One-on-One With Former Eagles Guitarist Don Felder (Part 2)

By on June 17, 2013

Don1009web- Michael Helms

(This is Part 2 of my interview with legendary guitarist Don Felder. Click HERE for introduction and Part 1!)

Chris: I’d like to switch over to Road to Forever, if you don’t mind. I read your book when it came out a few years ago…so when I listened to the record the first thing I noticed was the subject matter of lyrics, which were focused on many of the experiences in the book. I had read that you were going through a divorce at around the same time you had left the Eagles. During the time you were synthesizing these ideas and putting them into songs, did you see any parallels between a romantic relationship and a band relationship?

Don: Well, there’s a great deal of similarity between those two relationships, [especially] when they get to the point where they end. The heartbreak of them both was difficult. So I didn’t want to write specifically about either one. The only one that I wrote specifically about my separation and divorce from my wife was called “Fall From the Grace of Love.” I think so many people go through that human experience; teenage dating and having your heart broken, falling in love, going through the marriage, and five years later you’re getting divorced. It’s a very common thread in humanity. I wanted to write about things I had gone through, that I knew other people could resonate with and respond to. And so, even the songs like “Wash Away,” when I wrote all that music and I started writing the lyrics, I got to a point where I thought, “You know, I think I want some help finishing these lyrics.” So I called Tommy Shaw, who had also gone through a divorce. So I knew he could relate exactly to the subject matter. So Tommy came over and in three days we wrote the lyrics to “Wash Away,” “Heal Me,” and this third song which sounds like it should’ve been originally on the first Crosby Stills and Nash and Young record. It didn’t really fit onto this CD of mine. Tommy was doing a country album at the time, and it didn’t really fit on that either. So we put it on the shelf. Possibly for the next record I’ll revive it and see if CSN will come in and sing it with me. We’ll do a “CSNF” song.

Chris: Ha-ha! That would be really cool. Yeah I guess sometimes you may write a great song, but it just doesn’t fit with the flow of the record. But it’s still great that you have it. So the song “Money” on your latest album has a very focused theme. Are there any overtones having to do with your past experiences with the Eagles in that song? Or was that just a general sort of commentary of what’s happening currently with corporate America?

Don: The song is not really aimed at the Eagles. I was writing those lyrics right in the middle of this last, very serious recession in the United States. And I saw a lot of difficult times for a lot of difficult people – single moms having trouble feeding their kids, guys working their fingers to the bone and just barely getting by, thieves on Wall Street ripping off the banking industry, and politicians not doing anything about it. I wanted it to be more of a national comment on the economy, and how brutal it had been for everyone. A good friend of mine, who’s very wealthy, lives in Monterey; he and I would go up and play golf, and we’d talk about all sorts of things. And he was telling me, “You know Don, when it comes to money…you have no friends.” And I said, “What do mean?” He said, “Every time I’ve done something to try to help people by lending them money, or giving them a position somewhere, the friendship gets destroyed because of the money that’s involved.” People shy away from you if you owe them money, or if they owe you money. They’re afraid to really be frank with you, or honest with you, for fear that you’ll say, “Well I loaned you money! How can you say that?” So, it has a negative impact on relations.

Chris: Good point. It kind of reminds me of a quote from Shakespeare: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” or something like that. [Don laughs.] But it’s difficult not to think about the Eagles in relation to this song when I know from reading your book that you had a lot of money-related issues with your departure from the band.

Don: Yeah, but that was not the thrust of that song. A couple of other guys have asked me about the song, “You Don’t Have Me” and whether it was a pointed comment on my ex-partners. It absolutely was not. A very smart friend of mine told me once: “You know, there are two types of people in this world. There are givers, and there are takers.” He said, “I prefer to be a giver. I give things, and give my time, my money, and my support out of love. But takers have a different approach; they’ll take, and take, and take, until you finally get to the point where you have to say, “You know, this is not a fair and balanced relationship.” And when you get to that point, you have to say, “I don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ve got everything you could possibly have in life…but you don’t have me.” That’s when you finally leave.

Chris: It’s been well documented in your book and other places that during the “Hell Freezes Over” tour, often you were in a situation where you weren’t even on speaking terms with some of your band mates. How does a musician negotiate that over such a long term? Were there any coping mechanisms that you had to employ in those situations?

