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Business News/ News / Eagles’ Don Henley Is Star Witness at ‘Hotel California’ Trial
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Eagles’ Don Henley Is Star Witness at ‘Hotel California’ Trial

When Don Henley discovered his original lyrics for the classic pop hit Hotel California up for sale in 2012, he bought them back for $8,500, wanting to get them off the web as fast as possible.

Eagles’ Don Henley Is Star Witness at ‘Hotel California’ TrialPremium
Eagles’ Don Henley Is Star Witness at ‘Hotel California’ Trial

(Bloomberg) -- When Don Henley discovered his original lyrics for the classic pop hit Hotel California up for sale in 2012, he bought them back for $8,500, wanting to get them off the web as fast as possible. 

When more came up for auction a few years later, he called the cops.

The 76-year-old Eagles co-founder took the witness stand Monday in Manhattan as the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of three men accused of illegally purveying the handwritten notes, which the district attorney claims were stolen. 

Henley, in a suit and tie and looking more like a banker than a rocker, told the court that around 1980 he invited Ed Sanders, who was writing a book about the band, to his Malibu, California, barn to view some of the lyrics. Henley said he hadn’t liked Sanders’ first draft and was hoping to give the writer deeper insight into the Eagles’ creative process. 

‘Bleeping Jargon’

“I was really disappointed in what I read — it was a lot of bleeping jargon that seemed anachronistic and corny," Henley told New York State Supreme Court Justice Curtis Farber, who is hearing the case without a jury. “I was an English major. I think I know good writing when I see it." 

The biography was never published. Years later came his purchase to get the lyrics off the internet.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow," he said, adding that he was “buying things that belonged to me."

The state alleges that Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski conspired to sell about 100 stolen pages of notes and lyrics for the album that Sanders had obtained. The three men peddled the material knowing its provenance was questionable, according to prosecutors, who claim the defendants also conspired to thwart the songwriter’s efforts to reclaim it.

The three have pleaded not guilty. Sanders, who wasn’t charged, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the case.

Opening for Elton John

Henley testified that after his handwritten lyrics, penned on yellow legal paper, showed up twice more, his lawyer contacted the Manhattan DA’s office, even though one auction house had offered to split the proceeds of any sale. 

“I wasn’t going to buy my property back" again, he testified. “It might have been more expedient, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it."

Asked why he didn’t want the papers to remain public, Henley said “it just wasn’t something that was for public viewing. It was our process."

Under questioning by defense lawyers, he testified that he never gave Sanders permission to remove and keep the notes.

“It doesn’t matter if I drove a U-Haul truck across the country and dumped them at his front door — he had no right to keep them or to sell them," he said. “I have tapes where he admits that he knows he shouldn’t have kept them."

At one point he described his recall.

“Memory is not a fixed thing," Henley told the court. “I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday. But I can tell you we played Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1975 and opened for Elton John and the Beach Boys."

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 27 Feb 2024, 05:15 AM IST
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