‘You Guys Need a Secretary’: Don Henley Fumes and Confesses at Eagles Stolen-Lyrics Trial

Seated at a witness stand in Manhattan court on Monday, Don Henley was doing his best to contain himself and what he was feeling. But every so often, the boldface-name witness in a trial involving allegedly stolen handwritten lyrics to songs from the EaglesHotel California couldn’t help himself.

Take the moment Henley was asked if he recalled sending legal pads with lyric drafts to writer Ed Sanders for research of the group’s planned Eagles biography more than 40 years ago. “I don’t recall offering to send him lyric pads,” Henley, white-haired and dressed in a dark suit, tie, and white shirt, shot back. “You know what? It does not matter if I had driven them across the country in a U-Haul truck and dumped them at his front door. He had no right to keep or sell them.”

That moment was one of several jarring ones in the criminal trial, which started in New York Supreme Court last week and involves three men accused of conspiring to sell those allegedly stolen lyric notepads. The defendants — Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi, and Edward Kosinski — have pleaded not guilty and have maintained they had no idea the pads were purloined. The prosecution contends the men concocted stories about the provenance of the pads and that Sanders (who has not been charged) violated a contract with the Eagles by not returning the materials to the band after he had wrapped up his never-published book.

In the Seventies, the Eagles were known for selling enough albums to fill a fleet of Volkswagen campers and for their extremely perfectionist ways in the recording studio. All that — plus a glimpse into the hedonistic lifestyle associated with them and their L.A. rock peers during that time — collided in court during the trial’s fourth day.

During initial questioning from Assistant District Attorney Aaron Ginandes, Henley (accompanied by three bodyguards on his way into the courtroom) was asked how many albums the Eagles had sold (“over 150 million albums worldwide”) and detailed the method he and his partner Glenn Frey employed to write songs together. The two would rent a house in Los Angeles, wake up mid-morning, make coffee, and start exchanging ideas, images, and guitar or piano chords. The two would also use yellow or white pads (bought at a stationery store on Ventura Boulevard, Henley recalled) to shape lyrics and melodies.

Asked about the Eagles’ breakup, which was announced in 1982, Henley said he was “devastated” and in denial when Frey (the founder of the band and, in legal paperwork shown, its “President”) called him to say it was over. “The band meant everything to me,” Henley said. “We tried to keep it a secret,” he continued, adding that he and Irving Azoff, the band’s manager, “held out hope that Mr. Frey would change his mind.”

That confession led to another of the day’s startling moments when Ginandes abruptly asked Henley, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” In the run-up to the trial, defense lawyers had argued to Judge Curtis Farber for the right to include questioning about less flattering aspects of Henley’s past. In what felt like an attempt to neutralize the story, the prosecution brought it up first. In measured tones, Henley recounted one particular night in 1980 that has only sporadically been reported in the past. “I wanted to escape the depression I was in, so I made a mistake,” he said. He then recalled how, after a gathering at his home with Eagles crew members who then left, he called a madam. A few hours later, a young woman (whom he thought to be “20 or 21” years old, he said) arrived at his Los Angeles home.

Talking slowly and deliberately, Henley said the two talked, did some cocaine, and eventually fell asleep. Several hours later, the young woman began having seizures, and Henley said he called 911 although “she was fine by the time they came.” Police later returned and arrested both Henley and the woman: “They found drugs in my home,” Henley replied when asked why. Since the woman turned out to be “16 or 17,” as Henley says he heard, he pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, was sentenced to two years’ probation, and was fined $2,500. “I made a poor decision, which I regret to this day,” he said. “I have had to live with it for 44 years. I am living with it today in this courtroom. Poor decision.”

With that confession seemingly out of the way, at least for the time being, questioning turned to the unpublished Sanders book. For anyone who wondered how the leader of the East Coast performance-art rock band the Fugs came to write a book on a band that was its polar opposite, Henley filled in the blanks. He explained that Sanders had met Frey when the writer had moved to Los Angeles in 1969 to write a book on Charles Manson.

