legendary Wolfman Jack, whose nocturnal howls reached all the way from the Texas-Mexico border -- some 600 miles -- to Henley’s tiny, transistor radio as he pressed it against his ear under the bedcovers until the wee hours of the morning. For a while, Elvis led the parade which included Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Bobby Freeman, Chuck Willis, Bobby Blue Bland, etc. Then, in the early ’60s came the Beatles and Henley’s life was changed forever. In high school, he formed his first band, The Four Speeds, with friends Richard Bowden and Jerry Surratt. This band eventually morphed into Shiloh which included Jim Ed Norman (currently President of Warner/Reprise Nashville), who Henley had met at the University of North Texas.
The group relocated to Los Angeles in 1970 where they recorded an album for the independent Amos Records, whose roster also included a young guitarist/songwriter by the name of Glenn Frey (who was half of a duo with John David Souther). Henley and Frey became friends, striking up a creative partnership during their tenure with Linda Ronstadt, with whom they toured and recorded.
It the fall of 1971, they formed the Eagles, a group that pioneered and personified a uniquely American musical style blending country, folk, R&B, rock and pop sensibilities. The Eagles would go on to become one of the most creatively and commercially successful bands of all time, selling over 100 million albums worldwide. In the course of their decade-long career, the group won four Grammy awards, topped the album charts five times and became one of the top concert draws of the era. They were the first band in history to rack up domestic unit sales of over 10 million for two separate albums --Hotel California (15 million and counting) and Eagles - Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (which, at 26 million copies, surpasses Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best selling album of all time in the U.S.).
The facts and figures of Henley’s subsequent solo career are also impressive. In 1982, his much anticipated debut album, I Can’t Stand Still, featuring the hit single “Dirty Laundry,” established a creative direction that would make him one of the most relevant, and resonant, musical voices of our time -- with a gift for melody and lyric in the service of passionate conviction and incisive, socio-political observation. 1984’s Building The Perfect Beast yielded four more hit singles: “The Boys Of Summer,” “All She Wants To Do Is Dance,” “Sunset Grill” and “Not Enough Love In The World.” That year, Henley garnered Grammy nominations for Record, Song and Producer of the Year and won the award for Best Rock Vocal (Male) for “The Boys Of Summer.” The artist’s notable track record continued unabated with 1989’s The End Of The Innocence, which yielded three more Henley hits: “The Heart Of The Matter,” “The Last Worthless Evening” and the title track, which brought with it another Best Rock Vocal Grammy. At last count, The End Of The Innocence had racked up sales of over six million in the U.S. alone.
Henley’s career as a musician and an activist continues to roll on. To date, the Walden Woods Project has raised over 22 million dollars -- most of which has gone toward the purchase of environmentally sensitive and historically significant acres in the Walden Pond environs. The Thoreau Institute, an archive and research facility continues to expand its educational programs. In November of 1999, Thoreau’s voice came to life again almost 150 years after his death with the publication of Wild Fruits, a “new” work published by W.W. Norton & Company. Bradley Dean, Ph.D., leading Thoreau scholar and Media Center Director at the Thoreau Institute, succeeded where many others had failed in painstakingly transcribing Thoreau’s almost illegible handwriting from his final manuscripts. Dean, after four-and-a-half years of diligent effort, has given the world an important book that Thoreau was not able to complete and publish in his lifetime. He has also given Henley credit for making it possible.
Other causes to which Henley has lent his name and talents: the passage of clean water legislation in California; the preservation of wildlife habitat and open space in Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Mountains; the establishment of a wetland science research institute and numerous environmental education programs, both in the public school system and in colleges and universities in his native East Texas. He has also participated in numerous other fundraising efforts including Farm Aid, The Race to Erase MS, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation and The Rainforest Foundation, to name a few.
“Inside Job is my view of the world from this particular time and place,” concludes Henley. “My marriage and the birth of my children have had a profound effect. Despite all the sham and selfishness, life is still good. Children constantly rekindle hope and appreciation -- and they have excellent bullshit detectors. It’s a wonderful thing.”