In court, Don Henley recounts the making of the Eagles’ megahit ‘Hotel California’


NEW YORK (AP) — Seated in a 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,” in what Henley identified as his handwriting and occasionally that of band co-founder Glenn Frey.

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

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 didn’t notice for decades that the handwritten pages were missing. He was also asked 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 gave up handwritten sheets from 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, 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.

The defendants — Edward Kosinski, Craig Inciardi and Glenn Horowitz — are charged with scheming to conceal the lyrics pages’ disputed ownership and sell them despite knowing that Henley claimed they had no right. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property.

They’re not accused of actually stealing the roughly 100 legal-pad sheets. Horowitz bought them in 2005 from writer Ed Sanders, who had worked with the Eagles decades earlier on a band biography that never got published. Horowitz later sold the documents to Inciardi and Kosinski, who then put some pages up for auction.

Sanders, who hasn’t responded to messages about the case, isn’t charged with any crime.

Henley bought back four pages of “Hotel California” song lyrics in 2012. He also went to authorities at the time, and again when more pages — some from the hit “Life in the Fast Lane” — turned up for sale in 2014 and 2016.

At the trial, Henley has testified that Sanders had no permission to keep or sell the pages, though he was allowed to view them in the course of writing the book.

“Mr. Sanders kept it in his residence, his garage, for 30 years, and then it was up for sale on the internet. I believed that that was a crime,” Henley told the court Tuesday.

He testified Monday that he didn’t give permission for the “very personal, very private” lyrics drafts to be removed from his property in Malibu, California, though he acknowledged that he didn’t recall the entirety of his conversations with the writer in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

In a tape of a 1980 phone call that was played Monday in court, Henley said he’d “try to dig through” his lyrics drafts in order to aid Sanders’ book.

Asked about the recording, Henley said he was talking about affording the writer “access. It’s not giving, it’s not gifting.”

Defense lawyers have sought to show that the Eagles provided Sanders with copious insider material. Attorney Scott Edelman pointed to the 1973 car-service receipt, which authorities said they found when searching Sanders’ home.

Someone typed “Don Henley’s offending limousine bill” on the slip, and Henley filled the margins with hand-written comments, according to testimony. The jottings weren’t read aloud in court.

The defense also has tried to raise doubts about how clearly Henley remembers whatever he told Sanders during the book project, which spanned a tumultuous and fast-living period in Henley’s past.

The Eagles broke up in 1980, and he was arrested that year after authorities said they found a 16-year-old girl naked and suffering from a drug overdose in his Los Angeles home. He later wrote to a probation officer that “my environment has led me to accept drugs as part of everyday life,” according to a letter presented in court. “

“Cocaine, by inducing feelings of confidence and even delusions of grandeur, gave me the courage I sometimes lacked to write songs and put my innermost feelings and emotions on public display,” Henley wrote in the undated letter in which he said he was giving up drugs. He had been sentenced to probation and a $2,500 fine after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

“Isn’t it a fact, sir, that you were using a significant amount of cocaine prior to the November (1980 arrest)?” Edelman asked.

“Significant?” Henley replied. “You know, ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ is not revelatory.”

He said he used cocaine “intermittently” throughout the 1970s, but was always lucid when performing or doing business.

“If I was some sort of a drug-filled zombie, I couldn’t have accomplished everything I accomplished before 1980 and after 1980,” Henley said.

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