The Eagles Frontman Don Henley on Taylor Swift, 'Cass County' and Getting Screwed by Google

Don Henley's latest studio album in 15 years, "Cass Country," landed on September 25. RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC/Getty

Update | Don Henley must be enjoying the irony. When his band, The Eagles, turned out such lovely prairie poems as "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Lyin' Eyes" in the '70s, critics claimed they were as authentically down-home as the Beverly Hillbillies. Flash-forward four decades. With bombastic 'Bro-Country' clogging the airwaves, Henley's rural cred and his soulful tenor, still Dust Bowl dry, have proved to be winning and authentic enough to hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country chart this month. His latest solo effort, Cass County, is a harmonious mix of heartbreak, dazzling duet partners (Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Merle Haggard) and trenchant observations about aging. Newsweek spoke to Henley about this album, his career and the untapped power of TayTay.

You're a notorious perfectionist. I'm wondering about a song on the new record, "Waiting Tables." It's beautiful and relatively sparse. Did this or the other songs still go through painstaking recording, building and polishing?

I am not a perfectionist. That's another misconception that's been parroted for decades. I do think of myself as a craftsman, and I strive for excellence. Like a woodworker, I try to make the best cabinet or the best table I can make. If some art gets created in the process, then so much the better. But, my dad always taught me that if I was going to do anything, not to do it half-assed. So, I make no apologies for how much time and effort I put into a song or an album project. A song like "Waiting Tables" sounds deceptively simple, but it isn't. Oftentimes, what gets left out is just as important as what gets put in. There are thousands of little decisions that go into the process of writing and recording a song.

The new song "Bramble Rose" is stunning for several reasons. Not the least of which is the rustic simplicity of the music. Also, Mick Jagger sings the third verse in as moving, unaffected a way as we've heard from him in ages. Can you talk about the genesis of the song?

"Bramble Rose" was written by a fine singer-songwriter named Tift Merritt. It was the title of her 2002 debut album. I'd wanted to record that song ever since I heard it. But I had to figure out a way to set it apart from the original. So, I decided to make it into a sort of musical theater piece—a trio of characters whose roles are somewhat ambiguous. Maybe it's a love triangle, or maybe I'm the one-man Greek chorus observing the tribulations of the other two. Doesn't really matter. I also knew that Miranda Lambert had to be the female lead, and it so happened that she knew and loved the song, too. Then, I decided that Mick would be the perfect choice for the last verse—the "mystery character." Some people thought it was an off-the-wall choice, but if you think about it, there's a lot of country influence in much of the material the Stones recorded between 1968 and mid-1972. At that point, they were immersing themselves in the music of the American South—particularly blues and country. Mick loved the song, too, and I was thrilled when he agreed to sing on it. The unexpected bonus was the soulful harmonica part that he added—totally his idea. People tend to forget what a great harp player he is.

Taylor Swift. Thoughts?

With her enormous popularity and power, she could be become a very effective leader and a real champion for artists and songwriters if she would speak out more (as she did last summer) on behalf of those who are being treated unfairly by Apple, as well as Amazon, AOL, Yahoo and other online outlets and ISPs. And then there is the 800-pound gorilla, Google (owner of YouTube), that aids and abets the theft of copyrighted works, 24/7. The Internet, as miraculous as it is, has a dark side (just ask newspaper, book and magazine publishers) and, in some quarters, it is being used and abused by unethical people who have a misguided "Robin Hood" complex. This is doing irreparable harm to the music business, the publishing business and the people, at all levels, who work in those fields. Part of the answer lies in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, California. Most artists, musicians and songwriters simply do not understand how government and legislation affect them, and that's also part of the problem. But until the members of the creative community educate themselves, organize themselves into a cohesive unit and take action, their share of the pie will continue to dwindle and that will have a chilling effect on the creation of new music and other types of art and literature.

You've been quoted lately saying that the record business is over. You came in it at the right time and sold a ton of records. You've also been vocal about artists getting ripped off and not being promoted well enough by David Geffen. Are there any bright spots to the biz being irrevocably broken? Or is it just as sad an affair as us record buyers feel it is?

I don't have the answer for that. An artist can still sell tons of records, but getting paid for them is a different story. I spent over a million dollars making Cass County, and I'll be lucky if I break even. Fortunately, I did get into the business at the right time, and I still enjoy my work. However, I've told my kids that if they want to make music for fun and personal fulfillment, more power to them. But, in terms of making a living, I've advised them to do something that can't be digitized.

This article originally stated that Don Henley was the ex-Eagles frontman. It has been updated to show that he is in the Eagles.