How The Eagles' Explosive Onstage Fight Led to the Band's First Breakup
A July 1980 concert was such a disaster that they stopped performing together for 14 years.
The Eagles are one of the biggest bands of all time, but their history has been a rocky one. After forming in 1971, the band found great success during the '70s, but by 1980, they were broken up—and not on good terms. Amid a feud, the band essentially split into two sides: Don Henley and Glenn Frey on one, and Don Felder on the other. Their conflict continued on through the Eagles reunion in 1994, with a tell-all memoir and lawsuits following the firing of Felder from the group.
But back to the band's first split. The feud among the bandmates came to a head during a 1980 live performance that would end up being their last one for 14 years. Read on to find out what happened when the Eagles had it out—and threatened to beat each other up—live, in front of an audience.
Felder felt disrespected when his song was re-recorded.
As reported by Far Out, matters became particularly fraught within the Eagles when they were working on their 1976 album Hotel California. Felder initially performed the vocals on the song "Victim of Love," which he wrote, but his bandmates decided that his performance wasn't good enough.
"Don Felder, for all of his talents as a guitar player, was not a singer," Frey said in the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles (via Rolling Stone). Henley added, "He sang ['Victim of Love'] dozens of times over the space of a week, over and over. It simply did not come up to band standards."
According to Far Out, the band had Henley re-record the main vocal when Felder wasn't around. In History of the Eagles, Felder admitted that it was the right choice, even though he felt hurt at the time. "It was a little bit of a bitter pill to swallow," he said. "I felt like Don was taking that song from me. But there was no way to argue with my vocal versus Don Henley's vocal."
The band reached a breaking point at a live show.
On July 31, 1980, the Eagles performed a concert in support of California Senator Alan Cranston. Far Out reports that this bothered Felder, who didn't want the band involved in politics. When Cranston thanked the band for performing, Felder reportedly said sarcastically, "You're welcome, Senator … I guess."
This upset Frey, and both men were still heated about the situation when it was time to play.
"We're onstage, and Felder looks back at me and says, 'Only three more songs till I kick your [expletive], pal,'" Frey later said (via Rolling Stone). "And I'm saying, 'Great. I can't wait.' We're out there singing 'Best of My Love,' but inside both of us are thinking, 'As soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill him.'"
Original member Randy Meisner, who just passed away on July 26, 2023 at age 77, had already left the band three years prior. He quit after the Hotel California tour amid health problems and personal issues with his bandmates, especially Frey, who reportedly tried to punch him when he refused to go back out on stage for an encore.
The 1980 show ended up being the Eagles' last performance until the band reunited in 1994.
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The feuding didn't end with their reunion.
When the band got back together in 1994, Felder, Frey, and Henley all returned, as well as Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. It took seven years before Frey and Henley reached a breaking point with Felder again. In 2001, he was fired from the band. His dismissal led to legal issues, including a lawsuit in which Felder claimed wrongful termination and a countersuit in which Frey and Henley claimed breach of contract. They ended up settling outside of court in 2007, as reported by The Guardian.
Felder published a memoir, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles, in 2007, in which he criticizes his bandmates. Henley told The Guardian of the book in 2015, "Felder's just bitter because he got kicked out of the group so he decided to write a nasty little tell-all, which I think is a really low, cheap shot."
They just announced a farewell tour.
Today, Henley is the only remaining original member in the Eagles. Frey died in 2016, and two other founding members—Bernie Leadon and Meisner—left the group much earlier on. In July 2023, the band announced that their upcoming tour, The Long Goodbye Tour, will be their last. The other current members include Walsh, Schmit, Vince Gill, and Frey's son, Deacon Frey.
"The Eagles have had a miraculous 52-year odyssey, performing for people all over the globe; keeping the music alive in the face of tragic losses, upheavals and setbacks of many kinds," a statement from the band reads. "We know how fortunate we are, and we are truly grateful. Our long run has lasted far longer than any of us ever dreamed. But, everything has its time, and the time has come for us to close the circle."