STEPHEN STILLS, DON HENLEY, 8511 COLE CREST DRIVE, LAUREL CANYON AND THE KIRKWOOD BOWL FIRE OF 1979
Desperado and the Eagles
Life Moved Fast Then
I first met Don Henley — and the rest of the Eagles — on April 1, 1975. Chris Stone put me on the sessions in Studio B at the Record Plant Los Angeles working with the Eagles producer, Bill Szymczyk. The first thing I had to learn was that spelling.
Bill needed a couple days off, so April 2 we recorded the tablas on “Too Many Hands,” working title on the 24-track box: “Banshee vs. the Cave Xxxxxxx.” Next was mandolin on “Lyin’ Eyes.” I liked all the guys though Glenn and I had a couple of clashes; pissing contests mostly, alpha challenges from him. I was the rookie kid from the Midwest, probably in over my head, but passionate about sound and engineering.
Deni and I had just started living together and sometime over the course of the next few months, Henley told me about a house he was moving out of in Laurel Canyon and gave me the contact information of the owner. Deni and I moved in and even got married in the house on the 20th anniversary of the Buddy Holly plane crash. That’s how it came to pass that Deni and I were living at 8511 Cole Crest Drive on the eve of the Kirkwood Bowl Fire of September 1979.
TWO DIFFERENT SEPTEMBER 15ths - 1976 and 1979
Three years earlier, in September of 1976, I had started engineering for Stephen Stills. We became pretty close friends over our obsession with creating music and our common struggles with personal relationships, divorce and children. In a late night session on September 15 of 1976, I was watery-eyed when Stephen got off the phone to Paris, walked to the microphone and all alone in the darkened Studio C of the Record Plant laid down the rhythm guitar and vocal of “Run From Tears” off the top of his head and from the bottom of his heart. Phil Jamtaas rolled tape and we got it. By 1979, Stephen and Veronique had separated and shared custody of son Christopher.
On Saturday night, September 15, 1979, Stephen dropped by our Cole Crest house to hang out with Deni and me. We sat and I played some of my favorite records, the ones I learned about engineering from: Traffic, Spirit, Appaloosa. We drank Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels and insufflated adult substances. Being hard working recording engineers, Deni and I had sports cars, money in the bank and music-loving spirits. What we didn’t have was presence of mind to pay the phone bill. Heck, we were at the Record Plant 20 hours a day. Who needed a phone at home?
And so, late into the night, the balance of booze to powder became disproportionate. Deni felt energetic and volunteered to jump in her black Alfa Romeo to hustle down the hill to resupply. Stephen and I carried on. (Pun noted.) Deni was a long time gone (again noted) and it was late and I knew how those excursions so often turned into dangling conversations over a coffee table and a triple-beam. I decided to leave Stephen listening to music while I jumped over to the next canyon north of Kirkwood, Wonderland, to see if I could make it snow. It was so close and yet so far.
It was some time after 3 a.m. when I returned to an empty Cole Crest house and the note Stephen left on a sheet of my stationery. Written in Sharpie, it read, “Thank you, I must go. The phone doesn’t work and Christopher is coming home. Love ya both, Stephen” It was set on a red wooden stool — which I still happen to have — and two Rohrer 714 sleep aids placed on top.
I smiled, took one of the Quaaludes, went downstairs and dumped the three and a half grams onto a mirror (which I still happen to have) next to the bed, sleeping soundly until 1 p.m. or so Sunday when I was awakened by my neighbor and an LAPD officer standing by the side of my bed.
The Fire had started.
To be continued…
Eagles and Bernie Leadon and Patti Davis
Something new... a photo page
It was only recently that I learned Don Henley and Glenn Frey had their first songwriting collaboration in the house at 8511.