Don Henley MusiCares Person of the Year Gala
February 9, 2007
Los Angeles, CA
Our report on the event- We attended the event because a very generous person who had purchased a table invited us to come. It was an amazing experience and we are very grateful.
Part 1: Reception, Dinner, Auction
When we arrived in Los Angeles and picked up our rental car, we were delighted to see that we would get free use of their GPS mapping device. You just plug in the address you need to get to and a computerized voice tells you when to turn. When we pulled up in front of the venue (almost exactly in front of where the celebrity red carpet was) the computerized voiced announced, “You…have arrived”. That struck us as so funny because we were incredibly nervous about attending this big, Hollywood party. In a way we had arrived and didn’t know really what to expect.
The gala was held in the Los Angeles Convention Center which is a huge building (and that’s an understatement). There was a boat show being held in another quarter of the building. When you first arrive and leave your car in the parking structure, you have to walk a short distance. In heels, that wasn’t fun! Eventually, though, you get to a red carpet and get to walk into the building. This was the "regular people", underground parking garage entrance red carpet, though. There was an actual red carpet for the celebrities in front of the building. That’s where all of the photos of people standing in front of the MusiCares logo wall were taken.
We got to the check-in table where we gave our names to the volunteers, were checked off and issued laminated passes with our table number (196) on them and a ticket good for one gift bag at the end of the show. While standing in line we heard exec -types make introductions to each other like, “….this is the guy who brought us the Kid Rock deal!" We then entered the room where the silent auction was going on.
There were a lot of people milling about wearing everything from tuxes to jeans and baseball caps. The women were wearing evening gowns, cocktail dresses and even silver track suits. The first thing we saw in the silent auction room was the Tahoe which was “inspired” by Don. (I'm not sure how a vehicle can be inspired by anyone). It was black, had leather seats and was very eco-friendly. There were signs stating that the winner of the Tahoe would also get signed Eagles and Henley CD packages, 1000 trees planted in their name and a “golden ticket” good for entrance for 2 to all Eagles concerts during 2007 and 2008. Pretty cool!
The entire room was full of things to bid on. There were a few Eagles' items: Signed guitars and a really cute mini-drum set signed by the band. (Incidentally, everywhere they had to print Tim’s name…item descriptions…the auction catalogue… they spelled it “SchmiDt”. Ugh!) There was jewelry, artwork (some by Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix), vacation packages, rock memorabilia and concert experiences (tickets for 24 to a Rod Stewart concert provided by Shelli Azoff, for example). We bid on a cute All She Wants to Do purse signed by Don (we were later outbid by Don’s assistant’s wife, but never did see who ultimately won it). Drinks were free and there were a lot of people. Waiters milled through the crowd with plates of hors d’oeuvres. We didn’t have any of those, we were too nervous and too worried about spilling things on our clothing. We eventually went back out to the entry-hall to get some air. While there we saw people like Kelly Lynch, Ed Begely and his wife Rachelle, CBS President, Les Moonves and wife, Julie Chen (host of Big Brother), Brian Wilson and Rick Rubin ambled past. We’ll get all of the name-dropping done now…later on we saw Natalie Cole, Jimmy Jam, Roger Cross (from 24), and some former reality show contestants. All of the super-famous people (Dixie Chicks, Trisha and Garth, Jackson Browne) were up front by the stage and probably used a different entrance.
Eventually, we went downstairs to dinner. On the way there, we passed Timothy and Jean Schmit (or is that SchmiDt) who seemed to be escorting one of Don’s kids into the event.
Our dinner table was near the back and off to the side. We had a good view of the stage (though we were quite far away and needed the screens). We actually didn’t see Don until he took the stage late into the show. In case anyone cares, Don was at Table 29.
Each dinner table featured a floral centerpiece and some candles. There was a thick, heavy tribute journal on each chair. Each plate had what was described as a “Carnivale” salad which was basically some leaves (weeds!) surrounded by huge pieces of cucumber. There was also an olive tapenade and a giant bread-basket. Our table had its own wait-person and she made sure we had wine or water. Dinner was some potatoes, root veggies and a piece of steak and a chicken breast. It was tasty, but seemed kind of like nice airplane food. Desert was really yummy. It was a medley of confections and featured a little waffle-cone type thing full of berries, a small baked apple, a piece of white chocolate with the MusiCares symbol on it and a very nice chocolate cake covered in more chocolate.
