Don Henley Honored As Person Of The Year
Gala features all-star artists and raises more than $4.2 million for MusiCares
It was billed as a tribute dinner honoring the GRAMMY-winning singer, songwriter and founding member of the Eagles, Don Henley. But the MusiCares Person of the Year gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center Friday proved to be much more than your typical Hollywood fete. Featuring performances by the Dixie Chicks, Michael McDonald, Trisha Yearwood, Seal, Shawn Colvin and others, the event spontaneously took on operatic proportions, with Henley's lyrics serving as a poignant rock and roll libretto.
Singer/songwriter John Mayer kicked off the proceedings with a rendition of Henley's scathing tabloid journalism critique, "Dirty Laundry." Mayer's gutsy interpretation, punctuated by gruff, soulful vocals and stabbing blues guitar, packed an all-too-timely punch, coming just one day after Anna Nicole Smith's sudden death ignited a firestorm of sensationalist speculation.
Not to be outdone in the pertinence department, singer Sam Moore — he of the mythic R&B duo Sam & Dave — delivered a knockout reading of the Eagles 1979 hit "The Long Run." Watching the silver-haired soul legend wail in his hallelujah baritone, one couldn't help but relate to Henley's lyrics about going the distance and surviving against tremendous odds.
A similar relevance distinguished the Dixie Chicks' sensitive rendition of the Eagles ballad "Desperado." Not only do Henley and the Chicks hail from Texas, they also share the same fighting spirit and risky political outspokenness. These kindred personal qualities added resonance to the Chicks' interpretation of Henley's song about grappling with hard choices.
These and other outstanding performances were complemented by a host of testimonials from Henley's friends and peers. Co-host and actor Ed Begley Jr. described the man of the hour as a "most loyal friend" and a fervent, caring activist. Lyricist Bernie Taupin spoke of Henley's reputation for being a "curmudgeon," then expressed his envy of Henley's ability to channel the spirits of famed authors like William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Zane Grey. "Instead of being relegated to the trashcan of irrelevance, work like yours will inspire our kids for generations," Taupin said of Henley.
But while his friends were laying on the worshipful praise, Henley was mostly in a jovial mood. "This is a wonderful honor, but it's a very strange sort of out-of-body experience," Henley said with a mischievous grin. "I feel like I'm at my own memorial service."
As for the remarkable interpretations of his songs by the Dixie Chicks, Mayer and others, Henley joked: "All these talented people that I respect and admire so much doing my songs…I actually started to like some of these songs again."
As Recording Academy President Neil Portnow and MusiCares Chairman Les Bider noted during the event, Henley has consistently defied expectations over the course of his high-flying career. As drummer for the preeminent classic-rock band the Eagles, he redefined the role of the percussionist by composing and singing hit songs that were every bit as direct and forceful as his sure-fisted rhythms. Henley's inestimable musical contributions have helped the Eagles become the best-selling American band of all time with album sales exceeding 120 million and three GRAMMY Awards. Henley's equally distinguished solo career has resulted in four platinum albums and two GRAMMYs.
But, as well-wishers learned during Friday's event, Henley's interests extend beyond music. The singer founded the nonprofit Walden Woods Project, which leads the effort to preserve historic Walden Woods, the 2,680-acre ecological area surrounding Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond in Massachusetts. He established yet another environmental conservationist organization, the Caddo Lake Institute, in his native East Texas. Additionally, Henley co-founded the Recording Artists' Coalition, a non-partisan group formed to represent the interests of recording artists with regard to legislative issues.
When it came time for Henley to offer his own performances, he delivered faithful, crowd-pleasing renditions of the Eagles hits "Life In The Fast Lane" and "Wasted Time." A solo mariachi horn solo served as the intro to the Eagles' 1976 hit "Hotel California."
Henley's performances were the perfect cap to an evening that saw Eagles' singer and bassist Timothy B. Schmit perform a heartrending version of the 1979 hit "I Can't Tell You Why." Blues vocalist Keb' Mo' offered up a swampy version of "One Of These Nights" while Trisha Yearwood brought out the country gospel flavors in the Eagle's "Take It To The Limit." Michael McDonald administered a soul injection to Henley's jangly ballad "The Heart Of The Matter." Seal's mellow, Al Green-inspired version of "Best Of My Love" and Shawn Colvin's stripped-down arrangement of "The End Of The Innocence" rounded out the event's guest performances.
Friday's event raised more than $4.2 million for MusiCares, The Recording Academy foundation that provides essential financial, medical and/or personal support for music people across North American that have fallen on hard times.
The dinner featured a special reception and silent auction sponsored by sports and entertainment promoter AEG that offered an impressive range of luxury and one-of-a-kind items, including a Chevy truck customized to Henley's eco-minded specifications.