Steely Dan Producer Gary Katz Reflects on Firing Don Henley

by Taylor Cunningham
SiriusXM's Town Hall With Don Henley Hosted By Bob Seger At Austin City Limits Live At The Moody Theater In Austin, TX

Back in 1977, Steely Dan made producer Gary Katz fire Don Henley. And 45 years later, things are still awkward between the two.

As Katz shared with Ultimate Classic Rock, Steely Dan hired the former Eagles frontman to sing backup vocals for his hit single Peg off Dan’s sixth studio album, Aja.

Donald Fagen sang the lead vocals for the piece, and when he was shopping around for his background crew, he thought Henley and Linda Ronstadt would be perfect. Gary Katz agreed.

“In the chorus, the backgrounds are sort of the lead,” Katz said. “It wasn’t like a [usual] background part.”

“‘Why don’t we call Henley and Linda Ronstadt?'” he remembered Fagen saying. “‘Maybe that would be cool and something different.’ So, I called [their manager] … Linda wasn’t feeling well, so Nicolette Larson came.”

But when the two singers gave Peg a shot, Fagen was less than impressed.

Don Henley Got the Ax After Only Three Tries

Katz noted that Fagen treated Henley and Larson as we would have treated any other vocalists. First, the band played the track on the speakers. And then, Fagen played the tune on the piano, so they understood what style Steely Dan was going for.

Once everyone knew their part, they sat down to record the song. But Katz said the piece fell flat.

“It might as well have been me and you,” the producer said while explaining how the first attempt went.

So Don Henley and Nicolette Larson tried once more. But again, they failed to make Donald Fagan happy. At that point, Katz knew that Fagen was going to ask him to end the collaboration on the spot.

“We didn’t jerk people off by letting them think it was going to work and have them sit for two hours,” he said. “When we knew it wasn’t going to be OK, Fagen would tell me to end it. So they sang it again, and it was no good.”

After failing for the third time, Fagen asked his bandmate Walter Becker to step out and “get a sandwich.”

“Oh, fire them,” Fagen whispered on his way out the door.

So, Katz did as he was asked. And he’s been hearing about it “for 35 years since, in various ways.”

And sadly, things have been awkward between Katz and Don Henley ever since that day. As Katz told the publication, the last time he ran into the Boys of Summer singer, he was still holding a grudge.

“He sidled up to me … and he said, ‘Are you going to fire me again today, Katz?’ But he didn’t smile when he said that,” said Katz.

And Katz shared that the whole situation is a shame because he had been friends with Don Henley. But after kicking him out of the studio, that friendship was never the same.

“[It was] a difficult day at the office, because, like [Fagen and Becker], I was part of that inner-circle crowd,” he said. “We were all in the same little area. We lived in the same place and had the same manager. It was always Eagles and Steely Dan for a long time in L.A.”