Maclean’s Interview: Don Felder

Guitarist Don Felder of the Eagles talks with Kenneth Whyte about ‘Hotel California,’ Power, greed and the third encore


Don FelderQ: When I was reading your book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (John Wiley & Sons Canada), it surprised me—I’d forgotten that there was a time when the length of somebody’s hair could be such an issue.

A: Oh, it was huge. You know, my brother was just straight as an arrow, and got a scholarship to law school, and to this day you’d look at him and you know he’s a lawyer. So he was my predecessor, and then I had long hair, and was playing in bars, and my dad was really on my case.

Q: You grew up in Gainsville, Fla., and by the time you were out of high school you’d met not only Bernie Leadon, who was one of the founding members of the Eagles, but Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, the Allman Brothers. How’d that happen?

A: I don’t know if there was something in the water, or if it was something we all were smoking at the time, but an inordinate amount of people came out of that particular little area in north-central Florida, which was just a poor little town. We’d go play those fraternity parties Friday and Saturday, and sneak a beer out of the keg when nobody was looking, you know? During the summer we would go over and play the strip, either Daytona or Lauderdale or somewhere on the coast. That’s where I met the Allman Brothers.

Q: Who’s the best rock ’n’ roll guitarist you met? Would it be Duane Allman?

A: The best rock ’n’ roll guitarist I’ve ever met is Jeff Beck. He has the most brilliant dexterity and the ability to just play completely freely. Duane was a good guitar player but he was probably the most unique slide guitar player. Everybody else that played the old black blues music had played it on acoustic guitar, and Duane had taken that heritage and transferred it onto electric guitar, a Les Paul, and turned up this amp, and it was just smoking. But Jeff Beck, to me, is the most creative, innovative guitar player I’ve ever seen. He can play anything, literally.

Q: So you play in a few bands in Florida, and before long you’re in California where the rock music scene is taking off.

A: I’d always go see Bernie and we’d hang out in rehearsals and just jam. And so I got this call from Glenn Frey in the middle of the Eagles making the album On the Border, asking me if I’d come down and play slide guitar on this one song, ironically enough entitled Good Day in Hell, which turned out to be a very long good day in hell! I played that session and I got a call the next day from Glenn asking me to join the band.

Q: So you went from being a sideman to becoming a partner with the Eagles?

A: Correct, exactly. We formed this company called Eagles Ltd., which was a corporation owned by all five members, it was Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and myself, we each owned 20 per cent of this company that owned the Eagles. It owned the T-shirts, the touring, everything, it was all divided equally. This band was going to be different, there were going to be no sidemen involved with this organization.

Q: Those were innocent times, weren’t they?

A: Yeah.

Q: The Eagles changed when you came on, the sound changed. Obviously they heard something in your playing—in your guitar—that they were missing.

A: They made a conscious decision to try to direct the sound of the band away from country music and more into rock, pop. That’s why we recorded songs like Already Gone, which was a rock ’n’ roll, guitar-driven kind of thing that I played on.

Q: Okay, but they had guitar players. Why couldn’t those guys have played differently?

A: Well, because Bernie Leadon, who was the primary guitarist in the band, had his roots in country music. If you listen to the first couple of records, Eagles and Desperado, you’ll hear Bernie all over the place. And so what they were looking for was somebody that could bring some meat to the bone, that could make this band a rock ’n’ roll band.

Q: What was so unique about that sound?

A: It’s the spirit of it, and the people that I was drawn to, like B.B. King. I first saw him when I was about 13 or 14 years old. He was in a barn, and the women were crying and screaming out when he was playing. He was able to move people. Duane Allman was the same way, he had the ability to just make your hair stand up on your arms, on the back of your neck. That’s what I wanted to do. And I think that’s what they heard in my playing. When you hear the solo in One of These Nights or you hear the solos and music in Hotel California, it’s a moving performance, you don’t know what it is, but it’s exciting.

Q: It’s a very tight band, but no one really seems to get along.

A: I think the Eagles were really unique in that it had five people and everyone wrote, sang and played really well. It was like it had five front men, and it was a constant struggle and battle for the control and power positions in the band. And we just kept going full speed ahead for 10½, 11 months a year, either in the studio, or writing, or on the road, and you can only do that for a certain length of time before your nerve endings just get raw and you’ll just explode over the slightest little simple thing. As all the hits had been mostly sung by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, they seized more and more control, much to the detriment and anger of Bernie Leadon—he was just a sideman in their view—to the point where he quit. Later they drove Randy to the point where Randy quit.

