Don Felder, the Eagles’ former lead guitarist and co-writer of some of their most phenomenally successful songs, has told quite a story in his best-selling memoir, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles, 1974 – 2001. Before Mr. Felder held a book signing and sat for an interview with noted journalist David Rensin at the Santa Monica Library’s Martin Luther King auditorium, he chatted with the Mirror and shared anecdotes from his amazing life in the fast lane.
Mr. Felder, trim and handsome, has aged gracefully – the long hair and beard from his halcyon days with the Eagles in the 70’s and 80’s are long gone. Despite the bitter and acrimonious legal action against former band-mates Don Henley and Glen Frey, Felder is gracious, warm, laid-back and surprisingly at peace with the tumult that was, in his words, “the worst nightmare of my life.”
The Eagles are the best-selling American rock band of all time, and needless to say, Felder, who co-wrote, among others, “Hotel California,” “Already Gone,” and “One of These Nights,” and infused the dose of pure rock n’ roll that put the Eagles into the pop music stratosphere, was integral to their success. Reuniting, in the 90’s after many years apart, the Eagles “Hell Freezes Over” tour grossed, all in, over $500 million dollars. After that tour, Felder, a full partner along with Henley and Frey in Eagles Limited, the company they formed when still “a bunch of guys in jeans and t-shirts,” asked repeatedly to have a look at the books – a more than reasonable request, especially given the fact that Felder was the company’s Chief Financial Officer. “If you have nothing to hide, why hide everything?” Felder asked.
After repeated stonewalling from Henley, Frey and Irving Azoff, the Eagles’ long-time manager, Felder put his foot down and demanded access to the company’s finances. Henley and Frey responded by firing him from the band without offering a single dime of compensation, and the long legal battle ensued. The warring parties finally settled out of court last year, and Felder, due to a confidentiality agreement, cannot comment on the nature of the settlement, but even at, say, a meager 10 percent of the “Hell” tour, Felder will not be needing a day job anytime soon.
When asked if he might ever mend fences with his former band-mates, Felder revealed that he has, on numerous occasions, reached out to Henley and Frey through mutual friends as well as the media, but his only responses have been through their lawyers. “There’s an ice curtain [between us] that even in light of global warming refuses to thaw,” Felder joked.
Henley and Frey even tried to block the publication of Heaven and Hell, an absurdity from a legal point of view, as a person cannot be prevented from telling his life story. Clearly, Henly and Frey were afraid of what Felder’s book might do to their public image, and indeed, he paints a less than flattering portrait of them.
As musicians, performers and composers, Felder has endless praise and admiration for the Eagles frontmen, but he has little regard for them as human beings. Felder described the atmosphere when Henley and Frey were in the same room together as “morgue-like” and their controlling, perfectionist natures made the process of recording at times agonizing. Felder smilingly recalls taking three days (!) to record the word “city, ” the first word of “Lyin’ Eyes.” Felder also felt constrained by the necessity of replicating songs live note-for-note as they appeared on the Eagles’ albums, again, a product of both Henley and Frey’s tyrannically controlling natures, and also what the fans apparently demanded. Other than on some of Joe Walsh’s material, such as “Funk 49” or “Rocky Mountain Way,” the Eagles seldom loosened up onstage, and improvisation was, by and large, taboo.
But ironically, what broke up the band the first time was Henley and Frey’s inability to work with each other, despite their “united” stand against Felder in the legal actions that followed.
Still, for all the angst and insanity, Felder misses “playing music at such a high level,” as well as some of the rock star antics that made an Eagles tour, with the possible exception of Led Zeppelin, the craziest party in rock n’ roll. Felder laughingly recalls Joe Walsh’s penchant for chainsaws, which he used to create “adjoining suites” in many a hotel room.
These days, Felder stays busy with a “corporate band” that plays gigs for major companies such as Sun Microsystems in order to “waste some of the stockholders’ money.” Felder is also involved in many charitable causes, and plays shows for organizations such as Autism Speaks, Boomer Esiason’s Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Make a Wish Foundation.
Don Felder started life dirt poor in Gainsville, Florida, and worked his way to the pinnacle of success. But like all things in life, his success came with a price in terms of his personal life and his own inner peace. But Felder was one of the lucky ones; although the lyrics of “Hotel California” proclaim that, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” Felder did indeed manage to leave, and live to tell his singular, fascinating tale.