Eagles ‘Hotel California’ Trial: Lyric Pads, Taped Phone Call, and ‘God Henley’


It took three days, but one of the stars of the case involving allegedly stolen handwritten lyrics from the EaglesHotel California album emerged Friday. And it wasn’t Don Henley or any of the other band members over the decades: It was paper.

On Friday, glimpses of the yellow pads with in-progress lyrics from the album’s title track were shown during testimony by Tom Lecky, a former manuscripts executive at the auction house Christie’s. The photos, taken for a Christie’s listing that never went up, showed one legal pad with “Hotel Calif” written on top and others with some of the song’s recognizable, signature lines written out by Henley. Lecky said he was thrilled when he first saw the documents, citing the use of the word “colitas” in the draft. “What is it and what did it mean?” he said. “It was a great early version [of the song], working out ideas. It was very exciting.” He said they were in excellent condition.

The pages came to Lecky’s attention in 2015, when he was approached by Craig Inciardi, at the time a curator with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, about the possibility of Christie’s auctioning them. Inciardi and rock memorabilia businessman Edward Kosinski had bought the documents from rare-books dealer Glenn Horowitz, who in turn had bought them from writer Ed Sanders; Sanders had been given the materials to research an unpublished Eagles biography over 40 years ago and retained them in his archives in Woodstock, New York.

Inciardi, Horowitz, and Kosinski were arrested in July 2022 and charged with conspiracy to possess stolen property — hundreds of pages of lyrics for “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and possibly other tracks from that album. The defendants pleaded not guilty and have contended they weren’t aware the pages were allegedly pilfered (or that a contract existed between Sanders and the Eagles). The Manhattan District Attorney’s office claims the three made up ever-changing stories for the provenance of the documents.

The unveiling of those legal-page photos was one of several intriguing highlights during the second and third days of the criminal trial in New York State Supreme Court. The first day, Feb. 21, ended with a surprise twist: Irving Azoff, the band’s longtime manager and the first witness, was informed of the existence of a recording featuring Azoff and Sanders, which would be played in court the following day.

On Thursday, the exhibit turned out to be a tape of a phone call between the two men from sometime in the Eighties, apparently made by Sanders. (A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to say how prosecutors obtained the recording.) When first asked by attorneys for the defendants if he could identify Sanders’ voice, Azoff said, “I wouldn’t recognize Ed Sanders’ voice now if you played me an album.” But after listening to a portion of the call, Azoff admitted it was his own voice heard on the tape.

In the recording, Azoff was heard praising Sanders’ work: “Ed, you’ve been wonderful. The book is going to come out — it’s just that I have a pampered rock star here.” He is also heard saying, “It’s going to come out when God Henley says it can. Now it’s up to God.”

When a lawyer for the defendants asked Azoff to identity the “pampered” star, Azoff quipped, “Probably all of them.”

In testimony, Azoff said it was likely that the late Eagles founder Glenn Frey ultimately put the kibosh on the book, a supposedly 900-page tome called The Eagles — An American Band. But, Azoff added, “My recollection at the time is that there were a lot of changing positions” within the band about the quality of the book. The day before, Azoff had criticized the ultimately unpublished bio, calling parts of it “unacceptable.” On Thursday, he reiterated that the book “didn’t capture the essence of the band, and how important they were. We didn’t think it was good for the Eagles … It wasn’t the American Dream story we expected.”

The contract between the Eagles and Sanders, which granted the writer and poet access to the musicians and to research materials that would remain the band’s property, was hashed over several times. In a 1984 letter to Sanders indicating the project was winding down after no publisher bit on the manuscript, Azoff wrote, “I wish you the best of luck with the Fugs,” citing Sanders’ anarchic East Village band. Kosinski co-attorney Scott Edelman asked if that indicated the band and Sanders were parting ways. “It was a salutation,” not a farewell, Azoff replied. Asked if he or anyone on the Eagles team ever notified Sanders that they needed all the research materials back, Azoff said, “He understood that.”

Lecky, who took the witness stand immediately after Azoff, recalled Christie’s entering into an agreement with Inciardi to sell the 13 pages of “Hotel California” lyrics, along with a manuscript version of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” (Some of the more amusing moments of the trial came when attorneys on both sides stumbled over that song title and repeated it until they got it right.)

After the deal was made, Lecky said he “started gathering materials and researching” to learn more about the song’s history and development; Inciardi himself suggested Lecky read an Eagles biography. To help confirm if the handwriting on the pads was indeed Henley’s, Lecky said he would Google phrases like “Don Henley Manuscript.” For what would have been a private sale, the asking price, Lecky said, would have been “in excess” of $700,000. That price was partly based of Christie’s having sold Don McLean’s handwritten lyrics for “American Pie” for over $1 million shortly before.

Lecky said he began work on a draft of a sales brochure for the lyric pages but grew concerned when he learned more about the backstory of the documents. “Having someone work on a book made me think, ‘OK, they have access to papers,’” he testified, but he worried that that didn’t necessarily mean the party involved owned the archive. Lecky cited a case involving George and Ira Gershwin papers offered to Christie that turned out not to be owned by the party representing them. The marketplace, Lecky said, can be “incredibly suspicious.”

Ultimately, Lecky said he felt there was “potential risk” with the Eagles lyrics. After a phone call with Christie’s legal team — with Inciardi also on the call, as his lawyer added — Christie’s decided not to place the documents up for sale and returned them to Inciardi. As was laid out on the first day of the trial, Inciardi and Kosinski then went to Sotheby’s, by which time Henley, who’d already bought some of those pages, got wind of that larger transaction, almost 100 pages. When Inciardi and Kosinski offered to split the profits with Henley or have him buy all of them for $90,000, Henley turned to authorities, resulting in the arrests of the three men in 2022.

Under cross examination by attorneys for the defendants, Lecky admitted he couldn’t remember any details of his conversation with Christie’s attorneys in 2016 about their recommendation to pass, or even the names of those colleagues. When he left Christie’s that year to go into business for himself, Lecky remained in touch with Inciardi and, in an email displayed on Friday, wrote, “Do you still have Hotel California? I may have an idea we can discuss.”


Defense attorneys seized on that email as proof of a sign that Lecky was still interesting in pursuing a sale of the supposed stolen property. When asked by prosecutors to clarify, though, Lecky said, “I was curious what the situation was. I didn’t have a specific idea.”

The trial resumes next week, with Henley expected to take the stand Monday. If found guilty, Horowitz, Inciardi, and Kosinski face up to four years in prison.

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