Eagles – Desperado
The band had a rock opera, concept album idea that was based around the song Desperado. They saw themselves living outside of the law just like the guys they were writing about. Not outlaws in the sense that we think about today, more of a Robin Hood thing. As Don Henley said, “We were young and had grandiose ideas.”
I wanted to make a dramatic visual image that would fit the conceptual music they had put together, drawing a comparison between the guitar player in the ’70s and the gunslinger in the 1870s. It was a story of four guys who come to town, decide to stop working, and take the easy way by becoming outlaws. They rob the bank but are killed in the process. The band’s roadies, their manager, and their record producer were playing the posse coming after these outlaws. Boyd Elder, a friend of ours and an artist from Texas, was riding through the scene, galloping on a horse. Everybody was shouting.
Henry Diltz said, “It was really like being there, like being back there in the old west, except, instead of the old Matthew Brady box-camera I had my Nikon motor drive and my Minolta super-8 camera.”
The photos of the band look like they really were taken back in the 1800’s, standing there with these wild looks on their faces. When the actual gunfight happened the first time they came backing up out of the bank emptying their rifles and six guns, the roadies were running down the street at them all firing and yelling and rolling in the dirt as if shot. It was just amazing. We made a huge tableau of an entire gunfight of these guys totally transformed into outlaws. I had a friend filming 16mm of the whole action sequence. Every little boy wants to have gunfights as cowboys, soldiers or gangsters.
This cover shoot was an opportunity for all of us to act out, in a huge way, with cool historically accurate costumes and real guns with blank movie loads (Loud and flames coming out). The first day we filmed people were drawing on each other and firing so many rounds we ran out of ammo. The next day I had ten cases of ammo and we shot so much there was a cloud of smoke hanging over the set and the fire department came thinking there was a fire.
Originally the album was meant to be a gatefold (double album cover). The front cover was to show the beginning of the story with the four fresh-faced young guys coming to town. When you opened up the cover the inside photograph would show their gunfight, with them backing out of the bank with blazing pistols. The back is a shot of the gang laying bound and dead on the ground. Their bodies were posed surrounded by all of the lawmen that had shot and killed them. It was what they actually did in those days, where they would prop-up criminals on wooden planks for photographic proof, and perhaps glory. But the record company decided not to have the album fold out (too expensive). So it was like the beginning of the story and the end of the story without the middle (meat) of the story. I did actually manage later to use that inside spread of the gunfight when I designed a billboard on the Sunset Strip to promote the album. Don Henley recalls, “It was fun being a kid, driving down Sunset Boulevard, seeing yourself on a billboard. It was a great buzz going there for a while.” It’s been a record and a concept that has withstood the test of time. As a whole piece, it has gotten better as the years have gone on. It is a well-recognized concept album. But at the time there were some people at the record label who were not too happy.
Glenn Frey recalls,
“All they could think was, ‘they’ve made a god damned cowboy record! Where’s Witchy Woman?! Where’s Take It Easy, for Christ sake?! THEY MADE A F%@#*N’ COWBOY RECORD!’”