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Don: Well, it was a planned segregation. [Eagles’ manager] Irving Azoff decided that keeping everybody apart was the way to prolong – or prevent – any sort of explosive relationship. We were in different cars going to and from the plane, and on the plane there were five different compartments. Everybody went in their separate compartments and read or watched television. Backstage there were also five different dressing rooms, and everybody had their own car that went from the hotel to the plane and from the plane to the show. So it was quite isolated, and indeed I think it worked to a certain point in that it put more space in between everybody – both good and bad. When you do that, you really break any sort of “band bond” that you have. In the old days, we would have band meetings every week in some hotel room. We’d talk about stuff, like, “What do you think about this? What do you want to do with this? I’ve got this idea. What about that? I’ve got this idea for a song.” We were just together on the road. But it was an effort to try and prevent any further friction between any of the band members, including the friction between Henley and Frey – which had gotten massive through the very end of The Long Run. The name “Hell Freezes Over” comes from Henley’s answer when he was asked if he’d ever work with Glenn Frey again. So there have been times of great friction and tension between multiple people in the band. And in effort to try and stall or prevent that, that was the isolation approach. I don’t think it worked; I think it just put us further apart, to tell you the truth.

Chris: Yeah, I could definitely see that. A primary reason that people join bands is because they enjoy playing music with each other. A band dynamic, bad or good, eventually translates to the audience as well.

Don: Yeah, you’re right. I did want to say I have really reached a place where I’ve reconciled inside my own heart and mind the events that took place and then end of my involvement with the Eagles. Part of that process was writing the book and writing this CD; it was a very liberating and healing process for myself. I really still hold no kind of animosity, or anger, or resentment. I don’t want to carry that going forward. That’s what the song, “Wash Away the Pain” is about, to heal me from all of those wounds that life gives us as we go through the heartbreaks of relationships and the things that don’t work out as you planned. So, you have to find a way to reconcile that and move forward with a smile on your face for the rest of your life.

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Chris: On Road to Forever you find yourself singing lead vocals, which is something you didn’t really do a lot with the Eagles. Here you are, stepping out and showing your own voice. This is symbolic in many ways, don’t you think?

Don: Well, yes and no. I mean, Don Henley is probably one of the best rock singers alive today. He’s got a stellar voice. I really admire his talents; his writing, singing… just his whole creative thing is brilliant to me. So if I were to choose to have Don Henley sing a song or me sing a song…unless the song was a really personal song like these songs on this record, I would always default and say, “You know Don, you singing this will sound better than me.” I’m not known as a fabulous lead singer; but when it came to expressing the emotions and feelings on my record, I had to use my own voice. I wasn’t going to hire some other singer to sing my songs about my life, you know?

Chris: Yeah, it was definitely fitting; the whole thing sounds great, I really enjoyed the record. I really appreciate your time today, and especially how honest you were about everything you’ve been through.

Don: Chris if we are in an area near you guys, please come down to the show. I’d like to have you come as my guest, shake your hand, and thank you personally for doing this with me today.

Chris: Don that is very generous of you, and I will certainly take you up on your offer. It would be great to meet you.

Don: Okay Chris, all best.

Chris: Okay Don, good bye!

 

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11 Comments

  1. laura

    June 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I am a lifelong Eagles fan and enjoyed this interview and Don’s wonderful book. Just wanted to weigh in with my personal observations, with the fervent hope of another Eagles reunion that includes Don Felder, an integral band member. Like Don I had found myself in a similar situation in my career, I was the driving creative force in a new project that was establishing me as a dynamic individual within my company. The more I made an effort to be financially rewarded, as well as receive the recognition I knew I deserved, the more marginalized I became, until bad feelings turned into a hate campaigned against me. Eventually I was pushed out. But I took a big lesson with me. At my next job I tried a new tactic. I was a paradigm of humility. I made sure that the corporate powers-that-be understood that I “knew my place” but this didn’t diminish at all the fact that I asserted my talent and skills at every turn, everyone knew my competence but I made earnest efforts in keeping my ego in check and not stick my neck out and give effusive praises to my partners. And an interesting thing happened. People started throwing money and promotions at me, at some point I didn’t even want them, but not wanting them made others want to give them to me even more, it was crazy. I finally figured out, at age 55, how to play politics. What was surprising was how much it was really no big deal either, to let insecure people with Napoleon complexes wear their crowns, it really didn’t matter because ultimately I got what I wanted (and then some) which was to do great work with people I respected and keep the relationships I valued. Anyway Don, if you are reading this, I hope to see you at the next Eagles reunion, and if you have to suck Glen Frey’s toes to do it who gives a big whoop. It won’t diminish you one iota. Love you!

