Eagles ‘Hotel California’ Lyrics Trial: Breakup Dirt, Henley’s Barn

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A year and a half after three men were arrested for allegedly conspiring to sell handwritten lyrics to Eagles songs without the band’s consent, their trial finally began yesterday — and with its share of allegations, backstage tidbits, and a cliffhanger worthy of a fictional TV trial.

On Wednesday, the three defendants — rare-books collector Glenn Horowitz, memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski, and former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi — faced a judge, but no jury, in New York State Supreme Court. In the words of Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Nicholas Penfold, they collectively “possessed and repeatedly tried to sell handwritten lyric manuscripts from songs from the album Hotel California, manuscripts that had been authored by and stolen from founding Eagles member Don Henley.”

That property is roughly 100 pages of developmental lyrics from the making of that classic-rock landmark album, which were given by the band to author, poet, and musician Ed Sanders as research for an unpublished and authorized Eagles biography in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Horowitz bought five legal pads of the lyrics from Sanders in 2005 for $50,000. Inciardi and Kosinski, the latter of whom owns the Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction house, bought them from Horowitz for $65,000.

Henley and his camp maintain that the property belonged to the Eagles and that Henley only became aware of the situation when some of the lyrics began popping up on auction houses in 2012. Through their attorneys, Horowitz, Inciardi, and Kosinski claim they were not aware of any contract between the Eagles and Sanders, pertaining to the research material for the book, until they were arrested a year and a half ago and therefore did not consider the lyric sheets suspicious.  

The three men, who pleaded not guilty, were charged with one count of conspiracy in the fourth degree, with a maximum penalty of four years in prison. Horowitz was charged with first-degree attempted criminal possession of stolen property and two counts of hindering prosecution. Inciardi and Kosinski were also charged with first-degree counts of criminal possession.

In opening arguments, the People argued that “the defendants were not businessmen acting in good faith, but criminal actors who tried to profit from property they knew to be stolen. Criminal actors who deceived and manipulated to frustrate Henley’s just efforts to recover his stolen property and to forestall legal accountability.” 

At the heart of the prosecution’s case is the contention that three defendants, who were indicted in July 2022, contrived different and ever-changing stories about how Sanders came to be in possession of the paperwork. Penfold alleged that Inciardi “made up a fiction for Sanders to puppet,” that the lyrics were found in a backstage dressing room, and that Inciardi also “concealed” background information on the lyrics from the auction house Christie’s. Penfold also claimed that Sanders had been coached to say that the lyrics may have been abandoned or were given to him by the late Glenn Frey, who died in 2016.

When Sanders wrote to Horowitz that Henley “might conceivably be upset” about the sale of the lyrics, Penfold said, “It cast significant doubt on whether Sanders actually owned Henley’s lyric notes or had the right to sell them.” He also said Horowitz “ignored red flags” like that from Sanders. 

In their own opening statements, attorneys for the defendants each expressed indignation over the mere fact that the case was going to trial, especially since Sanders himself has not been charged with a crime. “These individuals had absolutely no inkling, no understanding whatsoever, that there was any problem with these items,” maintained Kosinski’s lawyer, Stacey Richman, adding, “I’m hopeful that the People will be apologizing at the end of this case.” 

“This entire case rises and falls on the notion of stolen property,” Horowitz attorney Jonathan Bach said. “The evidence will show that no theft occurring.”  

Regarding the alleged conflicting stories about the lyrics and Sanders, Bach said, “People say that these emails are suspicious. They say, ‘That is where a conspiracy begins.’ They are wrong. These emails show that Mr. Horwitz and Mr. Inciardi are seeking a simple statement from Ed Sanders to rebut an
allegation they know to be baseless.”

Pointing to the fact that Kosinski advertised on his Gotta Have Rock and Roll site, Matthew Laroche, one of his attorneys, argued that his client “wasn’t hiding anything” and was “acting in good faith.” Highlighting the business backgrounds of all three men, he maintained, “This was not a transaction with some suspicious guys in a back alley where they were selling lyrics out of the trunk of their car.”  

The first witness was a major one — longtime Eagles manager Irving Azoff. Wearing a dark suit with black sneakers, Azoff explained that Sanders had been a “work for hire” to write a book on the band and had been given access to materials to write an “authentic” biography. He said Sanders had ultimately received a total of $75,000 for the project, but that Henley and Frey were each “very disappointed” in the end result. Azoff said he found the material in the book about the group’s breakup “unacceptable.”

After the book was rejected by at least one publisher and stared to languish, Azoff said Sanders was given permission to shop it around to other publishers, although the Eagles still would have control over its contents and he would need their okay to publish it anywhere. Azoff maintained that the band agreed to such an arrangement after a frustrated Sanders wrote, in 1982, “I should be able to place the manuscript myself. I think I have behaved with great reserve. I could have gone to Rolling Stone or the New Yorker and sold them the inside story of the breakup of the Eagles as a magazine piece, but I didn’t.” Azoff called the agreement to let him revive the book “the lesser of two evils,” since the band didn’t want dirt on their 1890 breakup to be made public.  

Or, as Laroche put it, “The Eagles confided all sorts of things to Mr. Sanders about their lives, things that we are quite confident they wished they did not share at the time, and we are quite confident they wished they did not share sitting here today. And they want to get all that stuff back, and the evidence will show that team Henley is using this prosecution to try to get stuff back that they gave to Mr. Sanders 44 years ago.”  

Sanders did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.

For anyone interested in the history of the Eagles, some of Azoff’s responses provided a small window into the band’s inner creative workings in the Seventies. When Henley and Frey wrote songs together, Azoff said, Henley preferred yellow legal pads, Frey white ones. Frey and Jackson Browne co-wrote “Take It Easy,” but the band gave Browne 100 percent of the publishing income for it. Explaining Frey and Henley’s methods when they were writing songs together for Hotel California, Azoff said, “They were kind of like The Odd Couple. Don was the guy that ran around and picked up Glenn’s empty beer bottles and cigarette butts. It drove them crazy. It’s better they had a neutral place to wreck than one of their houses.” 

In 2012, Henley bought several pages of his own lyrics back for $8,500. As to why Henley then decided to file a police report on stolen property decades later and take legal action, Azoff said, “Don made the decision [after other lyrics then appearing on the market]. He felt he was being extorted and he didn’t know the extent to which what else was out there and it would open up a can of worms and he would have to continue to write more and more checks to get his lyrics back.” Azoff added that Henley considered his lyrics “very personal” and had stored them in a barn on his property in Malibu.

According to a contract shown at the trial, the “material” supplied to Sanders for the book was the property of the Eagles. But when asked if “anyone, Mr. Henley or his attorneys,” told Sanders he was in violation of his contract by selling the lyrics, Azoff admitted, “I don’t know.”  

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The day had a few somewhat lighthearted moments. Seeking to establish Azoff’s reputation as a tough businessman, Edelman brought up the Eagles’ induction into the Rock and Hall of Fame. “They referred to you as Satan, right?” Kosinski lawyer Scott Edelman said. “That’s not accurate,” Azoff said. “Mr. Henley said, “He may be Satan, but he’s our Satan.’ Have you heard of humor, sir?” 

Azoff is expected to return to the witness stand tomorrow, when a  recently discovered tape recording between him and Sanders is expected to be played. Henley is expected to take the stand next week, where he may be questioned about his past lifestyle. As Bach said in court, “His attitudes today, as a mature, successful, older businessman, regarding materials he helped compose and create nearly 50 years ago, are very different from the attitudes that he held in his youth … way back when he was far more carefree.” The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

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