As we were finishing eating, the announcer kept telling the people in front to take their seats and eat their dinner. There was a lot of handshaking and networking going on.
The live auction came next. This is where they auctioned off the Tahoe. It finally went for $70,000. We thought it would go for more, especially since the list price of the car was $50,000. Then the auctioneer announced that Don and Irving had just told him they would donate a handwritten copy of the lyrics to The End of the Innocence signed by Don and Bruce Hornsby. This went for $25,000.
It was now time for the Don honoring and concert to begin.
Part 2: Payin' Tribute
After the auction, it was time for some speechifying. They mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa made some brief introductory comments that included a story about standing on the steps of city hall with Stevie Wonder earlier that day. It’s possible he was making a point about how much music played a part in the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles, but we honestly weren’t paying all that much attention. We weren’t the only ones.
Additional speeches were given by Dana Tomarken, an executive with MusiCares about the mission and goals of the organization. At several points, she had to shush the industry crowd and remind them that this was important stuff she was talking about. It’s kind of how we sometimes have to talk to our Middle-School students. She also recognized the big corporate sponsors like GM and Verisign. A lot was made about the fact that this was the best selling Person of the Year event yet and that Don had already helped them raise 4.2 million dollars.
There was a short video with some clients of MusiCares talking about how the organization had helped them deal with injuries and addictions. It was quite moving.
Then the focus of the evening turned to Don. A short video about Don’s career and activism was shown. There really wasn’t anything new in it (though despite the fact that they showed the “Taking You Home” video while talking about Caddo Lake, Inside Job was never mentioned or shown as one of Don’s works.) The video had 2 short segments of Don sitting in what we assume was the Henley Library at the Thoreau Institute talking about how he had gotten involved with the project (seeing a story on CNN) and what they had accomplished. Don’s hair was very short in these segments, so we’re assuming they were filmed earlier in the year.
Then Ed Begley began the concert part of the night. Some have wondered why he was chosen to emcee the proceedings. Ed is a longtime friend of Don’s. Ed has appeared at numerous Walden Woods functions and we’ve even seen him at a solo Henley show. Ed remarked that he had met Don back in the early seventies and that they had had some wild times together (wild and Ed just don’t go together, do they?) and that Ed had always admired Don’s commitment to the environment. Ed mentioned that Don had solar panels in his home long before even Ed did. This caused a gasp of surprise from the crowd.
Now, the musical part of the evening… One thing we were surprised about was that the performers didn’t stop and say things about Don before their songs. They just walked out on stage, did their number and left. It would have been interesting to hear about just what John Mayer, for example, thinks about Don. We had heard earlier that Don had helped choose some of these performers because he wanted to put together an unpredictable roster. Apparently, Don likes John Mayer a lot, counts Sam Moore as an influence and well, Trisha and the Dixie Chicks were pretty much a given.
John Mayer was up first, backed by Don’s usual solo show band (Frank Simes, Steuart Smith, Scott Crago, Will Hollis, Michael Thompson, and Lance Morrison), who backed everyone this evening. It’s a testament to their talent and professionalism that they were able to work out all of these arrangements despite the fact that they could probably play them the Henley way in their sleep.
John Mayer was incredible. While the guitars are such an integral part of “Dirty Laundry”, over time, they’ve sort of become part of the background noise in the song…especially if you’ve heard it many, many times. Mayer brought the guitar to the foreground. His sound was bright and he improvised on the familiar licks. Absolutely phenomenal. It’s so hard to try to describe in writing how different these songs sounded.
Timothy B. Schmit was up next. When Ed introduced him, he mentioned that Tim is also a friend of the Earth and that he has several hybrid vehicles and solar panels at his house in Kauai (one has to wonder if Ed judges each person he meets by how many solar panels they have).
Tim’s performance was one of the disappointments of the evening…not because Tim performed badly, but because Tim just did his normal, everyday version of “I Can’t Tell You Why”. It would have been so interesting to hear Tim tackle something like “Last Worthless Evening” or “Not Enough Love in the World”.
