Eagles: Behind the Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey Beef and Lawsuits

With some bands, the story of their infighting became as much, if not more so, a part of their history than the music. Such is the case with the Los Angeles-born rock band the Eagles.

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The Eagles formed in 1971 when Linda Ronstadt recruited drummer Don Henley and songwriter Glenn Frey as her backup players. It was on tour then that Henley and Frey decided to form their own group. Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, who were also close to Ronstadt and played with her at the time, were included in the lineup. Then, in 1974, Don Felder joined the band.

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From 1974 until 2001, the Florida-born Felder served as the lead guitar player for the group. But in 2001, he was fired. Why? We dive in below.

1974: Beginnings

Felder had been called in for a recording session in 1974 to add guitar to a couple of Eagles songs. Not long after, though, as the band moved from its country twang, slide-guitar style to more rock, Felder was asked to join the group as a full-fledged member. Not long after in 1975, Leadon, who introduced Felder to the group, left the band famously pouring beer over Frey’s head before doing so.

1976: Hotel California

The first album the band released with its new lineup was the 1976 Hotel California. It was an international hit and remains popular today. And who wrote that title track? Well, Felder, Henley and Frey as a trio. Felder wrote the music and the other two wrote the lyrics. Felder also plays the iconic guitar solo. Today, the song is the band’s most famous, among many hits. But the album also caused an internal stir, when the band erased Felder’s vocals on his song “Victim of Love” while he was out to dinner with the band’s manager Irving Azoff. Felder never forgave the band for this and began acerbically labeling Henley and Frey “The Gods.”

1980: Threats

While the band’s next album The Long Run was a commercial success, it was not a critical one. Fissures in the group began to form and become exacerbated. During one show in 1980, which was a political fundraiser that Felder didn’t want to be a part of, members were talking trash to each other onstage. “Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal,” Frey alleged Felder said. And “I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage,” Felder alleged Frey saying. It was their last show for some 14 years.

Despite these issues, the band released Eagles Live in November of 1980. But by this time, Frey had already left the band. The Eagles disbanded from 1980 until 1994, when they got back together and have, essentially, been going ever since.

2001: Lawsuits

Felder was fired from the Eagles on February 6, 2001. But he did not go quietly. Instead, he filed multiple lawsuits against the band, Henley, Frey and others. His beef? Wrongful termination and breach of contract. He was looking for $50 million in damages.

According to the suit, Felder alleged that Frey and Henley “insisted that they each receive a higher percentage of the band’s profits …” than he and the other members despite the agreement previously being an even split. Felder said Frey and Henley pushed him to sign the agreement, which had Henley and Frey garner three times more than the other members for the album, Selected Works: 1972–1999, which was released in 2000.

Henley and Frey counter-sued Felder for breach of contract and for writing the “tell-all” book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974–2001). A court date was set for September 2006, but the case was dismissed in 2007 after an out-of-court settlement was reached.

Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns

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