Tuesday, May 21, 2013

From "Hotel California" to "The Chilton Hilton," Bonnie Cahalane and Don Felder Share Legal Woes

Bonnie Cahalane
An Alabama woman who was unlawfully incarcerated for five months last year has something in common with a man who co-wrote one of the most memorable songs of the rock-and-roll era.

Bonnie Cahalane and Don Felder surely never set out to help illustrate a fundamental legal concept, one that often is accompanied by rancor, stress, and major doses of general unpleasantness. But their stories intersect in a way that spotlights a critical difference between a contract that is valid and one that is not.

That thought struck me the other night as I was watching History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band, a Showtime documentary about the country-rock group that came to define the Southern California Sound of the 1970s. Produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, History of the Eagles likely will be one of the most-watched documentaries of 2013. Over the course of three hours, the film covers the band's 42-year history--from its formation in 1971, to a breakup in 1980, to a 14-year "vacation" that involved numerous solo projects, to a reunion in 1994, to its current status as one of the biggest concert draws on the planet.

I set out to watch the film mainly because I long have admired the Eagles' music, especially the contributions of the two remaining founding members, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Any list of the greatest songwriting teams in music history surely is topped by Lennon and McCartney. But Henley and Frey--whose partnership helped produce "Desperado," "One of These Nights," "Take It to the Limit," "Life In the Fast Lane," "New Kid in Town," "The Long Run," and many more--deserve a spot mighty high on the list.

History of the Eagles captures the conflicts and tension that drove the band to staggering heights--and the film is filled with the stories behind many songs that became staples of classic-rock radio, so there is much for the music lover to enjoy. But darned if I didn't come away thinking about the law--and one of our ongoing stories here at Legal Schnauzer.

How on earth did that happen? Well, it started from what I know about the legal travails of Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane, who spent five months last year in the Chilton County Jail, known to many central Alabamians as "The Chilton Hilton." The facility's nickname might cause you to smile, but spending time behind bars there most assuredly is not fun--especially when you are there contrary to black-letter Alabama law.

(Note: We have referred to Ms. Cahalane in previous posts as Bonnie Cahalane Wyatt. But she now has a certificate of divorce from Harold Wyatt and goes by her maiden name of Bonnie Cahalane.)

Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds held Cahalane in contempt and threw her in jail for failure to pay a property-related debt from her divorce case. Clear Alabama case law--perhaps best stated in a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005) --holds that a party is not subject to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage.

Cahalane was released from jail on December 18, 2012, after an agreement was reached that she would sell her house to pay off an alleged debt to Harold Wyatt for his equity in the property.

Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the agreement was reached in Reynolds' courtroom while Cahalane was wearing jail clothes. Court documents indicate she was going to return to jail that day if she did not agree to sell her house. The property currently is on the market, listed with a RealtySouth agent named Amber Darnell. We have a number of questions for Ms. Cahalane's attorney, Angie Avery Collins of Clanton, and we left a message at her office on Friday.

Does Amber Darnell have a valid contract to sell Bonnie Cahalane's house? No, she does not. That's because of a legal concept--well stated in a case styled Claybrook v. Claybrook (Ala. Civ. App., 2010)--that holds a contract is void when it is reached under duress. If the threat of being unlawfully returned to "The Chilton Hilton" is not duress, I'm not sure what is.

That brings us back to "Hotel California" and Don Felder. For all of the Eagles' hits, their signature song is "Hotel California," about a mythical resort where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." The song won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and ranks No. 49 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The song's closing guitar solo was voted the best solo of all time by readers of Guitarist magazine.

Don Felder
Who created "Hotel California"? Henley and Frey are credited as two of the three writers, and they wrote the lyrics and shaped the melody. But the famous solo, the instantly recognizable guitar intro, and the entire basic music track were written by Don Felder. His name is listed first among the writers, and that is because his music track gave birth to the entire song--a tune that still will be played long after everyone currently on earth has perished.