Q: Throw drugs and success and money into the mix and it’s almost, in retrospect, a miracle that you lasted as long as you did.

A: Well, you know, the three ugly elements that really present themselves in human circumstance are greed, power and control, and I don’t care if it’s a family arguing over an inheritance, or corporate partners over how to run a business, or bands, there’s that struggle over greed—who’s going to make the most money—the power of who’s really in charge, and the control of all the decisions. That struggle is one of the most difficult, if not the ugliest, parts of human relationships, and when there’s billions of dollars at stake, as there was later in the ’90s, it becomes surrounded by small armies of attorneys, and managers, and accountants.

Q: So the spirit got drained out of the band by the, what, late ’70s, early ’80s?

A: Right, right. And it was very difficult to reunite. But in ’94 when we finally got back together there was such a huge amount of money put on the table for us to do it that everyone was on their best behaviour. But then as time went by a lot of the same old issues started raising their ugly heads.

Q: I’m surprised at how physical it got with you guys sometimes. You were throwing each other up against the walls.

A: But it was just the frustration that accompanied the intensity of the work, and the pressure. The magnitude of that success after Hotel California was so enormous, so beyond what any of us had ever envisioned or expected. We created this monster with Hotel California, and it ate us!

Q: I wanted to ask you about the song, because it’s the Eagles’ signature song, and it’s described as the Eagles’ masterpiece, probably comparable to Hey Jude for the Beatles, would you say?

A: Stairway to Heaven, yeah, those sorts. It’s really nice to be a classic, by the way.

Q: That song has a different sound from where the Eagles had been before because it starts off with a Latin influence in the opening chords, and it’s got this semi-reggae beat to it. Where did all these influences come from?

A: There was a lot of Latin influence in Florida, there was a huge Cuban and Hispanic population. Reggae was something that was just around the corner, you know, in Jamaica

Q: It’s funny that the quintessential California rock song is inspired by Florida influences.

A: I know!

Q: What’s the third encore?

A: The third encore was one of the heavenly parts of being on the road that produced a hellish amount of guilt in my life. Before, during and after the show, part of our road crew would go out with bags of buttons—they were like little campaign buttons with a pin on it—and they said “3E” on them, which stood for the third encore, and find the most beautiful women in the arena and invite them back to this party with the Eagles at the hotel. There’d be somewhere between 75 and 150 women. And in those days I was the only married guy in the band. Everybody else was going there like they were fishing for tuna and were just pulling them out, throwing them up on the deck, going back, getting another one, it was out of control. A lot of drugs, a lot of alcohol, a lot of cocaine, Quaaludes, a lot of brandy, I mean, no excuses but most of the time I was fairly well intoxicated. So I started partaking in the third encore. For days after that, I ’d just be eaten up with the fact that I was being promiscuous on the road while I had a wife and kids at home, and three or four days later I’d wind up going back in just to get a drink and wind up withanother woman.

Q: You are frank in the book about those experiences and the troubles they caused in your marriage.

A: Well, I just tried to be as honest as I could. Later, when we reunited in ’94, going in I knew I was going to have the same opportunity to make the same mistakes, so I prepared myself so I could battle these demons and battle this desire, and indeed I wound up going to bookstores and buying really spiritual books. I’m very proud to say that I went through that whole Hell Freezes Over period, and I passed the test the second time, I got through that without a mistake.

Q: Animosities and tensions build up, and Henley and Frey eventually tell you you’re no longer in the band. How does it feel to see them out there still under the banner of the Eagles?

A: Well, there are two things that strike me. Number one, I was sadly disappointed at their record musically. Henley and Frey used to be one of the greatest songwriting teams—like Lennon and McCartney—and for them to come out with their first single from a 1972 J.D. Souther song that I played on in ’72 or ’73 with J.D. and make that their first single, to me was like, “What?!?” I was really disappointed.

Q: They’re touring, playing the old songs, and making a lot of money, but creatively they seem to be exhausted.

A: That’s right. Now, the one thing that Don Henley and Glenn Frey told me as we were working on One of These Nights, “You know, we’re going to make a pact that we’re never going to be like the Beach Boys,” but indeed, ironically enough, that’s exactly what they are. It’s like the Eagles Orchestra now. You go back and listen to the Eagles from 1976, it’s five guys onstage, all singing, all playing, live. It’s not a bunch of overdubs and fixed-up tracks and accompanying musicians. You can really hear what that band used to be.

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Maclean’s Interview: Don Felder

  1. Henley and Frey are assholes!! Don Felder is better off without those balding,(Henley anyway), graying, greedy arrogant OLD douche bags!! Hey Donnie BOY Henley, why don’t you get a Rogaine prescription next time your ass goes to pick up your Viagra.