    • Chris LeDrew

      June 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      What an interesting and thoughtful response, Laura. I think you’re 100% on track with your approach. Getting what you want is ultimately the goal. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I do think it could go a long way in the music business, especially with regard to band dynamic. Frey seems to be happy when people just let him feel like the boss. I want to write an analysis of Frey, actually. It fascinates me how each person leaving the Eagles was a result of a row with Frey, yet he seems oblivious to that reality.

      Tanks again for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts,

      Chris

  2. Frankie Fullerton

    June 17, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I’ll TRY to keep this short, but it’s hard for me because I’m very opinionated when it comes to the Eagles vs Felder issue. More appropriately, I should say Frey vs Felder issue, because it wasn’t like the band against Don. Over the years, Glenn Frey had ugly encounters with every member of the band, as well as their manager(s). Bernie ends up dumping a beer on Frey’s head, Randy is sometimes hesitant to sing “Take it to the Limit,” so Frey suggests he “just quit,” and well, you get the picture. I don’t want to get off the point of your interview with Don Felder, because I know his solo career is important to him now, but it’s hard for me to get past the issue of Frey “ranking” the members of the band, and basing their cut of the income as such. No one can imagine (no pun intended) John Lennon demanding more money for himself and Paul had the Beatles gotten back together, for example. It’s especially hard to swallow when you consider two other things: we’re talking about guys, especially Henley and Frey, who already have more money than you can imagine. The other is the consensus that without Hotel California, the Eagles would not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and without Felder, there would be no Hotel California. Sometimes the words come first when writing a song, but in this case, the music came first, and the music came from Don Felder. I highly recommend reading Don’s book, “Heaven and Hell, My Life With the Eagles,” for anyone who hasn’t read it, especially for those who grew up with the Eagles. Sorry I got so verbose, but this is actually a short editorial for me. I really enjoyed your interview, and I also love the new album by DF. It’s almost a cliche for an interviewer to say nice things about the interviewee, but in this case, you hit the nail on the head. DF is a rare example of someone who made it big, but truly hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He is nice to everyone, and I believe it allows him to sleep better at night than some of the others out there. Thanks for a great piece on a great musician!

    • Matt

      June 17, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      Agreed 100%.

      Good luck DF.

    • Chris LeDrew

      June 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Frankie that’s quite a substantial and generous response. Thanks so much for sharing. You’re obviously passionate about Felder, as am I. And I agree with your points. If The Beatles had reunited, no one would have been disputing equal cut. Nice analogy.

      All the best,

      Chris

  3. Miccilina Piraino

    June 17, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Coming of age in the 70’s was interesting and musically, it was the best decade ever, even heading into the 80’s. The Eagles were a part of that for me. I do not even separate all of the revolving members, to me it is once an Eagle, always an Eagle. I love them all, the differing styles, the range of talent, Don Felder, both as a part of the Eagles and with others or on his own is just a great musician. I really enjoyed this article and Don’s stories, Thanks Chris for an insightful piece.

    • Chris LeDrew

      June 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Miccilina,

      Thanks for reading and the kind words, as well as your first-hand insight into your experiences in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a special time for me as well, learning guitar and working on the chords and solos to all those songs – including the Eagles stuff. So it was a thrill for me to put a piece together on Don and interview him. I too look at them still as a unified entity; they always will be, thanks to their enduring recordings.

      All the best,

      Chris

  4. Paul Kinsman

    June 17, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Very cool. Experienced a couple “wow” moments, the Duane/slide thing and the Hotel California story. He plays music for the right reasons…

    • Chris LeDrew

      June 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Thanks for reading, Paul! He’s definitely the quintessential musician in that way.

  5. Chad Murphy

    June 17, 2013 at 2:42 am

    I am infinitely jealous of your new found friendship. Another great interview. Your style of questioning and conversation in these situations never ceases to improve. Every time you show a lot of preparation, attention, and genuine interest in everyone you interview. You ask pretty much everything I wanted to know.

    Looking forward to the next one! Try for Frampton 😉

    • Chris LeDrew

      June 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Thanks, Chad! Oh I’d say he’d still call security if I showed up ay his house saying I’m his friend. Ha! I am trying for Frampton, and i’m hoping!

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