Henley said he didn’t know what to make of Sanders, especially when Sanders crashed for a period in Frey’s apartment and asked them to stay awake all night, in shifts and with a pistol, in case crazed Manson Family members came “through the window.” Henley said he still harbored doubts about whether Sanders was a good fit for the project: “He was a self-described old-line beatnik and, again, claimed to be there at the founding of the counterculture. He didn’t strike me as the right person to write about a West Coast band.”

In 1980, according to testimony, Sanders submitted about 100 pages of the in-progress biography to the band for its perusal and approval. Henley admitted he was “disappointed” in what he read. “I didn’t think it was substantial,” he said. “Some of it was cartoonish,” and contained “beatnik jargon which seemed anachronistic and corny at times.” Desperate to “make it a better book,” Henley said he agreed to give Sanders access to the lyric pads so that the author could delve deeper into the band’s creative methods. The pads were then stored in a barn on Henley’s Malibu organic farm along with, he said, gardening tools and record-sales plaques.

What happened next is the crux of the trial. According to a 1979 contract signed by the band and Sanders, the Eagles owned any materials they gave to him for his research. As for the lyric pads, Henley maintained, “Those materials were private and personal and not supposed to be seen by the public or anyone else … The lyric pads constitute work product. They are basically the detritus, if you will, that is left over from songwriting and those are the things nobody is supposed to see.”  He maintained he never gave Sanders permission to “keep them.”

Henley claimed he only became aware of the missing lyric pads in 2012, when several pages were offered for auction on Kosinski’s Gotta Have Rock and Roll website. Kosinski and Inciardi had bought the pads from esteemed rare-books dealer Horowitz, who in turn paid Sanders for them. That discovery led Henley to call his attorney and for a police report to be filed. “I believe a crime of theft had occurred on my property,” he said, adding, “and that Ed Sanders stole them.”

Feeling it was “the most practical and expedient way to get past the matter,” Henley said he bought those pages for $8,500. But Henley stated he declined to purchase further pages that appeared on the Sotheby’s website in 2014 and 2016, which some of the defendants had helped arrange. While admitting he could afford the $90,000 to buy the second, larger lot, Henley said, “I’d already been extorted once and I wasn’t about to do it again and buy my own property back … I started to realize there must be a lot more material out there.”

During cross examination by defense attorneys, Henley was not asked about that night in 1980 — at least not yet — but was shown copies of an encouraging letter he sent to Sanders in the early Eighties (“the book has merit and should be published,” it read in part). He was also given headphones to listen to a recording of a phone call between him and Sanders. “I am hearing impaired but because of my profession but I will do my best,” Henley, 76, said. On that tape, which was seized by authorities from Sanders’ home, Henley was heard telling the writer that he had “a lot of that shit” in terms of pads that Sanders could examine.

Henley was also shown pages of editing he had done on Sanders’ book draft, which defense attorney Jonathan Bach said countered Henley’s earlier claims. “Nowhere do you say that these are not for public consumption, don’t include them in the book,” said Bach. “You don’t say, ‘These aren’t supposed to leave my property — give them back.’”


Henley was also shown a receipt for a supposed 21-pound box sent to Sanders’ house, although the contents of that box were not disclosed. Henley said he wanted to mail Sanders a collection of articles and reviews of the Eagles’ work for his research. The musician was also asked, repeatedly by Bach, whether he or anyone in the Eagles camp had ever asked Sanders to return the materials once the book work was done. Henley said he had “no recollection” of such requests.

Those back and forths clearly laid out the prosecution’s case (that Sanders allegedly kept and sold the papers without the Eagles’ permission) and the defense’s (that, among other things, the papers were not “stolen” since no police report was filed for over 40 years). Henley’s testimony is expected to continue Tuesday, when those in the courtroom may receive more glimpses of his contained testiness. Shown a draft of Sanders’ work on Monday, Henley shot back, “The second half of the manuscript is upside down. You guys need a secretary.”