- - Monday, April 27, 2015

Don Felder should be a bitter, broken man. After 27 years with The Eagles, he was unceremoniously fired from a band he helped make legendary thanks to his signature guitar work.

Instead, he is a joyous and powerful force inspired by the same pure passion for music that has driven him for decades. This summer, Mr. Felder hits the road for a string of dates with the Doobie Brothers. He spoke candidly about that legendary breakup, summer touring, the iconic “Hotel California” riff and the rerelease of his solo CD “The Road Goes on Forever.”

Question: How has touring changed for you over the years?

Answer: 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, for me, is all about why you are there. Ever since I was 10 years old, the thing that has propelled me is this unwavering obsession with the love of playing music. When I first joined [The Eagles], 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.

When that stops being attractive, I’ll stop. But I hope to have the longevity to keep playing like Les Paul did, which he did until he was 82. 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.

Q: What classic Eagles songs will you be playing on the tour?

A: I do a lot of the songs that I either co-wrote, recorded with the band or played live for the 27 years I was in The Eagles [like] “Those Shoes,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Victim of Love” — the stuff that was more my influence.

It’s funny, but during the “Hell Freezes Over” tour, people would yell out “Heavy Metal,” which is a solo hit of mine from the mid-1980s. Obviously, The Eagles would never play that song [laughs].

Q: That song was the title track from the cult classic animated film. How did that come about?

A: 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.

When I saw an early cut of “Heavy Metal” with the director, he asked if I could write a song for the film. I went back and rerecorded the tune, wrote the lyrics that you hear on the record, and it went on to be an FM hit.

Q: What songs do you think of as the soundtrack of summer?

A: I think a lot of the Foreigner songs like “Jukebox Hero.” “Blue Collar Man” from Styx. Songs that people grew up on and listened to in their youth while driving with the top down and their sunglasses on. They stick in people minds, and that’s what became classic rock.

Q: Did the iconic riff for “Hotel California” really come to you on the wind?

A: My wife at the time and I were living in Topanga Canyon [in Los Angeles]. 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 [while] 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 on Broad Beach. Later that day, I was sitting in a pair of cutoff shorts 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 thought, “I’m going to finish this song.” I recorded the bass part. Put a drum machine on it. Wrote the 12-string introduction. Joe [Walsh] had just joined the band. I really enjoyed playing and dueling with Joe. I wanted a song that would incorporate some of that.

I made the demo, put it on a cassette — if anyone remembers what that is — with 15 or 16 other songs, one of which became “Victim of Love.” I gave copies to everyone in the band. [Don] Henley called and said, “That one song kind of sounds like a Mexican reggae.” Don and Glenn [Frey] started writing lyrics. Next thing you know, we finished “Hotel California.”

Q: Does it still bother you that The Eagles fired you and continue without you?

A: 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.

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.

Q: Are you in touch with any of your former Eagles bandmates?

A: [Former bassist] Randy Meisner and I have stayed in touch. [Former multi-instrumentalist] Bernie Leadon and I are also friends. Unfortunately, I have reached out numerous times to Don, Glenn, Joe [Walsh] and Timothy [B. Schmit], and the only response I get back is from their attorneys.

I was married 29 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 28-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.

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.

Q: Ever consider touring or recording with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner?

A: 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. We get together, hit golf balls and tell jokes.

Q: Your 2012 “Road to Forever” CD was rereleased as an “extended edition.” What is new about it, and what inspired you to put it out again?

A: When I sat down to start writing for the CD initially, I wrote 27 songs. I pared it down to what I thought were the best 16 with the most diverse musical makeup — songs ranging from country acoustic with pedal steel to ballads and midtempo Jackson Browne — a very diverse music topography.

When I finished recording those 16 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. 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 16 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 “You Don‘t Have Me,” which has got a great response and was No. 1 on classic rock radio. I’m delighted at the response. People love these songs live.

Q: How did you get Tommy Shaw from Styx on the CD?

A: I’ve been friends with Tommy Shaw from Styx for 10, maybe 12 years. Tommy was kind enough to come over and spend two or three days and co-write some of the songs on the CD. He wrote a song with me called “Wash Away” and another 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.

Q: This summer you are the opening act for the Doobie Brothers. What is the best part of touring with established acts?

A: No egos. No drama. Just a lot of really talented, 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.

Touring can be tricky. You are on stage for two or three hours, which leaves you with 20 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]


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