Interview – Don Felder

Interview – Don Felder

don-felder-337webFor some, music has been running through their veins since the day they were born. In the world of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Don Felder, his guitar has been his form of expression for almost six decades. Growing up in Gainsville, Florida, Felder had been creating Rock-n-Roll music for years, and in 1974 founding member of the Eagles, Bernie Leadon, asked him to join in on some recordings as the band looked to change musical directions. It was not before long, Felder became one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for the second wave of the Eagles’ career, debuting on their 1974 album On the Border and helping them reach a new level with the commercial success on One of These Nights in 1975. A part of the storied band for twenty-seven years, Felder’s career has been dressed with a massive resume of contributions to film soundtracks, other artists work, as well as his own solo career, which saw him release a brand new album titled Road to Forever in 2012. An American Rock icon, there are many layers to the axeman who has seen it all. Recently we sat down with Felder for a closer look at his time with the Eagles, his solo career, plans for the future, and much more.

CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music for nearly five decades now. In that time, you have attained quite an amazing career, working with everyone from Michael Jackson to Stevie Nicks, and a twenty-seven year span with The Eagles. In retrospect, what has your Rock-n-Roll journey been like?

Don Felder – You know, it has been just an amazing, unexpected fantasy. When I started playing guitar, I was ten years old. It was The Ed Sullivan Show with Elvis Presley, and I got really hooked on learning to play guitar and playing music. Then I was led through the discovery of people like BB King and eventually The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and took me toward another sort of direction away from what the Elvis kind of Country Rock was. I wound up exploring Jazz, teaching myself to read music, studying Jazz, working in recording studios, learning how to make records, playing in just about every kind of band from Bluegrass bands to Rock bands, Jazz bands, any and every kind of music that I could get involved with. Along the way, I met some incredibly fascinating as well as talented people. It has been a kind of fantasy life for me to have been able to start off with such a humble beginning that was just the love and passion of music and find myself in the pursuit of developing my skills and musical ability. In the process I discovered all these kinds of music, all these different people to write, record, play, tour, and wind up working with; it has just been wonderful.

CrypticRock.com – It sounds amazing. It is a dream come true, and obviously all your hard work paid off through the years. When you joined up with the Eagles back in 1974, many would say you were an intricate part in helping progress the band’s sound into a heavier Rock styling. This became very evident with your first record with the band. Was this a direction the band knew they wanted to go or did it morph naturally?

Don Felder – My understanding was that their first couple of records, although they had hits on them, were hits like “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Tequila Sunrise;” those kind of more really Country to Country Rock forms of music. They were having a little bit of difficulty getting on AM radio because AM radio was so clearly defined that you either had to be a Rock band, a drippy ballad singer, or something of that nature. Country music was really still very Country, so they did not really fit on the Country radio charts; although they wound up with songs on those charts and radio stations. They really wanted to go more into AM Rock radio. That is why I was invited into the band, to bring more Rock skills into the recording, touring, and just the overall feel of the band.

I was fortunate enough to have known Bernie Leadon back in high school. Bernie and I had a Bluegrass band that I played acoustic guitar and he played banjo. Then we had a band of our own that we made a couple of singles with that was kind of a Rock, British influenced band. I had stayed in touch with Bernie over the years and finally got invited to come in and play slide guitar on the first record in 1974, On The Border. They called me the next day and asked me to join the band. I guess I was exactly what they were looking for musically. We wrote, recorded, and made some great records together. We built an amazing career with a combination of all the skills that everyone brought to the table. Great vocals, songwriting, arranging, and guitar parts, it was a really unique combination for its time. I think that was part of the reason why it became so successful.

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CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, the guitar tone and styling you offered the band in your tenure really are some of the most memorable of their catalog with of course “Hotel California,” “One of These Nights,” “Victim of Love,” and so many others. How redeeming was it to see all your hard work helping the Eagles reach a new level of Rock-n-Roll stardom?

Don Felder – I think we were all team players. It was like having a great football team that not any one person, maybe the quarterback would receive more recognition, but it was the offensive linemen, the tight ends, and the wide receivers; it was the whole team that actually made that thing work. I felt that although there had been some changes in the players in the band when Randy and Bernie left, and Joe and Timothy came into the band, the direction that I was able to push the band musically by writing songs for Hotel California (1976), writing harder tracks for The Long Run (1979), was really a direction that I felt it needed to go in. I felt really fortunate that I had the opportunity to write and present a lot of material to wind up being considered to be on a record.

