When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 1, 2013
Where: Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga, California
Tickets: $49.50-$99.50; www.mountainwinery.com
Tour dates: donfelder.com
See more stories by Paul Freeman by visiting Pop Culture Classics.
Interview from December 2012
When he was 15 years old, Don Felder was in a band with Stephen Stills. Felder's mom would drive them to gigs. Around that time, Felder gave guitar lessons to young Tom Petty. He learned slide from Greg Allman and was mentored by the Young Rascals. Felder went on, as a singer, songwriter, lead guitarist and arranger, to be in constant demand as a session player and producer. In 1974, he joined The Eagles.
That band had already had some Top 40 hits and was doing just fine, but Felder definitely added to the mix begun in large part by Don Henley and Glenn Frey.
Felder co-wrote the classic "Hotel California," as well as such favorites as "Victim of Love" and "Those Shoes." His masterful guitar licks added color to such hits as "New Kid in Town," "One of These Nights" and "Life in the Fast Lane."
One of the biggest, most influential bands of the 1970s, The Eagles broke up in 1980. Felder, who, in addition to guitar, can also play pedal steel, keyboards, bass, mandolin and drums, lent his magic touch to sessions with such artists as The Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Diana Ross, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Loggins, Elton John, Vince Gill, David Crosby, Graham Nash and his old buddy Stephen Stills, with whom he'd started a band as a teen in Gainesville, Florida. Felder also created music for the films "Heavy Metal" and "The Wild Life," as well as for the "Galaxy High" animated series. He was host of a music-comedy TV series called "FTV."
In 1994, hell froze over. When The Eagles reunited, Felder was on board, creating fiery guitar interactions with bandmate Joe Walsh. When Henley and Frey insisted on grabbing a larger share of profits in a band that had always been five equal partners, Felder balked. So, in 2001, The Eagles jettisoned Felder.
After taking time to reassess and reenergize, Felder wrote a revealing memoir, "Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles."
Felder then recorded an album, "Road To Forever." His first solo project since 1983's "Airborne," this latest effort dazzles from start to finish. His brilliant songwriting and expressive vocals, as well as his inspired guitar work, ensure that each tune, rocker or ballad, establishes its own memorable identity. Felder has tour dates lined up, including the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, on August 1, 2013.
We enjoyed chatting with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Paul Freeman:The process of making the new album, was that part of the healing and regenerating for you?
Don Felder: Yes and no. I had a great deal of apprehension about doing another record, for multiple reasons. Number one, the most recent studio experience I had had, through the course of The Eagles, had left somewhat of a less than positive impression on me. Not the work, but just the environment, with all the contentious relationships and arguing and all of that stuff. When I thought of going into the studio, I cringed.
But I've had a studio in my own home since '82, although it's been updated, technically, over the years. What happened is, when I left the band in 2001, I took some time off to really do some self-introspective research, to understand how I had gotten from a little dirt road in north central Florida, where I grew up and started playing, and following my career into The Eagles and finally leaving The Eagles, what had happened to me, how that had all changed me.
In the same year, in 2001, I went through a divorce, a separation from my wife of 29 years, and left The Eagles after 27 years. So before I went forward in life and just dragged all the baggage around with me, I wanted a clear understanding of what had happened, how it had happened, and how to go forward, but neither make the same mistakes nor carry that with me.
So I started a series of meditations every day, between 30 and 45 minutes, really focused on specific areas of my history and my life. As I'd come out of these meditations, much like you'd come out of a dream, I would write these recollections down. I started filling up legal pads. After days and weeks of doing this, my fiancée read them and said, 'This would make a great book.' I tried to explain to her that I was a really poor English student. As a matter of fact, I spent a summer in summer school, retaking an English class, because I'd gotten an F in it, so I could graduate. So writing a book was something I'd never thought to do.
But next thing I knew, I was on a plane going to New York, represented by Michael Ovitz and his literary department. I came back with five offers from publishing companies to write this book. I hadn't even written a book. I had just sat down and told these publishers my story and they were interested.