Timothy did stick around after his song was over. He put on reading glasses to read the teleprompter to introduce Sam Moore. Sam came out and sat down on a stool and proceeded to do an amazingly soulful rendition of “The Long Run”. Brilliant. Sam’s phrasing seemed to be a bit free-form and he sometimes got ahead or behind of the music, but the band immediately made adjustments…again…talented and professional! Sam got up about half-way through the song to jam with Timothy. They really looked like they were having a lot of fun.
It would have been nice to have seen Don’s face during some of these performances. It was probably a big thrill to see a legend like Sam performing one of Don’s signature songs.
After Sam left the stage, Bernie Taupin came out to introduce Keb’ Mo’. Now, we have to be honest here…we knew the name Keb’ Mo’ and knew that a couple of this bluesy songs have been played over dramatic scenes in House and other television shows, but we really had no clue what to expect. Keb’ has played the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival in Don’s hometown of Linden.
All we can say is that Mr. Mo’s rendition of “One of These Nights” is one of the coolest things we’ve ever heard. That was probably the case for most of the people in attendance. This should be a single.
Trisha Yearwood took the stage and did a very faithful cover of “Take it To the Limit” She put back in the Randy high notes that Glenn leaves off of his version. Here’s something else we wish had happened. It’s great that many people chose Eagles songs to sing, but Don’s solo career was highly unrepresented. Especially with songs like this one that Don did help to write, but that aren’t especially associated with him. Trisha’s voice would have done justice to “Month of Sundays” or “Long Way Home” just as well as it did this Eagles’ classic.
Michael McDonald came out next and sat behind the piano. He actually said a few words about how much he admired Don and how honored he was to participate in this event. Michael did Heart of the Matter much as you’d probably expect how this song would sound sung by him. The piano was tucked off to the side of the stage, so we could only see him on the screens. He put a lot of heart and soul into the song and it was nice to hear a fresh take on a Henley song we don’t particularly care for.
Then, it was Bernie Taupin time. We’ve never really thought about Bernie except as the guy who writes songs with Elton John. If pressed, we probably would put him in the same category of cranky rock-stars with Pete Townshend and John Mellencamp. We’ve never heard him connected with Don in any way, so when he opened his mouth to praise Don, we were blown away by what he said.
A lot of the papers have picked up the majority of his comments, so we’ll use them to try to recreate what he said:
"You need to understand something: songwriters are basically a seething mass of respect and jealousy," Taupin said. "Don is someone I admire tremendously. But more importantly, he's written so many things that I wished I had.. My envy knows no bounds."
Bernie then quoted these lines from Month of Sundays (which he also pointed out was kind of a throwaway, CD bonus track):
Now I see my handiwork on the block
Everywhere I turn
And I see the clouds cross the weathered
Faces and I watch the harvest burn
And said, “"Come on, that's like William Faulkner. In fact, I've always liked the way Don seems to put a literary slant on much of his work. He can get romantic like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and then back when he was doing 'Desperado,' he was Zane Grey. In a word it is wonderful, intelligent and melodic. "Unfortunately when much of the music business has become a bit like 'Logan's Run,'—you know, that thing where you obtain a certain age and zap, you're gone? Fortunately great songs never die and well outlast disposable culture. So instead of being relegated to the trashcan of irrelevance, words like yours will inspire our kids for generations to come.
"The Eagles always were for me the other side of the California myth. The Beach Boys had the beach and the ocean, but the Eagles owned the canyon and desert. What a canvas and how well Don painted on it."
At some other point, he also said, “''Hotel California'' sums up the counterculture better than any other tune; ''Boys of Summer'' encapsulates the post-boomer experience more than anything could hope to…bastard!”
Pretty nice stuff, huh?
Shawn Colvin was up next then to sing “End of the Innocence”. She sang it a bit slower than the usual and let her acoustic guitar take the place of the piano. It was very haunting and kind of lovely. There were problems, though, with feedback on her microphone. It was a bit distracting, but she made it through the song like a trooper.
Seal was next on Best of My Love. It was nice…but kind of forgettable. There were a lot of people heading to the restroom during this performance. Poor Seal.
The last tribute number of the night was the Dixie Chicks. They were all dressed in white and did “Desperado” much as you’d expect them to. It was surprising that one of the tribute acts did this number since we though Don would end the evening on it. It really would have been nice to see the Chicks rock out to something like “Life in the Fastlane” or “I Will Not Go Quietly”.