Like Bonnie Cahalane, Don Felder knows a thing or two about signing a contract under duress. That episode provides one of the key moments in History of the Eagles. The documentary surely was not designed to teach a mini seminar on contract law. But that's exactly what it does.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

If you are an Eagles fan, I recommend the concert DVD "Eagles Farewell Tour, Live from Melbourne". Its a two disc DVD and contains many of their hits as only they can do. I bought mine several years ago at WalMart when it first came out. You can find it on Amazon. Also in the B'Ham area, there is the Black Jacket Symphony that performs in several towns in the Southeast. They duplicate certain albums and one of those is "Hotel California". Their website lists their upcoming performances. They are really good.

Unknown said...

e.a.f. isn't going to like this post LS.

You've mixed your fine art genius with your writer and then the investigative journalist is also mixing and matching sounds, music and golly gee, there is law in all that good ole time rock and roll.

Kill the messengers?

Sibel Edmonds at long last has been heard, whew.

Trolls don't like the higher culture. Scary when the mind begins to get free, the higher culture of what can happen to the mind, in learning, well Americans must not be able to think in a higher fashion of artistically balancing the whole truth.


Consume only in the darkness and in the darkness tightly bound.

e.a.f. probably only uses black and white and no gray, certainly the full spectrum of red, yellow, blue is not allowed.

I love this post LS, where you have taken our great American culture - your journalist writing at the peak level, with the great Eagles who I love, too.

Sorry e.a.f. you cannot chase me away because you are just plain not the TROLL to do America, go to Jewrassic Park and get your you know what sewn back on.

Unknown said...

Robby Scott Hill is absolutely spot on,

LS Post and RSH power too, have spun the Alabama platter and the dance is a Whirling Dervish than cannot be trifled with.

Anonymous said...

Cool post, LS. Like you, I watched "History of the Eagles" the other night, and I was glued to the tube for three hours. The band's music will last forever, and they certainly have had their share of legal and personal turmoil. Look forward to Part II of your post.

TLR said...

Thank God Bonnie Cahalane was able to check out of "The Chilton Hilton" because I was concerned she was never going to be able to leave! This is a Schnauzer classic. Love the post, love the Eagles, and I hope Bonnie Cahalane successfully sues the holy bejeebers out of somebody.

Anonymous said...

Hah, "The Chilton Hilton." I had never heard that one. It's a classic. Maybe someone could write a song about it, sort of like "Folsom Prison Blues."

Anonymous said...

Eagles have never been the same since Don Felder was forced out of the band. He got screwed, but received a nice settlement in his lawsuit. May justice come for Ms. Cahalane in Alabama.

Anonymous said...

In my personal poll, "Hotel California" would be way higher than No. 49 among the "Greatest Songs of All Time." I would have it in the top 10.

Anonymous said...

Is there a "dark, desert highway" leading to The Chilton Hilton? Does it feature "the warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air"?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Neat post.

Anonymous said...

@8:56, thanks for your comment. I saw Black Jacket Symphony do "Hotel California" album at WorkPlay, and it was fabulous. Any Eagles fan, or general music fan, should not miss that performance if they get a chance to see it. The BJS version of "The Last Resort," which is my favorite Eagles song of all, gave me chills. Brilliantly done.

Anonymous said...

Don Henley and Glenn Frey are great songwriters and singers. They also are assholes. What they did to Don Felder was horrible. The band still is good, but it ain't the same.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Bonnie would still be in jail if Roger had not taken an interest. Why is the fact that Gov. Siegelman is in jail not on the front page of every newspaper in the country? How can our president look in the mirror?

Anonymous said...

Wonder if Bonnie Cahalane is an Eagles fan? If not, I hope she becomes one. "Hotel California" will live forever, as a song and an album. Eagles did a lot of outstanding albums, but "HC" is their masterpiece. I will be eternally grateful to Don Felder for that "Mexican reggae" guitar progression that turned into an American classic.

Anonymous said...

If Sibley Reynolds still is trying to force Bonnie to sell her house, he needs his ass kicked. Don Henley has been known to write scathing, social-commentary songs. Maybe he can write one about the corrupt Alabama judge who steals a woman's house!

Anonymous said...

