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Don Henley "fired" from Steely Dan session

Producer Greg Katz recalls firing vocalist Don Henley after The Eagles drummer tried to record backing vocals for Steely Dan’s 1977 hit, ‘Peg’. In an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Katz describes the move as a tricky, but an essential one.

“In the chorus, the backgrounds are sort of the lead,” Katz recalled. “It wasn’t like a [usual] background part.” Recognising the importance of the harmony line, Katz felt that the best way to do it justice was to hire professional assistance.

As if spurred into creative epiphany, Katz thought: “‘Why don’t we call Henley and Linda Ronstadt? Maybe that would be cool and something different.’ So, I called Irving … Linda wasn’t feeling well, so Nicolette Larson came.”

Already a seasoned producer, Katz recognised that Henley’s vocals were out of sync with the other musicians. “There wasn’t patience as much as instant reaction of the realities of the moment,” Katz said. “We didn’t jerk people off by letting them think it was going to work and have them sit for two hours. When we knew it wasn’t going to be OK, Fagen would tell me to end it. So they sang it again, and it was no good.”

Steely Dan keyboardist Donald Fagen held a similar opinion and asked the producer to dismiss Henley. “Which I did — and have heard about for 35 years since, in various ways.” When he met Henley on another occasion, the singing drummer asked, “Are you going to fire me again today, Katz?”.

Naturally, it wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone, and Katz recalls how tricky it was to hide away from Henley. “We were all in the same little area. We lived in the same place and had the same manager. It was always Eagles and Steely Dan for a long time in L.A.”

Invariably, Michael McDonald recorded the backing vocals that wound up on ‘Peg’. Although Henley would refer to the dismissal in future conversations, he did sing on Steely Dan number ‘FM (No Static at All)’ (alongside fellow Eagle Glenn Frey), which suggests that the memory can’t have been as painful as Katz may have feared.