Don Felder should be a bitter, broken man. After decades in The Eagles, he was unceremoniously fired from a band he helped make legendary. Without Felder’s signature guitar work, the world would not have many of the Eagles classic rock hits, Most notably their greatest song ever, “Hotel California.” But instead, he is a joyous and powerful force inspired by the same pure passion for music that has driven him for decades. Recently I caught up with Felder to talk about his upcoming “Soundtrack To Summer” Tour with Styx and Foreigner, split with The Eagles and the re-release of his solo CD “Road to Forever”
Rocker: How did the “Soundtrack To Summer” tour come about?
Felder: I’ve been friends with Tommy Shaw from Styx for ten, maybe twelve years. We played together, I sat in with him at Alice Cooper’s fundraisers for the “Solid Rock Foundation.” We played “Hotel California,” “Take It Easy” and abunch of stuff. Styx was gracious to back me up. We got a great response from the crowds for both shows. In addition, Tommy was kind enough to come over and spend two or three days and co-write some of the songs that I have on my last CD “Road To Forever.” He wrote a song with me called “Wash Away” and another song called “Heal Me,” which is a real emotional song about going through the battle of life, being battered, and the scars it leaves on us and wanting to wash them away to heal.
Through our friendship, I knew the Styx organization and indirectly knew of Foreigner. Mainly through their staggering number of hits they have had. They have such a great catalog. When it was proposed that there would be a Styx/Foreigner/Felder tour I sat and thought for a minute about all the songs that were going to be in that show and thought, “Man, what a great bang for the buck for a music fan that is going to go out and buy a ticket to see an amazing night of music.” Four hours worth of non-stop hits by a band they know and love. I got really excited while we were planning it. The more I met and worked with Foreigner and Styx in the studio, on press junkets, and on TV performances I realized what a great bunch of people were involved in this tour.
Rocker: No rock star egos?
Felder: No egos. No drama. No huffing and puffing. Just a lot of reallytalented, great musicians who have been doing it for a while and don’t have that kind of chip on their shoulder. What a wonderful way to spend the summer. Just being on the road with all these great people playing music. Touring can betricky. You are onstage for two or three hours which leaves you with twenty or so hours to live with people. Backstage, having meals, riding on buses, and if that group of people is friendly, it makes a whole different experience than what I’ve been used to. (Laughs)
Rocker: How has touring changed for you over the years?
Felder: When I first started touring with The Eagles we were doing rent-a-car tours. If we had a really long drive we would have the pleasure of getting a coach airline ticket. Flying coach to the next city and getting more rent-a-cars until things built and we could afford private planes. Touring to me, it doesn’t matter the bus, plane or hotel. Touring for me is all about why you are there. Ever since I was ten years old the thing that has propelled me is this unwavering obsession with the love of playing music. I love that more than anything.
When I first joined that band we were playing county fairs and college campuses and through the course of all the songwriting and successful records we went on to develop astounding careers that nobody expected. Honestly, the love of playing music has propelled me since day one and continues to drive and motivate me to this day. When that stops being attractive, that’s when I’ll stop. But I hope to have the longevity to keep playing like Les Paul did. Which he did until he was eighty-two. If you are fortunate enough to find something you really love and you can do it your whole life, you have been blessed. The level of money, fame and whatever doesn’t matter. If you are doing what you love, you have won.
Rocker: Obviously you will be doing “Hotel California” live but what other classic Eagles songs will you be playing on the tour?
Felder: I do a lot of the songs that I either co-wrote, recorded with the band or played live for the twenty seven years I was in The Eagles. I do “Those Shoes,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Life In The Fast Lane” and “Victim Of Love.” A lot of the rocker stuff. The stuff that was more my influence, that I brought to the band. Then I do “Heavy Meta (Takin’ a Ride)l” which is a solo hit of mine from the mid 1980s. It’s funny but during the “Hell Freezes Over” tour when I was in The Eagles people would yell out “Heavy Metal!” Obviously The Eagles would never play that song. (Laughs)
Rocker: That song was the title track from the cult classic animated film “Heavy Metal.” How did that song come about?
Felder: That song was a track that I wrote almost verbatim, the guitar parts and everything, for The Eagles “The Long Run” record that we never finished because we just ran out of time. It wound up being just an abandoned track. It used to be called “You’re Really High Aren’t You?” When I saw an early cut of the movie “Heavy Metal” with the director, he asked if I could write a song for the film. I said, “Yeah I got a great rock and roll track.” I went back and re-recorded the tune, wrote the lyrics that you hear on the record, sang it and it went on to be a flattering FM hit.
Rocker: What songs do you think of as the soundtrack of summer?
Felder: I think a lot of the Foreigner songs like “Jukebox Hero.” You see people out there with their arms in the air. “Blue Collar Man” from Styx. Songs that people grew up on, and listened to in their youth while driving with the top downn and their sunglasses on. They stick in people’s minds and that’s what becomes classic rock.
Rocker: Speaking of classic rock, let’s take a trip back in time and talk about how you created the iconic riff for “Hotel California.” Did it really come to you on the wind?
Felder: My wife at the time and I were living in Topanga Canyon. She had just given birth to our first baby. She went outside to put down a blanket and enjoy the sunshine when she nearly placed the blanket and baby on a nest of baby rattlesnakes. I got this call when I was out on the road saying, “We’re moving!”