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CrypticRock.com – Of course, and as mentioned, outside the Eagles, you have been very busy through the years. Your debut solo album Airborne was released in 1983, but you did not release a full-length studio album again until 2012’s Road to Forever. What was it like for you to go back into the studio and put together the tracks of Road to Forever?

Don Felder – It was fairly interesting because I have had a studio since the early ‘80s. I have done a lot of film scoring with songs like “Heavy Metal” for the 1981 movie. I had things in my studio, as well as producing other music for movies and doing film scoring. It was not like I had been out of the studio for thirty years (laughs). Once I left the band in 2001, I had started writing and collecting song ideas and putting together a band of my own to go out and do shows and touring. In the middle I was writing my autobiography, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001). The book wound up being on the best seller list, which was just an unexpected surprise to me.

Needless to say, I was taking time to write and put together song ideas. Finally when I got the time during 2011, I actually started producing the masters out of nearly thirty songs I had written and demoed. I went back in and used the masters for it and we cut sixteen tracks. I was having a lot of fun, a lot of guest artists came in and played on the record with me. Some great co-writers such as Tommy Shaw, Timothy Drury, and some other people who worked on the record with me both as artists appearing and playing. Steve Lukather came in and played on it, about half of Toto came in and played on it (laughs). We just had a lot of fun in the studio. It was a different environment for me from making Eagles records. It was a lot of laughter, fun, and joy, no egos; none of that sort of stuff. I had a really great time making that record and I have already been writing, since 2013, for my next one. I am going to try to get it done by somewhere in 2016, if I can have enough time off the road to actually make a record.

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CrypticRock.com – That is exciting to hear that you have some new material in the bank for the future. It will be something to look forward to. Road to Forever certainly is filled with catchy, passionate guitar work. Now that you have been actively touring, does it feel revitalizing for you to have this new material to go to during a live set?

Don Felder – Absolutely, I was delightfully surprised at the reception in my live shows when I started introducing some of the new songs, back in 2012, off of Road To Forever. It seemed like the songs fit very nicely in and amongst classic songs that I either co-wrote, toured with, or may have recorded in the studio with the Eagles; it fit very comfortably in amongst that. Although they were newer songs that people were not quite as familiar as a lot of the old stuff. Although, last Summer when I was on the road with Foreigner, Styx, and myself; I wound up having three songs in the Top Ten on Classic Rock Radio. The song “You Don’t Have Me” wound up at Number One for twelve weeks on Classic Rock Radio, which was just an unbelievable surprise to me. Just before that, the song called “Wash Away” wound up being Number Four on Classic Rock Radio charts right between Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. You cannot be surrounded by better company in that genre than those two acts; I was very happy to do that. Then, we re-recorded a version of “Hotel California” which included a couple of guys from Styx, a couple of guys from Foreigner, and put that out just before the tour. At one point, I had three songs that I had either written or co-written and recorded either from my new record or 2014’s the Soundtrack of Summer record on Classic Rock Radio, which was just an overwhelming surprise and delight for me.

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CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic and well deserved. You mentioned in 2014 you were part of a amazing summer line-up with Styx and Foreigner. You are now completing a string of select dates with the Doobie Brothers. How exciting have these shows been?

Don Felder – I have known these guys; both the guys from Foreigner and Styx, Doobies, and Steve Miller, for decades now. We did some shows last year together with the Doobies, Boston, and myself and we just had such a great response to the show that our managers and booking agents said, “This is a great package, we should put some dates together and put this out next Summer.” I did a private with Steve Miller last year; we had the same idea. That is coming to fruition, I think we have a few dates on the calendar already. Just different acts that I think are in the same market place that I am, as far as their audiences that know that music so well from the ‘70s and ‘80s. They still come out and see live Rock shows, as well as younger generations that have heard the songs but have never seen these bands play live, or new fans to that music as well. I am really looking forward to this Summer; working with a bunch of people that I know really well, that play really well together, and especially the hang-time in between shows.

