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Interview: Don Felder

14 min read

Don Felder is one of music’s greatest guitar icons. Beginning his musical path in Gainesville, Florida, his first band, at the age of 15, was formed with Crosby, Stills and Nash legend, Stephen Stills. The years that followed saw Don playing with the likes of The Allman Brothers as well as teaching none other than fellow icon Tom Petty how to play guitar but it was his role as lead guitarist for The Eagles that Don Felder is best known for.

DonFelderRoadToForeverIn the 27 years that Don was part of the iconic American supergroup he shared the stage with current Eagles members Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit as well as ex-members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, throughout the bands numerous line-up changes. His guitar skills are iconic on tracks like One Of These Nights, Life In The Fastlane, Heartache Tonight and the bands signature hit, Hotel California, a track which Don wrote and crafted at his Florida home in the 70’s and a track that has become one of the greatest recordings in the history of music.

Don released his first solo record in 1983 titled Airbourne following the breakup of The Eagles and also contributed heavily to the soundtrack of the cult 1981 film, Heavy Metal. His most recent work, a book detailing his early beginnings and his life in The Eagles, was published in 2008 and quickly found itself in the number one spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

2012 saw Don Felder’s return to a solo career with the release of Road To Forever, a brand new studio album and his first in almost 30 years. Road to Forever proved to be a spectacular collection, containing some of the musicians finest work to date while showcasing the multi-talented performer at his iconic best.

We were lucky enough to speak with Don Felder on the phone recently to talk about his latest studio record. In our 20 minute chat with the musician we were taken on a journey through his years with The Eagles, his tell-all book and his highly-anticipated return to the studio to record Road to Forever. Here is what Don had to tell us:

Brendon Veevers: How are you?

Don Felder: I’m doing very well, thank you.

BV: Your latest album, Road To Forever, was released at the end of last year.  Can you tell us a little bit about the record and how you came to the decision to release the album after a 27 year solo absence?

DF: Well first of all, during my years with The Eagles, that project is pretty much all that you can do. You can’t really do anything apart from Eagles business. You’re either touring or you’re writing the records or you’re in the studio and that’s about all you have time to do.

When I left The Eagles in 2001 I started writing my autobiography and at the same time that I was writing this autobiography a lot of emotions were kind of coming out of me; the separation from my wife of 29 years and also the separation from The Eagles, you know, the whole process. So, I was writing this autobiography and I would go into the studio and write songs about what I was going through and feeling.

So, when I finished the book I went out and did a book promotion and I really wanted to take those song ideas that I had accumulated over the years and take a hard look at them and figure out which ones I loved the most. I had 26 songs and culled it down to 16 songs in the studio. I had a bunch of really good friends of mine come in and help me work on it and we just had a delightful time putting it all together and it was a really fun experience.

It was just the time for that to happen – I wanted to have those songs in my live show so it was all just a change of pace for me.

BV: Were you apprehensive about returning to your solo career?

DF: I’ve had a studio in my home since about ’81 or ’82 so I’m always dabbling in the studio. There was some apprehension over me releasing a CD and being compared to The Eagles but after a while, when I started recording these songs, I just thought “You know what?, I like what I do and I’m having fun doing it and hopefully other people will enjoy it just as much as well and if not, well, I’m sorry”.

I just do what I do and I have fun with it and if I’m happy with it, then I’m happy with it.(laughs).

BV: How has the feedback been from fans of your solo work and your work with The Eagles since the release of the record?

DF: I’ve had a lot of really great record reviews. Rolling Stone in Europe gave it 4-stars. A lot of radio station programmers have been very excited about it. I’ve been getting a lot of airplay. I think the most apprehension I had was playing these new songs live in my show because my show is made up of a lot of those songs that I either co-wrote or recorded or toured with the band for so long with the exception of some solo work like Heavy Metal and some other songs that I do in my show.

So, I was going from some very recognizable hits and then to throw in a new song, at first I was somewhat reluctant and curious about how they would be received but after the first couple of songs, people really enjoyed them. I hit the same genre, it sounds like me and the work that I did in The Eagles that people know me from. It’s a familiar sound, it’s a familiar feel and it’s a familiar kind of thing to relate to so it has been really well received and I am really delighted.

BV: The way music is created has changed enormously over these past few decades and continues to change at a rapid pace. After being away from the recording world for so long did you come against any difficulties in terms of how to go about creating Road to Forever?