Someone said this about the dispute regarding authorship.
"Whoever comes up with the concept/lyrics/melody/chord progression first is the one to get first credit, which is why Felder is listed first on all versions of the song except Hell Freezes Over. By his own admission in his book, it wasn't he that came up with the idea to make it acoustic, and it's that which separates it from the original. He claims he's not upset by 'the switch' and I can tell you it's because he KNOWS why he doesn't have first credit on HFO. The very fact he consistently talks about this in interviews and yet never mention the valid reason for it tells you all you need to know about the man. It amazes me how many people swallow his 'pity me' plea. He completely flames Don and Glenn throughout his book and in every interview he's done since 2001. Glenn makes one comment in the documentary to give 'his side' and Glenn is the bad guy? Seriously? Can anyone out there imagine working with Felder and his 'it's never my fault' attitude and think they'd handle it any better than Glenn did? Believe me, Glenn is far from perfect, but it was his brains and Henley's voice that got the Eagles to the top and Felder never minded riding their backs to the bank."

Anonymous said...

If you haven't heard the Eagles album "Long Road Out of Eden", you are missing a treat. I heard them do the title track live in Alanta a few years ago. There isn't a bad cut on the cd.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 10:22--

I agree. Was fortunate to see Eagles on "Long Road Out of Eden" tour stop in Birmingham. Guess I'm an oddball: I miss Felder and greatly appreciate his contributions, but I also love the current lineup and the latest LP. Steuart Smith isn't Don Felder, but he is one heck of a guitarist in his own right--and an excellent songwriter. His contributions are all over LROE.

Anonymous said...

Wish the Eagles could do a massive benefit concert to shine light on issues of injustice, like the Bonnie Cahalane case. Maybe they also could shine light on the Don Siegelman case. Heck, they could stage the concert right here in Birmingham. I would love to help make that happen.

Anonymous said...

Don "Fingers" Felder is a true guitar god. He and Joe Walsh formed the greatest guitar combo ever. Their dueling solo at the end of "Hotel California" never grows old. Brilliant.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 10:13--

Like you, I loved the story in "History of the Eagles" of how "HC" came to life. The story of Don Felder laying down this guitar progression on a tape recorder, and Henley and Frey deciding, "Hey, we can do something with that one that sounds like Mexican reggae" . . . well, it's neat to hear how the creative process works.

Anonymous said...

Best . . . post . . . ever.

Love the Eagles.

Love Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey.

Love Hotel California.

Would love for Bonnie Cahalane to get justice . . . soon.

Sharon said...

Wish Johnny Cash was alive. He could write a great song about "The Chilton Hilton."

legalschnauzer said...

@10:32, I love your idea of a massive benefit concert for justice. If we can't get the Eagles, how about artists with Alabama ties--Commodores, Lionel Richie, Randy Owen, Taylor Hicks, Alabama Shakes, Ruben Studdard, Bo Bice . . . many more.

Anonymous said...

Highly recommend "History of the Eagles." Alex Gibney did a great job.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that it is a mans world and a woman can get screwed more ways than one..

Unknown said...


William "Bill" Black,


"... there's no way you can tame a scorpion ... you have to get rid of the scorpion ...."

Robed Roaches is a visual, being drawn into fine art cartoon. e.a.f. doesn't want to SEE how the majority of US "Judicial" looks in reality, to finally at long last, get rid of the 'buggers' [term of art in Old England for Pedofile].


Now there is a very fine duet in the reality of, "Trilobite" ..

~Index fossils, related to the horseshoe crab, spiders and scorpions which lived between 405 and 360 million years ago ~~

Scorpions glow in the dark, as radioactive. Think nuclear winter hasn't been before?!

Think deeper: 'Science' around the Scorpion has also discovered a SPARK PLUG fossilized in amber.

Bill Black's new writing is now looking more like yours' LS.

His new piece about Scorpions, to be most certain e.a.f. Trilobite, on point. Hope you have a long vacation stay ready at the "Chilton Hotel" e.a.f. JOINING all the "sedimentary US treasonous fossils!"

Anonymous said...

Sharon, you write the song for Mr. Cash, he would love for you to as a woman because he died after his greatest love died.