Now it was time for Don to get his award…say a few things and perform some songs. That’s all coming in our next and final installment.
Part 3: The Don
I think a lot of what Don said/did has been reported in the press already, so our apologies if some of this is a repeat of what you’ve heard previously.
We also stopped taking notes while Don was talking, so this probably isn’t in the right order and I’m sure we’re forgetting something.
It was nice to see Don finally take the stage. It was kind of surreal not actually seeing him until that point. It was easy to wonder if he was even there at all. He was presented with his award and then it was his turn to make some comments.
Don said that the whole evening was so strange…that it was like being at his own memorial service or something. He said that everyone should have the chance to kind of attend their own funeral. He was laughing while he said this, though, so his comments weren’t as dark as they seemed.
He thanked each artist that performed and said that these arrangements were so good that he was actually starting to like some of the songs again…including “Best of My Love”. He apologized to Shawn Colvin about her feedback problems and called her “honey”. He thought he had forgotten to thank Sam Moore, but was informed that he had taken care of it already. Don didn’t seem to believe that, so he thanked Sam again. Don also said that he would see Timothy in the studio on Monday.
Don thanked Bernie Taupin for his remarks and said, “…right back at you, my brother…I wish I had your catalog. I could retire tomorrow.”.
Don thanked his “extended” family which included Irving and Shelli Azoff, Ed and his wife Rachelle, Mary Kay Place and Mitch Glazer and Kelly Lynch. He said that he had learned a lot about activism from people like Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. He briefly thanked his family, including his “beautiful wife, Sharon” and his 4 kids who he named. He also told everyone that it was actually his son’s 9th birthday and asked the crowd to sing happy birthday to him. Everyone sang while Don’s son appeared on the video screens. It was all very cute and Don said that his son would always remember this special occasion. He also said that, "He's a very good drummer. He's like his old man. He won't practice."
Don then talked about MusiCares and what a great organization it was and that he was proud to help it out. Don mentioned that he was going to make sure that MusiCares (and himself and others) helped to take care of his former drummer, Ian Wallace who was currently in the hospital suffering from esophageal cancer. Don said that Ian could tell hundreds of jokes and was just “good people”. This made us glad that we had chosen to raise funds for MusiCares here on the site. We’ve seen Ian in concert with Don several times and wish him well in this difficult time. (2017 note...Ian has since passed away).
Don then also said that he was glad that MusiCares was there because the record companies aren’t when things happen to musicians. “Too bad it wasn't around, Don said, when Woody Herman died broke. ''He was signed to Columbia, of course.'' [everyone laughs] Then there was the songwriting great Stephen Foster, who also died indigent, and was, according toDon, an EMI-Capitol dependent. Mozart was buried ''penniless in a pauper's grave. He was signed by Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine. Salieri, his rival, never became popular... one of the many signed to Warner Bros. who were never heard from again.'' Don looked like he had planned to say more, but was cracking himself up too hard to continue. Don also thanked everyone for, “… contributing to this fund for indigent record executives. You didn't think I was going to get up here and be nice."
Don also mentioned that the Eagles’ new album would be out soon and that band would be touring. This elicited actual cheers from this jaded industry crowd. Don said then, that it was time for the music and that he hoped his antibiotics were working.
Don had someone hand him his guitar, he loosened his tie Boys of Summer started. Don’s voice was in good form (despite the fact that he was on anti-biotics and told the Dixie Chicks he was sick).
Next up was Wasted Time and we have to say that this was probably the best version of this we have ever heard. Don put a lot of emotion into the song and the audience was totally quiet. Just beautiful.
During Life in the Fastlane, people started to leave. They must have wanted to find their Towne Cars or get out of the parking garage first. (No, Don didn’t drum). Hotel California was the last song of the evening. Don shook his maracas and it was just like being at a Henley solo show…just one where you wear heals and cocktail dresses.
Things ended abruptly. We said our goodbyes to our table-mates…grabbed up some orphaned tour journals and headed out to the parking lot with lots of memories. It was great to be there for Don’s special occasion. We hope he knows that besides all of the honors and accolades from the bigwigs in the music industry, his fans are very proud of him as well.