DF: I’ve tried to stay on top of technology and that’s the key, whether its computers or phones or iPads as well as in my studio.

I’ve gone from the old 24-Track and analog recordings to the latest technology so the transition from analog to digital was a very easy one for me. It is a little odd to not have a console under my hand but to have a mouse under my hand (laughs) but I have the same approach to making records as I always have. It doesn’t matter if you are doing it live or if you are doing it in a studio on a 4-Track, an 8-Track or a 24-Track or digital, you have a way of making records and an approach to it and you just use a lot of the tools that are at your fingertips. You correct yourself and make it more perfect than it should be or you could correct yourself with the digital tools that are out there.

I prefer to sound as close to how you hear me on a record as to when you see me live. With a lot of artists, that doesn’t really materialize – they rely so heavily on digital correction for vocals and time correction with all these new tools. They make themselves sound so perfect that when you go and see them live they don’t sound anything like they do on the record. Even when you’re listening to the old Motown records you can hear them all standing around the microphone, stomping their feet as they were singing. It’s all part of the entity of the group that goes into making a record and not necessarily the digital technology that is around.

BV: People will obviously know you not just for your solo work but as a long standing and integral member of The Eagles from 1974 through to 2001. You left the band on negative terms, something you have spoken about in depth in your book Heaven and Hell: My Life In The Eagles which was a New York Times Best Seller. Are you on speaking terms with any of the members of the band, past or current?

DF: Unfortunately, no. I’ve reached out numerous times through direct and indirect channels, friends of friends, that sort of stuff. They’ve chosen to keep the door closed and any response that I ever hear back from anyone in that camp is through their lawyers

BV: Being given the opportunity to tell your side of the story must have been a very emotional yet therapeutic experience for you?

DF: It didn’t actually start out as being a book. It started out as a process to really understand what had happened to me in my life; from starting out and playing music in the deep South and Florida and how that passion and love for playing music has led me on that path through different bands and childhood friends like (Stephen) Stills an Duane Allman and all those people that were part of my area growing up; being in New York and being on a label called CTI with Quincy Jones and other Jazz fusion bands; living in Boston and working in a studio and making records for 3 years before finally moving to L.A and starting my national career with Crosby & Nash and eventually being in The Eagles and what had happened to me. I wanted to have a really clear understanding of that.

Since I had left the band and left my marriage, all of the entities that I had worn up until that time had been stripped away. So, I wanted a clear understanding of what had happened to me. I didn’t want to go forward in life, dragging this baggage along with me so I began doing these daily meditations. I would come out of these meditations and try to focus on these very specific areas of my life. When I would come out of these meditations I would write down on a long legal pad those recollections like a dream, you would scribble it all down so you wouldn’t forget.

Eventually I filled up piles of legal pads and my fiancée read some of them and said “You know, this would make a really great book”. I said “Look, I’m not an author”. I’m one of the world’s worst English students. I had to spend the summer in Summer School because I failed English one year and I had to make it up with the same teacher I despised during the whole year and he taught me again during the Summer.

So, I met with a guy who is kind of a big wheel in the entertainment industry like David Geffen and all those guys.  He owned a literary company, a television production company, a management company, a producers and directors agency – all sorts of stuff. So in the two weeks I had of the contract, I had to turn all of those memories into something that was more readable.

It was a very lethargic process and, like I said, while I was doing that I was writing these songs which were an emotional release for a lot of those experiences, like the song Fall From The Grace Of Love. That song came out of the divorce from my wife of 29 years.  All of those experiences are within the songs on that record. It is all of those human experiences that we all go through. For example, the song ‘Wash Away’ is all about how we are raised from childhood and as we go through life we end up with life’s bruises and scars all over our heart and soul and we want to find a way to kind of cleanse ourselves of that. That’s really what that period was about for me after leaving The Eagles. It was a very cleansing process to write new songs and to also get a firm understanding of who I was and how I got to where I was, so yes, it was a very lethargic experience for me.

BV: Showtime premiered a documentary called the History of the Eagles recently and you took part in the documentary. Was there any involvement with the members of the band and how did you feel about revisiting the bands history again for the documentary?

