“Well, tell me this. What does Modern Drummer want with me anyway? I’m no drummer.”
Don Henley’s question to interviewer Robert Santelli.
When you think of rock drummers, Don Henley doesn’t cross your mind early on the list. He may not even appear ever in there. That doesn’t mean you can’t remember every single fill he played on ‘Hotel California‘. A fine example of smart drumming, parts someone could actually sing and raw attitude, Don Henley is not a player to ignore.
He had a strong opinion on the sound of the instrument and that can be seen in the documentary ‘History Of The Eagles’ where he remembers the fights he had with the great Glyn Johns about the tom micing. Don wanted them to be separately mic’ed cause he knew he could really sell his minimal fills. You can witness it by the time the band started making records with producer Bill Szymczyk.
Note the simplistic 8th note fills before the choruses of “One of These Nights”. Toms baby!!
Stongly influenced by the Ringo sound in the late Beatles albums (Abbey Road and later…), his snare drum became iconic for the LA sound of the ’70s. Generally, a 14×6,5 Supra played smoothly and in a relaxed backbeat fashion was his weapon. Gearwise, as I can see in the documentary pictures he always prefered a lacquered natural finish Ludwig kit (3ply w/ reinforcement rings) and ALWAYS in concert mode. That means no reso skins at all. The resos came back when the band reunited but that era won’t concern this article.
I ‘ve delved into their discography for days now and as I understand his laid back style really drove the band in terms of group time. At many points, it seems like he’s dragging the groove back and forth and it’s probably true. Many drummers criticise him for that in forums. I personally LOVE that. You see, many things about The Eagles had to do with personal expression of the members. Everyone sang perfectly so when it came to instruments, each one had his ‘little things’. For Don, one thing was surely loose time feel (ex. above on “You Never Cry Like A Lover).
And then he started dragging some more:
And some more:
But you see that’s the thing with “soft rock” it gotta sound soft ain’t it? Hence, the fat snare, the simple melodic fills, the careless dragging time feel. I wouldn’t imagine these songs played in any other way. And that’s enough for everyone to respect mr. Henley.
“I was definitely a “less is more” drummer, there’s no doubt about that. And that was by choice. I could have played more complex stuff. I could have been a busier player. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I played what I wanted to play. I even started out with the traditional grip. And then when Ringo came along I turned around the left hand and started playing that way. So that takes away some of your dexterity right there. When you turn that stick around, rolls and things like that become almost impossible, although I can do sort of a rudimentary kind of thing with that grip. And remember, I was singing. And that in a way forced me to be simple. But the simple drummers were always my favorite kind of drummers.”
Time for my personal favourite Don Henley recording:
I don’t know, people tell me I got the soul of an old man.. But I just can’t get enough of that verse.
And then of course there’s this live performance from 1977 that really wraps up the whole purpose of this post. Notice how he plays every fill of ‘Hotel California’ exactly like on the record (lots of songs are on YouTube from this performance).
PS. Check out the whole interview on Modern Drummer magazine here.