So, while I was going through that, and specifically focusing on filling out the skeleton framework of my recollections in great detail as I did in that book, "Heaven and Hell," as I went through different experiences in my life, including separating with The Eagles and my ex-wife, I would go into the studio with those emotions and write songs about it, like "Fall From The Grace of Love" or "Heal Me." We all go through life and we've been damaged or paralyzed, in one way or another, by experiences that happened to us in childhood, or traumatic experiences that life seems to deal us all. You have to find a way to resolve those in yourself, with a smile on your face, and go forward. and enjoy the rest of your life. You can't let those things completely derail you. That's what feeds the world of alcoholism and drug abuse is when people can't cope with their life experiences.
So I had kind of a dual cathartic process. One, I was writing this book. And, two, at the same time, I was writing these songs. When I finished this book and published it and went out and did a bunch of appearances to promote the book on radio and television, book signings, all that stuff, the whole time, I really wanted to come back and finish those songs, so that I would have new songs to play in my show. I've had a band of my own for almost 10 years now, and a lot of the stuff I play are either songs I co-wrote or worked on or recorded or toured with The Eagles during the time that I was in that band, as well as some of the solo stuff I have done, like "Heavy Metal" and other songs that I was part of.
I wanted to finish this record so that I could have new songs for my live show. And so I accumulated 26 song ideas during that cathartic period. And then I set down and figured out what were the best 16, went in the studio and deliberately called people in to work with me on this project that I knew, were really close friends, fun to work with and also brilliant talents, like Crosby, Stills, Nash.
Stills and I had a band when we were 15. The first act I played with, when I got to California, was Crosby-Nash. Just good people, as well as brilliant singers. So I knew, even though I couldn't have them all in the same room at the same time (chuckles), in order to avoid that, I had Crosby-Nash come in one day and Stills come in another day, so that they could all sing kind of together through the modern wonders of technology.
People like Steve Lukather, probably one of the funniest guys in L.A. I mean, literally, from the time he walks in the room to the time he leaves, your stomach hurts from laughing so much, cheeks are tired from smiling. Not only a brilliant talent, but just a delightful guy to spend the day with in the studio.
Tommy Shaw, same thing great writer, great singer, really low-key, funny, easy to get along with. We have a social life, outside of music, where we go to dinner, see plays, hear music and just hang out.
So I deliberately, in order to avoid and not confront those fears I had, I surrounded myself in the studio with people that I knew were really fun and easy-going to work with. So the project was delightful, even though it was a little over a year in the works, once I selected the 16 songs to work on. Finished 16, pared it down to what I thought were the best 12, and put them on that record. But it left me with a really wonderful impression of how music can be made, with a smile on your face, and do high caliber, high quality work, as we were doing in The Eagles, but without all the drama. And so it turned out to be really a fun project for me.
Freeman: Was it somewhat liberating for you to be just writing for yourself, not having to fit it into The Eagles mold?
Felder: Well, I always describe writing for The Eagles as if I were writing for a sitcom, like, you know the characters that are in this scene, I know how each one of them plays, I know their vocal ranges, I know their style. I know how Henley plays drums. I would play live drums on all of the demos, because I knew if I made the drum tracks too complicated, he wouldn't be able to play them and sing at the same time. So I would just write for that cast of characters.
Once I left the band and started writing for this project, the handcuffs were off. I just had a clear palette to work with. So I wrote a lot of different things. If you listen to the album, there's a lullaby, strings, piano and nylon-string guitar, and there are some heavier tracks on there, like "Money" and "Give My Life" and "You Don't Have Me." And then there's some prettier ballads, like "Someday" and "I Believe in You." It was a real wide variety of things I was able to write, sing and produce.
For an Eagles record, even though I would write 15 or 16 song ideas, if one or two of them wound up on the record, I was happy. But, at the same time, they were all written for that group. To take on this process, it was very liberating to have the handcuffs off for writing and singing.
