“It’s uncanny,” said Don Henley about the 23-year-old Deacon Frey’s resemblance to his father, Glenn. The Eagles are preparing to tour without Glenn for the first time since his death last year.
“Oh … OK,” Don Henley said, and then seemed to need a moment to gather his thoughts.
I had started our talk wanting to get the hard stuff out of the way: the loss of his friend and Eagles co-founder, Glenn Frey, who passed away in January of last year of pneumonia.
Henley and the band are preparing to tour without him for the first time since his death and will play Safeco Field on Sept. 30, with The Doobie Brothers co-headlining. They’re billing it as “The Classic Northwest.”
“It’s very strange to be on the road without him,” Henley began. “It’s just odd. I don’t know if I will ever get completely accustomed to it.”
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But Henley has done the only thing he could do to keep Frey’s spirit alive, and to keep playing: He has asked Frey’s son Deacon to join Eagles, playing and singing his father’s parts.
“It’s uncanny,” said Henley, the band’s drummer and an accomplished solo artist. “I feel Glenn’s spirit is very near. I look out from the drums to where Deacon is standing and his hair is exactly the same as his father’s was in 1976. He’s taller, but looking at him from the back there, it’s freaky.”
Deacon Frey is just 24, and had only played in front of about 150 people before walking out on stadium stages in front of 55,000.
“It’s extraordinary the way he was able to compose himself,” Henley said. “He decided that rather than living in his father’s shadow, he would pick up the torch and carry it forward.
“We are extremely proud of him, and we know his father would be.”
Things were fine between the two friends before Frey’s death, Henley said. They had just finished the “History of the Eagles” tour and each gone back home to their families.
Frey was working on plans to produce a musical-theater piece based on the Eagles’ catalog — the pivotal piece being the 1976’s 32 million seller, “Hotel California.” Frey, a native of Detroit, had visited the University of Michigan to try out some of the songs with a choral group.
“Just how the songs worked in a different context,” Henley said. “(Frey) was very keen to do that research and find out about the process. And then he got pneumonia.”
Frey was “tired and run down,” was all Henley wanted to say of his friend’s death.
On this day, Henley was home in Dallas, waiting on friends — “refugees” from Hurricane Irma in Florida. One daughter was walking around the house with pneumonia. Another had gotten in a car accident the night before. And did he mention he had just had his first grandchild? A boy.
So it will be a little hard for him to leave them all and tour.
He’s been working out with two trainers and a physical therapist three or four times a week, trying to get physically and mentally prepared.
“I just want to be the best I can be when I’m up there,” he said. “I don’t think people understand what it takes when you’re 70.”
Oh. I think they do. The bulk of Eagles fans are around Henley’s age, and then get younger from there, spanning decades and generations. The band started in 1971, broke up 10 years later and went back out on the road in 1994.
“We have lost some people who were on the front end of it,” he said of their longevity. “But there are still thousands and thousands of people out there who love these songs, which are the soundtrack of their lives.”
Still, he senses something more than singing coming back at him from the audience: Relief.
“These are such strange times we’re living in politically and culturally,” Henley said. “And I think people want something that’s familiar and reassuring up there. There are still, in a world that is seemingly reeling out of control, some things that are relatively constant.”
He still can’t believe the Eagles have lasted this long, and become one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time, having sold more than 150 million records — 100 million in the U.S. alone.
Back in the day, Henley used to joke that the Eagles could fall apart at any time.
“Glenn and I both thought every day when we got up, having our coffee, ‘This will probably be the last day of this,’ because fame is fleeting for most people,” he said. “That’s why we wrote ‘New Kid in Town.’ You’re always going to be replaced.
“But we had an extraordinary run and I am still trying to get perspective on it,” he continued. “When I do pause to look back, it’s very dreamlike, and we’re grateful. People talk about getting in touch with your gratitude, and that’s been a present process for me in this last year and a half: to look back at all the unlikely intersections where paths crossed and things happened because of that, and there’s no figuring it out.
“I have tried to figure out why. Why us, and why not some other people?”
There’s no answer, and no need to do anything but get out there and play.
It helps that he will be out there with longtime members Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, country star Vince Gill and Deacon Frey.
“I don’t think I would have done it if he had not come on board,” he said of the younger Frey, who calls him “Uncle Don.”
Henley recalled seeing Deacon Frey sing “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” at his father’s memorial. (“He was so composed and so strong.”)
It didn’t occur to him to put the band back together until a few months later, when longtime manager Irving Azoff — who also manages the Doobies — suggested a joint tour.
“I said, ‘The only way I am willing to do this if is Deacon Frey will join the band,’ ” he said.
Henley spoke with Frey’s widow, Cindy, and then asked Deacon, who was surprised, but enthusiastic.
“I don’t think he was expecting it, but once it sank in, he was in,” Henley said, then got quiet again.
“It’s a strange mixture of grief and celebration,” he said. “We will never get over the loss of Glenn. But over time, you learn how to live with it.”