Don Henley on ‘Sloppy’ Songwriting, National Values and Cultural Decay
Community has always been important to Don Henley. Whether fighting for the rights of artists and songwriters, launching the Walden Woods Project to protect the land and legacy of Henry David Thoreau or soldiering on with his fractious musical brethren the Eagles, community has long been a cornerstone of his life and art and it provides the foundation for his new album Cass County.
Named for the northeast Texas area where Henley grew up in the small town of Linden, Cass County is the iconic musician’s first solo album in 15 years and features an impressive array of guests, including Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Lucinda Williams, Martina McBride, Jamey Johnson, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. Co-produced with his longtime friend Stan Lynch, former drummer with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the deluxe collection features 16 songs, including a cover of the Billy Sherrill-penned classic “Too Far Gone” and his rendition of Jesse Lee Kincaid’s “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune.” There are also several new originals co-written with Lynch, including “Take a Picture of This,” an exploration of a failing relationship that sounds like an instant Henley classic.
“Rock & roll has always been associated with rebellion, but I think rock & roll, country music and all kinds of music have always had a role to play in terms of creating community,” Henley tells Rolling Stone Country. “Music has more to do with creating community than it does rebellion. It’s one of our greatest exports. It crosses political, ethnical and religious boundaries and it brings people together, so that’s why I think it’s more important than ever that we focus more on the quality of the music we’re making in this country and the message that we’re sending to the rest of the world.
“It’s incumbent on us to export something that has some quality to it, that reflects our culture in ways that are positive and meaningful,” he continues. “In order to do that in country music, we have to go back to the country because this music originated with people who lived in rural America and lived authentic lives. That’s why I picked Dolly and Merle [to sing on the album]. They are authentic people who come from rural America.”
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