CrypticRock.com –  Again, it is a great package, it is great to see that Classic Rock is really being received well by younger audiences as well.

Don Felder – Yes, I remember going out during The Hell Freezes Over tour and being really surprised at looking at the audience and seeing three generations; really young kids around six, seven, eight years old sitting on the lap of their father or mother, and their father or mother sitting next to them. It was like three generations of people that had been exposed to and learned this music. I guess they learned to love it as well, but they wanted not only themselves to enjoy it, but they wanted to bring their kids out. I ran into this woman, now in her mid-forties, who saw her first Eagles shows when she was nine years old; a huge fan because her mother took her to see a show. She was one of those kids sitting on the lap; she comes out to nearly every show that I play just because she is such a big fan of that music and really enjoys reliving her youth at that point and those memories. It is a delightful surprise, like I said, to have so many people spanning so many generations still interested and still attending the shows, still listening to the songs on the radio, and still involved with it. It is really great.

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CrypticRock.com – It certainly is. That is how great music stays alive. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?

Don Felder – I have really never been a large fan of them. They have an expression in the film business, “Shooting over the top;” you are on a set and the camera pulls back a little bit too far and you can see the top of the set. Instantly, the magic disappears because it is revealed that it is just a movie set. For me, it’s hard to buy into Horror movies because I have been around film and television so much, and so many sets, that it is hard for me to buy into the fact that it is not just a bunch of makeup and/or sets that are built for it. I really appreciate the art form, but I have difficulty believing it, and really being affected by it.

CrypticRock.com – That is completely understandable. The genre is not for everyone. Do you have any films, specifically, that you do enjoy?

Don Felder – I try to watch, particularly, the ones that are most recently Oscar nominated. I am a member of SAG-AFTRA, so they send me all the DVDs of the nominated films, but I prefer to see them in the theater as they were originally shot and designed to be presented. There were a lot of great movies this past year. I really liked Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), which I thought was a really unique almost tongue-in-cheek take on the “James Bond” kind of spy, villain, saving the world type Drama, but done in a really kind of fun, campy way. It was refreshing for me to see that.

Anytime you hear this kind of ground swell of conversation in a dinner party, “Oh have you seen…” fill in the blank, “You have got to see it, it is a great movie,” it is kind of word of mouth more so than the advertising and hype that I see on television, billboards,that I try to assess whether I want to go see a movie or not. Then, I read some reviews before I go to make certain it is worth the time, effort, and energy to go out and see a film in a theater; to make certain it has got enough positive reviews  to support me putting myself in theater seat. I spend a lot of time in my hotel room; when I am not sitting writing lyrics, doing something in a sound check, on a bus, or something, watching Netflix. That is when I can catch back up on movies I have not seen in a long time, or some of the newer movies that have only been released on Netflix. It is great entertainment if you have the time to do it. I rarely do, but I try to do it as much as I can.

Tour Dates:
6-6-15 Greek Theatre L.A. in Los Angeles, California *
6-13-15 The Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio
6-14-15 Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania **
6-27-15 Brainard, Mn in Brainerd, Minnesota
6-28-15 Arcada Theatre in Saint Charles, Illinois
7-21-15 Vilar Performing Arts Center in Avon, Colorado
7-22-15 Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado **
7-24-15 Quick Chek NJ Festival of Ballooning Solberg-Hunterdon Airport in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
8-9-15 Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey
8-21-15 Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights, Michigan ***
8-22-15 Milwaukee Ala Carte At The Zoo Milwaukee County Zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
* w/ Doobie Brothers
** w/ Steve Miller Band
*** w/ Huey Lewis and The News

For more on Don Felder: donfelder.com | Facebook | Twitter 
Purchase Road to Forever on Amazon
Purchase Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) on Amazon

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1Comment
  • Rosemary Whitman
    Posted at 20:22h, 30 June Reply

    When is your grandbaby due and is this your first one?
    Also have you thought anymore about coming back to Texas and playing the Oil Palace in Tyler?
    My son and I saw you in Austin and the other day he said, we sure had a good time at the concert didn’t we!
    Looking forward to seeing you again. Am listening to The Road to Forever as I write this. RW

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