Steely Dan Fired Don Henley for His "No Good" Vocals on "Peg"
Longtime producer Greg Katz recalls the failed 1977 collaboration
Published Jan 14, 2022Longtime Steely Dan producer Gary Katz has aired some "Dirty Laundry" on Don Henley and the time when he had to do the "Dirty Work" of firing the Eagles singer from a recording session.
In a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Katz recalled the making of Steely Dan's hit "Peg," from 1977's Aja. Both groups shared the same manager (Irving Azoff) and had become friends, so when they needed another voice to fill out the song, Henley seemed like the obvious choice.
"In the chorus, the backgrounds are sort of the lead; it wasn't like a [usual] background part," Katz said of "Peg." Since the producer and Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen both liked Henley's singing, they thought: "'Why don't we call Henley and Linda Ronstadt? Maybe that would be cool and something different.'" Katz remembered, "So I called Irving; Linda wasn't feeling well, so Nicolette Larson came."
According to the producer, Fagen "went out as he would with anyone and sat at the piano," when Henley and Larson arrived at the session to teach them their vocal parts.
[Fagen] said, "This is how the part goes." We played the track on the speakers and Fagen used the piano to teach each one of them their parts. [Henley] came in and they tried it... and it might as well have been me and you. There wasn't patience as much as instant reaction of the realities of the moment — we didn't jerk people off by letting them think it was going to work and having them sit for two hours. When we knew it wasn't going to be okay, Fagen would tell me to end it. So they sang it again, and it was no good.
After the second disappointing attempt, Fagen invited bandmate Walter Becker to "go get a sandwich." Fagen told Katz, "Oh, fire them," as the pair were on their way out of the studio — the instruction leaving the producer "with my finger up my ass, having to fire Henley. Which I did – and have heard about for 35 years since, in various ways."
"The last time I saw Henley, he sidled up to me and he said, 'Are you going to fire me again today, Katz?'" the technician added. "But he didn't smile when he said that."
The Doobie Brothers' Michael McDonald ended up being brought in to complete the recording of "Peg," which you can hear below.
Recently, Fagen teamed up with David Crosby — Phoebe Bridgers' nemesis.