Freeman: And with that great diversity of material, were you conscious of giving fans both what they hoped for, but also expanding into new territory and giving them some surprises, as well?
Felder: No, my music history is just really diverse, from early rock 'n' roll influences to blues, B.B. King, to Chet Atkins, to jazz guitarists. I was in a jazz-fusion rock band. I can sight-read just about anything in a studio. So I can play a wide variety of styles of instruments, as well as multiple instruments, whether it's electric guitar, acoustic guitar, nylon-string guitar, piano, keyboards, synthesizer, play drums, bass. I wrote the bass part of "Hotel California," the bass part for "One of These Nights." So it was an opportunity for me to stick my toe into a lot of areas and explore them, not only in writing and singing and lyrics and subject content, but also musically.
And I didn't want to put out a record that was all lopsided, like all rock tracks or all heavier tracks. There's a song on there called "Over You," which is kind of an acoustic country ballad with a pedal steel on it. I wanted to put a wide variety of my work on this record and hope that people like it. So it was somewhat selfish, in the sense that it was very self-satisfying for me to do that. The other songs, I guess there were another 14 that aren't on the record, four of them got finished. One of them is kind of a Southern rock track with slide guitar, called "Southern Bound." There's one called "Sensuality," that's this hard, kind of driving, sexy guitar track. But when I started putting them all together in some sort of sequence, I really wanted it to be balanced, where it had a little bit of something for everyone on there. And would show the wide variety that I'm able to write and sing and play.
Freeman: And when you're adding textures to weave through these arrangements, do you tend to hear it in your head when you're writing, or does that come through experimenting in the studio?
Felder: I think you first have to start with a song or a song concept. And a lot of different avenues come to me, whether I hear a guitar lick and I go into my studio and constantly scribble out, in pencil, a little guitar track, or driving in the car, I get a melody with a lyric for a chorus and I pick up my iPhone and sing it into my iPhone to try to just capture the idea in the moment. Or whether I actually can see a larger picture of the finished song. Usually it comes in stages. I start with some moment of inspiration, whether it's a guitar lick, a track, a groove, a lyric, a song concept, a melody, something. And then I expand on it. In the process, I'm very conscious of first trying to lay out the song idea the lyric, melody and chord changes. It's not so much about the finished arrangement.
But then once the vocal is in place, even in some songs that have "Na-na-na" for the verses, the lyrics aren't finished, but the chorus is strong enough, I can then want to know what the melody is, where the holes are, then I can arrange around it. I think the beauty of guitar arrangements is knowing when to play and when not to play, so that you don't step on the toes of the vocalist or step on the toes of another guitar part, and putting things together that kind of dance with each other, as far as each taking their turn to have their voice heard. It's like, if you went to a play and all the actors were talking at the same time. It doesn't work. You have to pick and choose at what critical point certain actors say certain things and then it kind of compounds into a broader concept.
Freeman: Your vocals are so expressive and assured on the new album. Were you always confident, stepping up as the frontman and lead singer, once you started going out with your own band?
Felder: When I was in The Eagles, I deliberately and gladly took a back seat vocally to such great singers as Don Henley and Glenn Frey. To me, Don Henley could sing the New York Times phone book and I'd buy it. He's a great vocalist with a lot of expression. The timbre in his voice is just delicious. And he's a brilliant lyricist. So we would take everyone's aspect and strongest suit that they brought to the table, and feature that element of their talent. Obviously mine was guitar and arranging and songwriting and that sort of stuff, where Henley's was lyrics and vocals. So everybody brought their strongest suit and the combination of everybody's addition to that project really made something greater than any one of us has been able to obtain or achieve since then.