Nine Inch Nails wrote the song that Johnny sang, it breaks my heart.

Women have been intentionally treated in America, as though we wear a Burka. Think not? Do the investigation into how the women in the Middle East were liberated until America got into the business of reversing nature into the ages before prehistoric, or at least this is the goal.

See Bonnie Beautiful in her Burka before the courts, oh yea.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that a woman, Amber Darnell, is trying to unlawfully sell Bonnie Cahalane's home. What kind of woman is Ms. Darnell? What kind of women work at RealtySouth?

Anonymous said...

Wanna get women really mad?

Listen to - ALL 'LADIES' - the audio on the grand conspiracy of penis control.

E4 – March 24, 2012 – The Grand Penis Conspiracy (warning…bound to offend, adults only…)

e.a.f and its cult are going insane to be exposed!

Hobbled society? Look at America.

Men should truly get madder than hell and do something, too.

Their Burka got a reverse engineering but, Burka it is, a covering up of the reality.

Biloxi Marx

Anonymous said...

Congrats on some well-deserved recognition. Now if we could only get some of the in-state reporters to do their job. I posted some interesting info on one of your post last week, complete with lots of links. Never saw it get posted, but hope the information is helpful. Maybe that'll get 'em going!

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 1:31--

Feel free to resend your earlier post, and I will be on lookout for it. In deleting spam comments, I sometimes accidentally delete a good one that I mean to post, and that might be what happened.

Anonymous said...

Would that realtor be liable for her actions or not because a judge ordered the house sold? Seeing as the judge obviously has broken the law and ultimately ordered the home sold under duress, wouldn't that leave the realtor open to suit by Bonnie? In the least though wouldn't this unethical realtor still be answering to the Real Estate Commission instead of a criminal judge?

legalschnauzer said...

I believe the realtor would be liable to Ms. Cahalane in a civil-rights action. I told Ms. Darnell about the unlawful actions that led to Ms. Cahalane being forced to sell her house, and Ms. Darnell acknowledged that she had read my blog posts on the subject. So she can't claim to be unaware of what is going on. Also, I would suggest that RealtySouth has significant liability here, not to mention Harold Wyatt, his lawyer (Chris Speaks), Ms. Cahalane's lawyer (Angie Avery Collins) and perhaps Judge Reynolds. Judges generally enjoy immunity from judicial acts, but that might not hold up if he engaged in an extrajudicial conspiracy. If I were a lawyer with a spine, I would be chomping at the bit to represent Bonnie Cahalane in a civil-rights lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

RealtySouth is liable for all actions of the realtors who's licenses they hold! Not only to the Real Estate Commission but to the person harmed as well. The Commission has a slush funds et up just for these reasons.

Anonymous said...

Is her broker aware of this situation? I'd bet they'd like to be informed!

legalschnauzer said...

The broker is aware of it because I told her; more coming on that soon.

I should note, however, that this really is not Bonnie Cahalane's broker. Amber Darnell was appointed by the court, by Judge Sibley Reynolds. Did opposing counsel, Chris Speaks, push for Darnell to get the property listing? That's what I'm hearing.

More to come.

Anonymous said...

Who came up with the sales price?

Anonymous said...

Is there more to this story? I mean it would seem that Ms Cahalane should have filed some sort of legal motion and/or complaint by now. What gives?

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that it was someone other than Bonnie Cahalane. I further understand that it is underpriced, which means it is likely to sell quickly.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 5:20--

Ms Cahalane has a lawyer, Angie Avery Collins, and it appears she has done very little to represent her client's best interests. I left a message with Ms. Collins last Friday, asking her to call me. Have heard nothing so far. I intend to ask her a few key questions about why this farce has been allowed to move forward. Your point is a good one, and it raises this question: Is Angie Collins doing her job? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

She should call the lawyer suing Vance!

James Greek said...


I like you love the eagles and after hearing how Glenn and Don treated Don Felder is inexcusable and I hsve lost respect for both of those men as people. I wil respect them as artists but people I will not. Because of that very lawsuit The Eagles' "The Long Run" is not on WKRP's DVD set.