Felder flies without Eagles
Here are a few things someone believes readers must know about Don Felder.
Felder was “a” lead guitar player with The Eagles; he was not “THE” lead guitar player.
He was a member of the band; he is not an “original” or “founding” member of the Rock Hall-inducted act.
Felder co-wrote “Hotel California,” the title track to one of the top-selling albums of all time, and “Victim of Love.” He is not the sole songwriter on those tracks.
Reporters are asked to sign a paper stating they understand these facts before they are permitted to talk to Felder.
When asked if that release form indicates that Felder communicates with his former bandmates mostly through attorneys, he answered, “I can’t comment on that,” adding that it’s up to the reporter to determine if that “I can’t comment” answers the question.
Prickly seems like the best word to describe the current relationship, but Felder’s career didn’t start or end with The Eagles.
Let’s start at Gainesville High School, where Felder and fellow former Eagle Bernie Leadon both graduated. Felder’s first band, The Continentals, featured another former Rock Hall inductee — classmate Stephen Stills. Felder said he was in the crowd at Woodstock to watch his former bandmate perform with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The lyric “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969” from “Hotel California” (which, remember, Felder only “co-wrote”) was inspired by Felder’s memories of Woodstock, he said.
A couple years behind him at Gainesville High School was another hall-of-famer — Tom Petty. Felder was his guitar teacher.
“Tom was actually a bass player,” Felder said. “He thought it was really nerdy for a bass player to sing lead. He didn’t want to be the bass player, plus for writing, he needed to be able to write chords. He was very motivated, a very hard-working student … He wasn’t interested in shredding, in being a great guitar player. He just wanted to play enough chords that he could write.”
Felder left Florida to work as a musician in New York and Boston, and it was Leadon who encouraged him to move to the West Coast. Felder played on a couple of tracks on The Eagles’ 1974 album “On the Border” — lead single “Already Gone” and “Good Day in Hell” — and was invited to join the band that year.
Felder arrived as the band was hitting its commercial stride. “Best of My Love” from “On the Border” was its first number-one single. The title track from 1975’s “One of These Nights” album was The Eagles’ second number-one hit, and two others cracked the top five, “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit.”
Then came “Hotel California,” which sold nearly 6 million copies in its first year of release and has sold more than 26 million copies.
But with great success came greater creative differences. By the time the band returned to the studio for “The Long Run,” “We were tearing each other’s hair out,” Felder said. “There were emotional explosions in the studio. We were lucky to finish the ones (songs) we did.”
One of the unfinished songs became a Felder solo favorite. Felder and Joe Walsh had been working on some guitar ideas that were heavier than any other tracks on “The Long Run.” One became Walsh’s “Rivers (Of the Hidden Funk)” and the other became “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)” from the soundtrack of the 1981 animated feature “Heavy Metal.”
“I got a call from the movie’s director, who wanted me to come over and see if I’d write a song for it,” Felder said. “I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was an adult stoner movie.”
The movie remains a cult favorite and Felder’s “Heavy Metal” is the track most associated with the film.
“I didn’t want those guitar parts to die,” he said.
“Heavy Metal” likely will be a part of the setlist when Felder performs Friday at the Robins Theatre as well as those Eagles’ hits on which he played. While it will be Felder instead of Don Henley or Glenn Frey singing them, he said his goal is to perform those songs the way audiences remember them.
“Those songs lyrically, music-wise, arrangement-wise, guitar-part-wise are so deeply burned into people’s consciousness, if I went out and played a different solo at the end of ‘Hotel California,’ people would look at me like, ‘What is that?’ You have to respect those songs. People first heard those songs 40-some years ago and have heard them so many times since … You have to present them with integrity.”
Felder also has some newer music. “American Rock ‘n’ Roll” features a star-studded lineup of guest artists, including several fellow Rock Hall inductees — Alex Lifeson (Rush), Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and Sammy Hagar (Van Halen).
Some of the musicians recorded their parts remotely, but in several cases, Felder traveled to work face-to-face with the players he wanted in order to capture that “spontaneous moment of creation.”
The personal interaction was just as important. Felder traveled to Nashville to work with Peter Frampton on “The Way Things Have to Be.”
“We talked and caught up,” he said. “We spent more time telling jokes than it actually took to do the guitar parts.”
Felder said he is looking forward to the personal interaction with a live audience on his current tour. He kept busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing virtual live performances for corporate events and other online presentations. But it doesn’t match a live audience.
“Just that connection between the artist and the audience when they’re up and dancing on their feet just having a party, you don’t get that feeling when you’re singing in a virtual studio and they’re watching with their ear buds in.”
While some tours have been derailed by COVID outbreaks within the band or crew, Felder may be better prepared than most for his return to the road.
“My girlfriend is a COVID compliance officer … We make sure everybody’s safe who’s working with us and our management. We want to have a great time, get back out, party, have fun, but we don’t want to put anyone at risk.”
If you go …
WHO: Don Felder
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Robins Theatre, 160 E. Market St., Warren
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $30 to $75 and are available at the Robins box office and robinstheatre.com