I never had a lot of apprehension about singing. I wish I had been allowed to sing more in The Eagles. But I was more than happy to take a step back and feature the strongest vocalist of the band, which was obviously Don Henley. So when I started fronting my own band, I didn't really have any apprehension. My only concern was that I'd be compared vocally to Henley. But he has no comparison, in my opinion [laughs]. There's only a couple of people that can sing that great. So, if people thought I didn't sing as good as Don, they're probably right. But I don't have a problem with that.
Freeman: As far as the guitar, who were your original inspirations?
Felder: The very first thing I saw, I saw Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I think I was about 10 years old. And with the girls screaming at him, the hysteria, I said, "You know, I think I want to do that. That looks like fun." So then I wound up getting a guitar from a kid across the street. And mowing lawns and washing cars to get the money to buy the missing strings, that were broken on this old guitar. I was off and running. I found a guy two or three blocks away from me who knew how to tune it and taught me the basics of this song called "Red River Valley," which is a really kind of old country song.
My father, who was from extremely humble means, always wanted to be a radio repairman. He found, at a swap meet, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, bought it, brought it home, and a turntable. So we would borrow people's records, record them on this tape. And I would sit and listen to them and listen to them, and learn them. And, if you set the tape recorder at seven-and-a-half inches per second and record something, and you could play it back at three-and-three-quarters and it would be exactly half-speed, and an octave down. So I'd slow these parts down and listen to them and learn to play them where the notes were on the instrument, and then I'd speed it back up and try to play it until I could get my speed up to play the part.
So I started listening to people like B.B. King and Chet Atkins and, like I said, a wide variety of people that influenced me in my early years. And then, obviously, once Clapton came out, and Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and all those guys, it became a whole other world of guitar, kind of setting its hook in my mouth [laughs]. And so I became a huge fan of that style of guitar and pursued electric. As a matter of fact, I think I only owned one acoustic guitar in my early career. And as soon as I could, I think within the first five or six months, I slapped a pickup on it. And I used to plug it into the back of this old television. So, when you plugged it in, it turned off the audio from the television transmission. So I would watch on Saturday morning, cartoons like "Mighty Mouse" and "Winky Dink," and sit there watching these cartoons, as a kid [laughs], and play the guitar.
And, from there, my father helped me buy my very first Fender Duo Sonic guitar. Some girl had gotten it as a Christmas present and complained about it hurting her fingers and it wound up, for years, under her bed, so they didn't want it anymore, so my Dad helped me buy it and gave me that with a little Tweed Champ amp. And I was just in heaven. So I was gone, you know?
Freeman: When you had the band with Stephen Stills, when you were a kid, were there any grand rock 'n' roll stardom dreams? Or was it more of a lark?
Felder: It was just kind of fun. My mother drove us around to shows, because neither one of us was old enough to have a car or a driver's license. So she would drive us out to these little women's luncheons that we would play. And then we went to Lake City one day and did a show, it was early evening, but it was so far of a drive back to Gainesville, we stayed in this hotel. My mother stayed in the room next door. And Stephen stayed in the room with me, two twin beds in this room. So we were just doing little shows. And finally, we got a bass player and a drummer and wound up playing a couple of fraternity parties, which my mother and father didn't know about, because we were way under age to be playing music where they were consuming alcohol. But as long as they didn't know it, it was fun to do.
Freeman: You actually gave guitar lessons to Tom Petty?
Felder: Yeah, I did. I used to work at this music store. Like I said, I came from extremely humble beginnings. So the only way I could get guitar strings and capos and amps, and if I worked a long time, could trade in my old guitar and get a new guitar, or newer guitar, was I worked in this music store. And I didn't get paid cash. They gave me a thing that went in the cash register. And every lesson I gave, they credited me $10. So when I built up enough money on this credit statement to get an amp, I'd get an amp. But I didn't realize they were charging me retail [laughs] for every instrument, like everyone else who came in.