  2. I think it’s extroadinarily ironic that Don Felder would choose Jeff Beck as the guy he considers to be rock’s greatest guitarist that he’s met. As a member of possibly the most commercial band in history, he managed to name the guy who is probably the least commercial artist in rock.I agree his assesment of Jeff’s skill. but If payola was still allowed, I don’t think Jeff could buy his way on to the playlists of most radio stations in America.

    • Jeff Beck is actually reguarded as the best or second best guitar player ever. How come his stuff is never on the radio????

  3. Felder was a key component to the band. Witness the Hell Freezes Over CD as opposed to the Australian concert and you will see what I mean. Stuart Smith is a great guitarist but Felder was the original and the band has suffered by firing him.

  4. Over the long time I’ve been an Eagles Fan, I never realized how much a fan of Don Felder I was to become. In my opinion, when he became a member of the Eagles a good band became a great one. His acoustic intro to “Hotel California” on Hell Freezes Over speaks volumes to his talent. While the other members of the Eagles are talented as is Stuart Smith, for me it’s not the same. I would love to hear more from him in the future. I wouldn’t care if it was solo or with a different band. For anyone thinking about reading his book, it is very straightforward and ,from my own experience, with bands accurate account of how easily something so much fun can turn sour when egos get too big. It’s worth reading.

  5. I’m reading his book right now as a Xmas present to myself. The Eagles music was the soundtrack of my early teeenage years so reading Dons view on events & the cast he has mentioned in the book made it more real for me.

    Sad that drugs made the music of that era but I guess alot of great rock was spurned out that way even today. It’s good to see Don came throgh it all be it a little bruised!

  6. Reading Felders Book brings out one essential question in me: is it wrong to hold still for so many years as he did, in order to keep the artistic flow high and the fighting low within the band? He’s paid a hell of a price for all the millions he made with The Eagles only to be fired in the end, as the final point of years if not decades of humiliation and disgrace, being the punching bag for these two egomaniacs. What would his advice be to young musicians in similar situations?

  7. Having mourned the breakup of the eagles while in high school, and being a lead guitarist since 1979, this guy has long been my idol. The book is excellent and most importantly, I am so glad Don finally told Don and Glenn to kiss his a$$. Let’s see if they can master anotehr Hotel California. Steuart is good, but he is not an Eagle. Long love DF.

    • The Eagles are just not the same without DF. I hope to hear more music by DF in the future. We need to hear it!!

  8. Just finished Don;s book. The guy is a champion and good on him for not taking a back seat to Don and Glenn, Irv well he's just a clown puppet! I guess that is waht Timothy and Joe are as well puppets. Can't wait to hear his new CD when it's done, it will be better than "Long Raod out to Jokerville" which had one good song on it…..Bring back the Felder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I recently watch the Hell Freezes Over Concert on VHCL. When Hotel California started with Felder's intro, the hair stood up on my arms!!!!! When I first heard this song I remember where I was and who I was with and thought "all my God". This last album Road to Nowhere or what ever, well to tell the truth just does not even sound like the same band. Something was very much missing. Maybe greed and egos are getting in the way of music. Don Felders guitar will be missed and as far as I am concerned the Eagles soar no more.

  10. Don Henley is a schmuck and a suck. There was a band a while back that wrote a song called "Don Henley Must Die"…yup, lighten up, Henley. And I'd like to be in a room with Frey for 5 minutes to verbally cut him down to size. Almost 60 and still trying to be a Detroit street rough. It's best Felder left when he did, cause I'd rather see him doing things on his own turf then towing the line to a couple of nutless, paranoid old sociopaths like those two. ………..Before reading his book, I met him and asked him about the current leg on the road "Hey, man how long you been on tour?" He gave me a sheepish look I will never forget, smiled, slightly lowered his head and said "All my life".

  11. I saw the EAGLES on their "California" tour and the tour with their new LP. For anyone that has seen them before (way before) when they were still musically hungry, consider the fact that you probably saw an excellant show. Since now they are only $$ hungry, save your hard earned funds as the show lacks energy, spirit and fun. It's to be expected after firing Felder and not asking Bernie or Randy back, if even just as guests for a show or two.

  12. ……………….another thought: Henley & Frey, if it isn't about the money, how about a charity benefit show here in L.A. WITH Bernie and Randy, the original 4, and perform your entire 1st two LP's. My god, what a thought ( that will never happen ).

