During a 2015 conversation with Billy Joel in New York City, Henley admitted he was intimidated during the 1973 recording session, which took place at London’s “cavernous” Island Studios with the city’s Symphony Orchestra. “I was terrified,” he said. “And they were just bored shitless.”
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The drummer noted that the older orchestral players “brought chessboards with them” and would play the game between takes. Adding to the already awkward atmosphere, some of the more uptight musicians mocked the song: “Once in a while I would hear a remark from back in the back,” he said, adding in a fake British accent, “I don’t feel like a desperado.”
Henley said he wanted to keep refining his performance, but producer Glyn Johns “wouldn’t allow [the band] to do more than four or five takes.” Ultimately, he concluded, “That vocal was not my best work, and I wish I had the chance to do it again.”
“Desperado” appeared as the title track on the second Eagles LP, released that April. Linda Ronstadt then covered the song for her fourth record, which came out six months later. Henley told Joel that, despite being dissatisfied with his own vocal take, “[Ronstadt] did it just fine.”
Eagles will release their live album and concert film Live From the Forum MMXVIII on Oct. 16.