History of the Eagles Part 1 purports to tell the warts-and-all story of the only American band to sell more than 150 million records. The documentary is a revealing chronicle of the rise and fall of one of the most popular bands in history, told from the band themselves.
The film begins by establishing background on band leaders Glenn Frey and Don Henley, who are the unambiguous stars of the documentary. Frey started out as a concert pianist but was drawn to the raw sexual energy of the emerging Detroit rock and roll scene and soon fell in with future mentor Bob Seger. Don Henley was inspired by the diverse nexus of music that was Texas in the '50s. Henley fell in love with the drums and played Dixieland standards until he caught the attention of First Edition era Kenny Rogers. Both men later wound up in late '60s Los Angeles working as touring musicians for Linda Ronstadt and bonded over a shared love of old cars.
Henley and Frey soon tired of playing other musicians’ songs and formed the Eagles in 1971 with guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner. Footage from this early period shows that the Eagles weren't a bunch of naive kids feeling their way through a changing American landscape, these were ambitious, career minded men who believed they were destined for greatness.
The band was quickly signed to David Geffen's Asylum Records and enlisted Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones producer Glyn Johns to help them record their first album. He told the group they didn't know what kind band they wanted to be but it wasn't going to be a successful one. Eventually the group won him over but Johns demanded that the group stop using drugs and alcohol during recording because of prior bad experiences and the hard-living band bristled. The Eagles self-titled debut album produced three hit singles.
The Eagle's first album's runaway success stunned the band and left them arrogant and rebellious, feelings that fed into the creation of their 1973 concept album Desperado. The band's label was nervous about the album's country focus and while it was a success, it was not as much of one as their debut.
Henley and Frey exerted more control within the band and clashed with Glyn Johns on the recording of their third album. The group wanted to go in a more rock centric direction but Johns felt the group couldn't compete at same level as bands like The Who. The Eagles and John acrimoniously parted ways and hired producer Bill Szymczyk to work on their next album. Recently recorded footage makes it clear that even though 39 years have passed, there is no love lost between the band and their old producer.
Henley and Frey felt that they needed another guitarist to beef up their sound and recruited Don Felder to record their third hit album On the Border. The band grew even more popular and indulged themselves in every way possible.
The band felt that their contract with David Geffen was unfair and urged manager Irving Azoff to retrieve the band's publishing rights. He did, with a lawsuit that has left Geffen bitter to this day. The band then decamped to the Bahamas where they were almost arrested for drug possession to work on what would become One of These Nights. The album produced three hit singles. The Eagles' success also fueled internal strife, with marginalized founding member Bernie Leadon leaving the group after pouring a beer on Glenn Frey's head.
Things Fall Apart
The band recruited wild man rocker Joe Walsh to replace Leadon. Walsh brought a harder rock sound and chaotic energy to the group. Henley and Frey didn't approve of Walsh's antics - including causing $28,000 in damage to one hotel room - but liked what he did for the band's image. This particularly decadent period in Eagles history led to the band recording their masterpiece, 1976's Hotel California. The album was a massive, controversial success. To date the album has sold more than 16 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Inter-band fractures began to widen as long-time Eagle Don Felder wanted more creative input and Henley and Frey refused for what they claimed was the integrity of the band. Felder composed the song "Victim of Love" with the intent of singing lead vocal. The band recorded the song with Felder and later had their manager take him to dinner while Henley re-recorded a new vocal track. In recent interviews, Felder claims he was betrayed while Henley says Felder brought the group unfinished ideas that he and the rest of the band turned into a song.
Issues also arose with bassist Randy Meisner who began to chafe at Frey and Henley's alpha dog leadership style and quit the group right before a concert and was later replaced with Poco singer Timothy B. Schmidt. The non-stop tour schedule and volatile group dynamics put a strain on Frey and Henley's partnership as the band headed into the recording off 1979's “The Long Run.” The seething resentments hit a boiling point as Don Henley and Don Felder nearly came to blows during a 1980 concert in Long Beach. The band broke up soon after and didn't reunite until 1994. Above all else, History of the Eagles shows that greatness comes with a high price.