    • They would have to grow a soul. They don't have one between them. It must really piss them off that the one song the Eagles will be remembered for forever wasn't even written by them. (The words were Henleys but its the music to that song that make it fantastic.)

  13. Don is really talented and you are always my idol with my greatest support. Please keep up and make more great music for us. Miss you always.

  14. I just saw Don Felder at Niagara Falls and he kicked ass. He is a fantastic guitar player and he is such a nice guy. I have not met him but after reading his book, I feel like I know him. I truly beleive that Henley and Frey are jerks and made a huge mistake in firing Don Felder. The Eeagles are dead, long live Don Felder!!!

  15. Since their inception you could always hear the perfection and first rate musical talents that lay within the band. Somehow, though, I'd always thought that a lot of pressure, both self-induced and from within the industry, caused a lot of personal and professional problems. When I read Don Felder's book it only confirmed my previous suspicions. Some of the extremes were funny, some unfortunate (ask Don himself), and some surprising. I enjoyed the book very much and wish Felder the best — a great guitarist who took a very long road and a very long time to find peace in his life. Don, as Bernie once wrote, I Wish You Peace. As for writing Hotel California, I'm envious that you did it so well, and thank you for that musical cornerstone in my life.

  16. Don Felder is an exceptional guitarist, a surprisingly good singer, and really nice, down-to-earth guy. When I heard him sing at a solo concert not long ago I had to wonder why he didn't do more prominent vocals with the Eagles — maybe he wouldn't have been seen as so expendable. Steuart Smith is an exceptional guitarist in his own right but he is not the Eagle who created the parts we hear. To watch Felder in concert is to see joy in making the music. His dexterity while playing is almost like massaging the sound from the guitar. I enjoyed his book for the stories and the behind-the-scenes viewpoints, and how The Eagles eventually lost themselves. The bit about the "Eagles Orchestra" is so true!

    • He wasn’t allowed to sing lead while still in the Eagles. Frey and Henley said he wasn’t a good singer.

  17. I am a repair plumber who worked for Don Felder at his home in Malibu, California. I was also an admiring fan of all these Eagle songsmiths. He happened to be home during one of my repair calls when he suddenly approached me and began verbally berating me. It was totally gratuitous. I kept my professional composure and excused myself from his incrediby rude behavior. Afterwards several of his house staff approached me and actually apologized for him, claiming he treated all of them with the same abuse and disrespect. I sympathise with Frey, Henley and his x-wife. He's a jerk and bully.

    • Repair plumber? “songsmiths?” and the spelling of “SympathiSe?” Did you fly over from London to Malibu to repair his plumbing? I think we got a phony post here.

  18. good interview.

  19. I'm from the 60's and was never taken with any particular band until the Eagles came along with their smooth sounding, country rock, and when they disappeared from the scene, it was o-well. But when they reappeared on the scene with their Hell Freezes Over "video", it was totally "AWASOME". These 5 are musicians to the max; I had not realize how much talent each one possess and how they click as a group, and the orchestra that backed them was the "right touch", even if Henley had an "attitude" toward them. They've done nothing since that can remotely compare. The loss of Felder means that there is "no more" Eagles Band. But I've got my memrobelia video. Good luck, Don Felder; you're the best, shame on them.

  20. Wow, real thanks for posting this so great interview with Mr. Felder, just a pure and great Rock guitarist, way up there in rock's top players.
    I wonder if they'r still mad at each other or if the make peace (sorry for not reading all the way) I would really like to think they did, since they (Felder and the band)have so much water under the bridge.
    By the way He names Jeff Beck as the best guitarist in his book, is he that good? I haven't heard that much of his albums and I am well aware of his reputation but I thought he was going to mention maybe Hendrix, Clapton, Page, lot's of other great ones, hey but thats his opinion and he should know better of course.
    Real Thanks

  21. The truth is hard to tell. If you asked Henley or Frey they'd tell a different story. It is just so sad, that things like this happen, after all, because of money and greed. And Don Felder disappoints me, if it's true what robert the plumber said here earlier (and why should he say it, if it wasn't). I pity him because he seems to be unhappy and cannot appreciate his wonderful experiences.

    • Robert the plumber may not really be Robert the plumber. Or perhaps, Don Felder, like so many of us, had an off day. Maybe Robert the plumber screwed up the job. There are 2 sides to every story but so far we only have Roberts version. Listen to all of the interviews with Don Felder. He displays a calm and classy demeanor in every one. He never interrupts and always gives thoughtful comments whatever he is asked. Roberts comments aren’t consistent with the demeanor that Don has displayed on the numerous interviews he has done. Just saying.

