clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Don Henley, playing Ravinia, looks homeward in latest solo album

Don Henley. | Provided photo

The Eagles are no more, but the band’s frequent frontman Don Henley is still going strong, touring with his latest album, “Cass County.”

From the title to its style of music and song list, it’s his “going-home album,” says Henley, who performs Sunday and Monday in Highland Park at the Ravinia Festival.

“The album’s been called country, it’s been called Americana, but, to me, it’s just music,” Henley says.

As a kid growing up in northeast Texas, he grew up listening to country music with his father when he visited work with him. He listened to Elvis Presley, a rocker influenced by country music, as well as the likes of Hank Williams, George Jones and Johnny Cash. Jones had agreed to work with Henley on the album but died before that happened.

DON HENLEY

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday

Where: Ravinia Festival, Green Bay Road and Lake-Cook Road, Highland Park

Tickets: $44-$205

Info: www.ravinia.org

Henley did get to sing with another of his heroes, Merle Haggard, on the song “It’s the Cost of Living” before Haggard’s passing.

“I’ve always had a pretty close relationship with Nashville,” Henley says.

He’s also had close relationships with many of the other performers he worked with on this album, having also worked with them in the past.

Working with other writers and performers on a solo album is different from collaborating in a band, Henley says.

“When you’re in a group, compromise is always necessary,” he says. “Everybody’s not always happy, and it’s not always easy.”

Some of the new songs are autobiographical, according to Henley, who says “Train in the Distance” is the most personal of them. It’s based on the childhood summers he spent at his grandparents’ home a few blocks from the railroad tracks.

He remembers how he and a friend would play around the tracks, placing a coin on the rails, jumping off the tracks when they heard a train and leaving the coin to be run over.

“The coins would still be hot, like red hot, from all of the heat and the friction,” Henley says.

Not that he recommends trying his old childhood trick. He and his crew tried to recreate his childhood memory for a photo shoot but were stopped by the police, who scolded them for “acting like a bunch of kids” — the point of the song.

Family is the central theme of the new album. Henley describes being a father as “the most important thing” to him.

At a concert in California in late July, his daughter told him a boy around 8 years old was singing the words to all of his songs. “It made me very glad to hear that,” he says.

He continues to be frustrated with the implications of digital music for the record industry. Henley and others are pushing Congress to change existing copyright legislation to protect music from theft. He says songwriters and young performers are hurt the most.

In an already difficult industry, he says, “When the popular song becomes worthless, then all those jobs disappear.”

Henley says he has ideas for at least two more albums and, despite all of the hits he’s had, won’t “rest on his laurels.” He’d like to do an album of ’60s soul and R&B, inspired by the Nashville station he used to listen to in bed at night, and also an album of modern torch songs.

He doesn’t plan to stop giving fans what they come for, though.

“I fully realize what the old songs mean to people and that they were an integral part of their lives,” Henley says. “That keeps it fresh for me, knowing that people are making a strong connection to the past.”

The Eagles disbanded in March after a tribute to co-founder Glenn Frey, who died in January. He talks about one of the band’s biggest hits, “Hotel California,” whose cryptic lyrics some fans still struggle to figure out.

“It’s about illusion,” Henley says — the illusion of the music business and of the American dream.

But he’s fine with people finding their own meaning in any song.

“Good poetry and good songwriting are left open to any number of interpretations,” he says.