I landed at LAX, got in a car not knowing where I was going, and drove for what seemed like an eternity down Pacific Coast Highway to this rented beach house in Malibu she had rented on Broad Beach. Small 1950s house on the beach. Later that day I was sitting in a pair of cut off shorts looking out at the ocean watching the sunlight sparkle on the Pacific playing this guitar. All of a sudden out came this progression. I played it five or six times and before I would forget it, I went in the back bedroom and recorded some of it. To make certain it wouldn’t go away.
When the band was trying to assemble songs for what would become the “Hotel California” record, I went back and listened and thought, “I’m gonna finish this song.” I recorded the bass part, put a drum machine on it, and wrote the twelve string introduction. Joe (Walsh) had just joined the band. We had done some shows together and I really enjoyed playing and dueling with Joe. I wanted a song that would incorporate some of that. So I made the demo, put it on a cassette, if anyone remembers what that is, with fifteen or sixteen other songs, one which became “Victim Of Love.” I then gave copies to everyone in the band-Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy Schmidt and said, “If there is anything on this tape that you want to finish let me know.” A couple days later Henley called and said, “I like that one song. Kind of sounds like a Mexican Reggae.” We started working it up. Don and Glenn went back into their cave and started writing lyrics. Next thing you know we finished the song called “Hotel California.”
Rocker: Does it still bother you that The Eagles fired you and continue without you?
Felder: Not really. I think the body of work that we wrote, recorded and the accomplishments that we did together really stand the test of time. I don’t know that any of that would have happened if any one of us had not been part of that band. Obviously “Hotel California” was something I brought to the table that turned out to be the crown jewel in The Eagles catalog. Probably the biggest hit that they ever had. I look back at our work and think; “We did a lot of great work together.” It’s fine with me if they want to continue. I don’t know how long they will continue to play together. I know that I will be obsessed with playing music live until I’m eighty something like Les Paul. I can’t stop. One of the songs on the extended edition release of my CD is called “Can’t Stop Now.”
Rocker: Are you in touch with any of your former Eagles band mates?
Felder: Randy Meisner and I have stayed in touch. Bernie Leadon and I are also friends. Unfortunately, I have reached out numerous times to the other members of The Eagles-Don, Glenn, Joe and Timothy, and the only response I get back from those guys is from their attorneys. I was married twenty-nine years, my wife and I separated amicably. We have thousands of friends. We see each other all the time. At parties, she’s with another guy. I’m with another woman. She comes to my house for Thanksgiving. We have kids and grandkids together and talk on the phone all the time. We still really care about each other. Point is, you can’t spend twenty-eight plus years with somebody and then not still have an affinity and love for them. Although we no longer can be married, we are still very close and really care a lot for each other. We appreciate what we had.
I’ve tried to reach out with an olive branch and establish that same sort of handshake feeling with the remaining guys from The Eagles. It’s their choice to respond the way they have. I have no control of that.
Rocker: Ever consider touring or recording with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner?
Felder: I don’t know that that is really a possibility right now. Bernie could probably do it. He pops up and does a few songs live with The Eagles now during their History Of The Eagles shows. I’m not sure Randy has been playing or singing a lot lately. Not sure if he is still able to play and sing. We get together, hit golf balls and tell jokes. Have fun. I don’t know where he is musically. I don’t know that he’s played in a long time.
Rocker: Your 2012 “Road To Forever” CD just got re-released as an “Extended Edition.” What is new about it and what inspired you to put it out again?
Felder: When I sat down to start writing for the CD initially, I wrote twenty-seven songs. I paired it down to what I thought were the best sixteen songs with the most diverse musical makeup. Songs ranging from country acoustic with pedal steel to ballads and mid tempo Jackson Browne. A very diverse music topography. When I finished recording those sixteen tracks, I got on a conference call with my manager, my business manager and the guy from the record company. They said, “We need to have an exclusive track for iTunes and an exclusive song for Amazon, and the Japanese distributor needs an exclusive cut as well. Oh and for Europe too.”
So four of the songs had to come off the album as originally planned. They were used as exclusive promotional tracks. Very few people heard them. It would be as if you had put out the “Hotel California” album and left out “Life In The Fast Lane” and “New Kid In Town.” It was an incomplete concept. When the tour was proposed I said, “I would really like to take all sixteen tracks, including the four very few people had heard, and put it back out as an extended edition.” It should really be called the “Original Edition.” It includes a song called “Youn Don’t Have Me” which has gotten a great response and was number one on classic rock radio. I’m delighted at the response. People love these songs live.
Rocker: Where can fans get the recently re-recorded version of the song “Hotel California” with Styx and Foreigner?
Felder: We wanted to have a commemorative CD of the summer tour. So Foreigner re-recorded some of their classics. As did Styx. I didn’t want to just go in by myself and re-record “Hotel California.” So I asked Tommy and Kelly Hansen, who is an amazing singer and Mick Jones [of Foreigner], a great guitar player and said let’s get together in a room and see if I can’t arrange a version of the song that we could use all this diverse talent on. We broke it up. Each took turns singing the lead. Then we all sang harmony on the choruses. The song starts with this acoustic steel string introduction and slowly builds through the course of the song. The arrangement is similar, but the guitar parts are different. I play the first solo. Tommy plays something totally different on the second solo. Then Mick puts his spin on it. It gave everybody the freedom to play on that classic song. It was a lot of fun and we got to know each other while doing it. I’m proud of how it came out. Fans can get it on the CD exclusively at Wal-Mart or at the show.
Don Felder is an inspiration. A man, who against all odds, continues to follow his passion for playing and delivers real Rock N’ Roll night after night. His tour with Styx and Foreigner continues now through July 27th with stops in Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and a city near you. For a full list of dates check out: www.DonFelder.com