  22. The truth is hard to tell. If you asked Henley or Frey they'd tell a different story. It is just so sad, that things like this happen, after all, because of money and greed. And Don Felder disappoints me, if it's true what robert the plumber said here earlier (and why should he say it, if it wasn't). I pity him because he seems to be unhappy and cannot appreciate his wonderful experiences.

    [youtube icTF5j5mkUQ&p=D1EA2619F6757D54&playnext=1&index=4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icTF5j5mkUQ&p=D1EA2619F6757D54&playnext=1&index=4 youtube]

    • Perhaps, but the fact that Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner left a successful, touring, recording band speaks volumes to me. I played in minor touring and recording bands that never tasted success, but always the biggest problem was the petty personal junk. The married guy always is the grownup while the single guys run wild.

  23. I have only just started reading this book, I’m up to Chapter Eight. I am reading it with an open mind and letting my instinct do the rest. So far what strikes me is his determination to succeed and secondly, that he learned his craft the hard way. I admire a musician who does the hard yards, who followed his dream and waited very many years for the ripe fruit to fall. I prefer to assess his story on the music aspect, not his character because the music is what he’s all about. I don’t really care what he does in his personal life, if he is successful at music as he was born to it, then he has achieved his aim. That things got really ugly between him, Frey & Henley goes to the three negs he mentioned in his interview. When there’s mega dollars involved the green-eyed monster takes over and the music seems to take second place. I actually like the Eagles performing more in the last 10 years, I am not fussed on some of their early stuff at all. But what does matter to me is they stay professional as musicians. Personality clashes aside, it’s not what the public need to know. Just my humble opinion.

  24. Great story! Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Irving Azoff are all evil incarnate. More money than they can spend in 10 lifetimes, yet still they screwed over Don Felder to get a few shekels more. But no surprise there, everyone already knew they were jerks. What shocked me from reading this book was what lowlife douches Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh turned out to be. Didn’t raise a finger to defend best friend Don Felder! Without Felder, they can all get away with still being called ‘The Eagles’… without Felder, Schmidt, AND Walsh, well, they’d they’d be changing their name to ‘Henley & Frey’. I was especially disappointed with Walsh, after reading the bit about how Felder helped his stinky drunk ass to rehab (thus saving his career) — how he could just dump Felder in the sh*t like that, it really breaks your heart. They should’ve put up a united front against The Gods, and if that meant the reunion didn’t happen, well I guess Schmidt and Walsh would’ve had to live off a $10million fortune instead of what they’ve got now (probably five times that). Frey, Henley, and Azoff sleep well at night, but that’s only because none of them have souls. Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh, how well do you sleep at night? I used to love The Eagles, ever since I heard ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ as a kid in the late 70’s. Now if I met any of them on the street (except for Don Felder), I’d cross the street.

  25. I have a good eagles story. I went to an eagles concert in 75 I think, it was a benefit concert when Gerry brown was running for president. The concert was at the capital centre in md. Anyway it was my 21st birthday and my boyfriend now husband conned the roadies to let us in the back door when the concert was ending. Anyway my boyfriend managed to get all the Eagles to sign my ticket stub and talk to us for a moment, don Henley was the 1st one off the stage and he was a jerk said he was tired but my boyfriend/husband convinced him to sign the ticket stub, glen Frey told us to come with them to their hotel when he signed his signature, randy was very nice, and don felder asked if I wanted his room number or his phone number, I was pretty star struck I said both I think I still have ticket stub. To this day we kick ourselves for no going to the hotel with them we were big fans, but even back then don and glen seem to have big egos, and snakes on the prowl

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  27. Just heard Don Felder play at the closing party for Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester, UK and I gotta say I enjoyed it more than seeing the Eagles reunion concert in Tokyo which was technically brilliant but not as goose-pimply as Don singing and playing just like the ol’ days. Someone please post it on Youtube including his blues duet with young Freddie March “channelling the spirit of BB King”. Mesmerizing.

  28. You know what i think? Lots of people are saying that henley en frey suck or that they are dushbags. And of course if you read the book you think right away that henley and frey suck. but i don’t. I did’nt read the book. But i know that there were issues. But that doesn’t mean that you should think that henley and frey suck. And maybe henley and frey did some things that are not nice, i don’t know but that doesn’t mean that you should hate frey and henley. Cause i do’nt think frey and Henley are doushbags or that they suck and i don’t hate them. And i also don’t hate felder and the rest of the band. I think that the last album of the eagles is great. Of course it’s sad that felder is not in the band anymore. But at least be happy that you still can hear felder’s music and that you can see him perform. And i also think that felder’s music is still great.

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