Don Henley of the Eagles Testifies That ‘Very Personal’ Handwritten Lyrics Were Stolen

The musician learned about the alleged theft when the drafts started appearing at auctions in 2012

Don Henley leaving court
Musician Don Henley leaving the Manhattan court on February 28, 2024 Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images

Decades ago, Eagles’ co-founder Don Henley wrote over 100 pages of notes for lyrics on yellow legal pads. Their contents—which included drafts of hits like “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane” and “New Kid in Town”—would cement the band as one of the most influential in rock history. On February 26, the Grammy-winning musician testified in New York State Supreme Court that the “very personal” lyrics were stolen from his barn in Malibu.

“It just wasn’t something that was for public viewing. It was our process. It was something very personal, very private,” said Henley in his testimony, per Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press (AP). “I still wouldn’t show that to anybody.”

Prosecutors claim that the pages were taken by Ed Sanders, an author contracted to write a biography about the Eagles in the late 1970s, according to the New York Times’ Colin Moynihan. Sanders originally acquired the lyric sheets as source material for his biography after Henley gave him access to the barn where they were stored. The book, amid criticism from band members, was never published.

“I didn’t think it was very substantial,” said Henley in his testimony. “There was a lot of beatnik jargon that seemed anachronistic and corny.”

A drawn-out dispute ensued: In a letter to the band, Sanders requested more compensation than the $25,000 he’d been promised, claiming it was unfair that “I live in a modest middle-class lifestyle while those I write about have pylons first planted in mountains of moolah,” according to the Guardian’s Edward Helmore. Though the Eagles controlled the book’s rights, the band eventually paid Sanders about $75,000.

Sanders, however, is not on trial. Instead, three men—rare books collector Glenn Horowitz, memorabilia specialist Edward Kosinski and former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi—stand accused of knowingly possessing and trying to sell stolen goods from Sanders. The trio was charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree in 2022, when prosecutors argued that they attempted both to sell the materials and deter Henley from getting them back. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“This entire case rises and falls on the notion of stolen property,” argued Jonathan Bach, Horowitz’s attorney, in the trial, per Rolling Stone’s David Browne. “The evidence will show no theft occurring.”

Henley holds otherwise, asserting that he never permitted Sanders to keep the draft materials or yielded ownership.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter if I drove a U-Haul truck across the country and dumped them at his front door,” Henley testified. “He had no right to keep them or to sell them.”

Horowitz paid Sanders $50,000 for five legal pads of lyrics in 2005. Inciardi and Kosinski then bought them from Horowitz for $65,000 in 2012 and attempted to resell them at a series of auctions. The defense argued that the trio had no reason to doubt the legality of the pages.

“Sanders is a major respected literary figure who served as the Eagles’ authorized biographer,” added Bach. “Of course they readily provided him with documents.”

Henley didn’t realize the drafts were gone until they started cropping up at auctions. He purchased four pages of lyrics in a 2012 auction for $8,500, testifying that it was “the most practical and expedient way” to get the listing taken down, per the AP. He proceeded to report the lyrics as stolen.

According to the prosecution, the men disseminated conflicting explanations of how Sanders secured the documents. Inciardi also “concealed background information on the lyrics from the auction house Christie’s,” reports Rolling Stone.

In 2022, officials said that the pages of lyrics, which would ultimately develop into the third-best-selling album in American history, were worth about $1 million.

The trial will likely last a few more weeks. If found guilty, the men will face up to four years in prison.

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