DF: No, not at all. I knew that when I went in that it would be just me that would be speaking in the interview and that was by their choice, not by my choice. I thought that after 27 years of contributing to that project that I should at least be represented by being interviewed. It was them who invited me to participate in the documentary. I didn’t know that the documentary was being made until my lawyers called me and said “they’re making this – do you want to be a part of it?” We had been invited by their attorney’s to participate.

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BV: Would you say that the truth the documentary captured was accurate?

DF: I feel there was a great deal that was omitted and sort of brushed aside. I think a lot of the contributions that a lot of other people had brought to the band like Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, our producer Bill Szymczyk, were all really underplayed.

There were a lot of issues that were so prevalent and that were so much of our daily existence together that was omitted. For example, during Hell Freezes Over, we all had our own separate cars that we rode to the airport in and 5 separate rooms on the plane where people could go and close the door and 5 dressing rooms backstage. Really, the only time that we were all together was when we were on stage together. When the show was over then everybody would go off to their own sanctuary.

There was a great deal of separation and trying to maintain peace really did put a great big void in the middle of those relationships and all of that was omitted so I do think there was a great deal that was left out.

BV: One of your biggest contributions in your time with the group was writing the bands signature hit, Hotel California. When you hear that song today what are your thoughts?

DF: I look back at what we managed to produce as a team effort – as a group. We wrote and recorded really amazing pieces of music – great songs, great arrangements, great guitar parts, great vocals – and it was everybody contributing to every song, every tour, every part of the project to make it as great as we could all make it.

When I hear those songs from the mid-seventies I look back and I realize the amount of struggle and the pain-staking detail that we put into doing it and recording it was really worthwhile. If those songs had not been successful then you would go “Well, it wasn’t worth it” but I am very pleased with a lot of the stuff that I recall about those times which was sort of a test, like Joe and I playing Hotel California live or Joe and I playing in the studio the first time we were recording. I try to leave a lot of the negative, the anger, the frustration – all that stuff in the past. I look forward realizing we made some great music together. It was difficult but the product was glorious. Bigger and better than any of us have done individually since. I appreciate how right it was to make something that was so good.

BV: Going back to your new album, is a follow up to Road to Forever on the horizon?

DF: I would be delighted to live another 30 years to wait to make another record (laughs) but I actually already have 12 songs in various stages of completion. I’ve got pads and pads of lyric ideas and song titles. I’ve got guitar licks recorded and put away to be called on later to have some depth added and for lyrics to be put on top of. I’m always in the process of sketching and when I feel I have enough material that I like and that I think will make a nice record then I will go into the studio. Hopefully in the next couple of years you will have another one.

BV: You worked with a lot of people on the new album who you have worked with in the past including Stephen Stills. How was it to reconnect with these old friends in the studio?

DF: That’s right. A lot of people that came in were people that I have known for a long time, like Crosby, Stills and Nash came in and sang on Fall From The Grace Of Love. Stephen (Stills) and I have known each other since we were about 15. The first band that I worked with when I got to L.A was Crosby & Nash and I thought “who better to come and sing on this record than one of my favorite vocal groups in history”.

We are actually doing a benefit on April 13th here in Los Angeles at Club Nokia to raise money for Autism Speaks. Stephen lives about a mile or so from me down the street so we see each other at birthday parties – we have been friends for years and years. I was very careful about selecting people to be on this record that I knew were not only brilliant and gifted musically but who were a lot of fun to work with.

I couldn’t go into the studio and have trauma and any of that stuff that I had in the past. I just want to make it fun.

Steve Lukather came in and played guitar. Not only is a brilliant guitarist but he is also a really hysterical guy.

The days in the studio, although the days we worked were long and labor intense, there were a lot of laughs and that was a delightful experience for me and it encouraged me to come to the realization that I can go back into the studio, write a few songs, having fun doing it and that’s what I love.

BV: Will you be out on the road at all anytime in the near future?

DF: Yeah, we were out on the road a lot of last year. Road to Forever came out in October last year so we were on the road right through to December promoting it through radio, television and live gigs. We start back up in the middle of May in Columbus, Ohio. There is a bunch of anchor states right now on the calendar. They are filling in the routing for a pretty substantial campaign I think right through to the end of November.

BV: Wow, so that sounds like you have a pretty busy year ahead.

DF: (laughs) Yeah, you know, I love to work. That’s what started me on all of this and it is where I’m the happiest.

BV: Thanks for your time Don.

DF: You’re welcome Brendon, thanks

Don Felder’s latest album, Road to Forever, is out now.

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