The Eagles and Cannabis: How Don Henley and the Band ‘Took It Easy’ Thanks to Marijuana
The Eagles are one of the most polarizing bands in existence. Right up there with the Grateful Dead, you either love the Eagles with a burning passion or, much like The Dude, you just can’t abide by them.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one thing you just can’t deny about the Eagles is that they are icons in the music world. Another undeniable fact about the Eagles that you may or may not be aware of is how much of their music was influenced by our favorite green herb.
In honor of Don Henley’s birthday, July 22nd, we decided to delve into the origins of one of the most iconic and unusual bands in American history and its connection to cannabis.
Fans of the Eagles have Linda Ronstadt to thank for the group’s formation. In 1971, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner played their first show under the name Teen King and the Emergencies while touring with the singer.
The origin of the band’s more recognizable name has taken on legendary status. Don Felder, later added to the band, recalls a tequila and peyote-influenced journey through the Mojave Desert during which Leadon remembered native Hopi reverence for eagles, while it is contended that Frey shouted out “Eagles!” when seeing the bird of prey flying above. One way or another, the name stuck and the band’s legacy was born.
From the beginning, the Eagles loved cannabis and it influenced their work. Frey lived with famed musician Jackson Browne, and the two would often lounge and smoke and strum guitars together. It was Frey and Browne’s cannabis-inspired collaboration that produced the song “Take It Easy,” which quickly became a hit and elevated the band’s reputation for catchy, winding melodies and feel-good lyrics.
Although the Eagles’ popularity was taking off, friction among the band members created tension while recording, which was only expounded by their producer, Glyn Johns, who insisted that the band refrain from using drugs in the studio.
The group mused on Johns’ influence in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.
“Glyn made us very aware of all the little personal trips within the band,” said Henley.
“It really irritated him that Randy and I would sneak off and smoke weed,” sighed Frey. “He’d tell me, ‘You smoke grass and then you don’t say what’s on your mind when it comes to mind. Now it’s a week later and you’re talking about something that you should have ironed out seven days ago and that’s juvenile.” Frey pondered the tension within the group, noting that Johns “pointed out a lot of bad habits in everybody. It’s hard to be friends with someone who does that to you.”
The song “After the Thrill is Gone” reflected the growing strain and pressure on the band to perform and write hits, despite spats and squabbles among the bandmates.
“It’s not just a high school game anymore,” Henley vented in the interview. “It’s a fucking business. An occupation. It’s a profession. And it’s fuckin’ hard. This is a 24-hour-a-day trip. It’s like cramming 60 years into 28. Or, as Joe Walsh says so brilliantly, ‘You burn the candle at two ends/Twice the light in half the time.’”
Frey expanded on that, giving readers a bit of insight into the everyday life of a rock musician:
“There are days when I drive to the office, drink a cup of coffee for an hour, check the mail, get existential anxiety, go the Cock ‘n Bull to eat, drive to the dry cleaners, drive back up to the house, roll a joint, look out at the view and wonder what’s gonna get me up to do what I want to do. That’s the whole premise of ‘After the Thrill Is Gone.’ Where is the next stimulation?”
It wasn’t until 1977 that the band made history with the classic slice of Americana known as “Hotel California,” which contains the most clear lyrical reference to cannabis of any of their songs:
“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair/Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air…”
The intro song refers to the Spanish slang term “colita,” which translated literally means “little tails.” The story goes that Irving Azoff, a manager for the Eagles who was also Mexican-American, used the phrase to refer to “little buds” of cannabis, while Henley and Frey took the phrase and ran with it.
However, Don Felder, the composer for the song, maintains that “colita” refers to a desert plant that blooms at night and “has this kind of pungent, almost funky smell.” Pungent, funky-smelling flower? That couldn’t possibly refer to cannabis!
In a 2013 interview with the New York Times, Henley put the rumors to bed with an adorable anecdote about his son.
“My son and I had a talk about marijuana the other night – the first one we’ve ever had. He said, Dad, I don’t understand some of your songs. ‘Hotel California,’ for example – what is ‘colitas?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s a Spanish word.” He laughed at his own awkwardness, trying to avoid a straight answer and self-incrimination. “It’s a botanical term. It means ‘little flowers.’ So he knew, because he looked on the internet. The damn internet, you can’t hide anything.”
Unfortunately, their next album failed to live up to the hype of “Hotel California” despite its commercial success. Between that, the abrupt dismissal of Randy Meisner, and hot tempers behind the scenes, the Eagles were on the rocks by July of 1980. During a benefit show for the reelection campaign for Senator Alan Cranston, the tension boiled over with Frey and Felder threatening each other throughout a tumultuous set.
The group disbanded with the promise from Henley that they would get back together “when hell freezes over.” Well, hell froze over in 1994 with a greatest hits album and remarkably successful tour.
Nowadays, the band take it a little easier, with less drama and considerably fewer drugs. Henley was interviewed after the January death of Glenn Frey, ruminating on the incredible odyssey of the Eagles.
“Our fans have been wonderful. They’ve been loyal to the end, and sadly, this is the end. But what a ride…What a crazy, wonderful ride.”