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Music

Don Henley of Eagles once picked his favourite singer of all time

Don Henley, the multi-instrumentalist, co-lead singer and founding member of Eagles, found fame and fortune in bringing his native country music to the more globalised conduit of rock. Alongside the likes of Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon, he wrote some of the most memorable pop songs of the 1970s, including ‘Hotel California’, ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘One of These Nights’. The secret to their success was a healthy base of influence from the rich history of American country and western music.

Never shy to discuss his influences, Henley has named such heroes as Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and Patsy Cline as key early muses. But when it comes to his favourite country singer of all time, Henley picked out Merle Haggard, an imminent songwriter, guitarist and fiddler from Oildale, California. 

“My absolute favourite country singer of all time is probably a gentleman named Merle Haggard,” Henley revealed in an interview on BBC Radio 2 in 2019. “[He] has a voice that is just like gold to me. It’s one of the greatest voices of all time, I think. Merle’s family originated, I believe in Oklahoma, they were ‘okies’ who went west, and Merle ended up out in California. He recorded many, many hits over the years, beginning way back in the 1960s and he is someone that I only met a couple of years ago.”

He continued: “I’ve met him when he came to play in a little theatre in my hometown of Linden, Texas. It was a real pleasure to meet him. He is quite a character, to say the least [laughs]. He is really something else. There are a number of songs that are of his that are my favourite country songs. One of those songs is a ballad called Silver Wings.”

While Haggard takes Henley’s trophy for greatest country singer, he had a spot reserved for his all-round favourite singer. Naming Ray Charles as a key influence on his life and career, Henley explained that, although not considered a country artist, Charles had one particular album that pushed his buttons. 

“This man is my favourite singer of all time, and he has never been known necessarily as a country artist, but he did a groundbreaking album back in the 1960s called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” Henley opined. “That album changed my life. I wore out at least two vinyl copies of it. It had some wonderful songs on it. This song [‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’] has been recorded by a number of country artists, but this is, in my opinion, the definitive version of this song.”

Listen to ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ from Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music below.