So Tommy came in one day. He was pretty young, too, and had this guitar and wanted to learn to play. So I started teaching him, there in the store. He had a band called The Rucker Brothers Band. There were two electric guitar players already in the band and Tommy was playing bass. And he really did not want to play bass. He thought that was really an uncool thing, to stand there and play bass and sing. So he wanted to learn guitar. So I started teaching him guitar. I went over to his house. I several times went to their shows. I went to rehearsal. The Rucker brothers' father owned a garage. And, at night, when they closed the garage, they would set up and rehearse in the stalls where they did auto repair. And the two guitar players would just thrash artlessly at the same time on electric guitar. It was really loud. So I tried to help to sort out their guitar tracks, where one guy would play rhythm and one guy would play lead and it wouldn't just be a lot of artless flailing [laughs].
And Tommy eventually started this band that used to go play during the '60s at the University of Florida park, kind of commons, on Sunday, we'd have concerts. And he and his early Mudcrutch band would come and play on one Sunday and then we would play later that afternoon. It was just a day of playing free music for the college kids. And that's how we got our University of Florida fraternity gigs. They'd see us at this free park and then hire us for, I think it was 75 bucks for their party for the whole band. We'd make 10 to 15 bucks apiece. And we were happy. We were just kids playing music.
The Allman Brothers were around down there. They had a band called The Allman Joys. They actually lived in Daytona Beach with their mother. But they would come over and work the fraternities during the winter and then, during the summer, we would all go over to Daytona Beach and work the clubs on the beach or the pier, the dance clubs or bars that would let you in and out of the back door when you weren't 21, so you could still play.
And we'd be in battles of the bands against each other. The Allman Brothers always won. The brothers the best guitarist, the best singer, no matter what band they were in the brothers were just phenomenal.
Freeman: And Duane taught you some stuff on slide?
Felder: We would play ... after Stephen Stills left, Bernie Leadon replaced him in this band, which used to be called The Continentals and later became The Maundy Quintet. We would go over during the summer and play the teen dance clubs. And The Allman Brothers would play alcohol-serving bars. So when we would finish playing at the dance club, we would go over and catch their last set. And then, when they finished, we would all go to a diner and hang out and eat breakfast at two in the morning or something. Finally, we'd wind up over at their mom's house and Duane would just sit and play slide guitar. And I would say, "You've got to show me how to do that. What is that all about?" I'd seen people play acoustic slide guitar, mostly old blues guys. But nobody had really done it on electric, that I'd seen. And so he sat on the floor, showed me the tunings, showed me the basic hand positions, his Coricidin bottle, and just how, basically it worked. I didn't take formal lessons from him, but he laid the groundwork for me on understanding what slide was. So I stole everything I know from Duane.
Freeman: Were you conscious of trying to carve out your own style? Or is that something that just naturally comes with time?
Felder: I never tried to emulate anyone, note for note, whether it was Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix. It was great to be able to play those songs and have that in your show, but it would take you nowhere. So Bernie and I started writing songs in high school. And we actually had our manager, if you want to call him that, was the late night deejay at WGGG in Gainesville. And we would go out there and play live in the radio studio. And one night, he recorded on tape, this song that we had written, and kept playing it on the radio every night. And he'd get all the other deejays to play it. And we had kind of this local, regional hit. Finally we went into a real studio, recorded it and had records printed, 45s, the next thing I knew, we were kind of having a Southeastern regional, Atlanta, Gainesville, Tampa, Miami kind of a hit. All of the radio stations would pick it up, because, in those days, it wasn't all owned by one company, like Clear Channel. If you liked the song, or if you knew the kids from the neighborhood, you'd play their record. So that's how all of that started off.
Freeman: So when your friend Bernie Leadon [a founding member of The Eagles] made the move to California, did that immediately seem like a viable path for you, as well? Or was that a daunting notion?
Felder: It seemed like the other side of the world, to tell you the truth. That's why I put together another jazz fusion rock band and moved to New York City. The Young Rascals were kind of our mentors. Gene Cornish gave me a guitar. Dino Danelli gave our drummer a set of drums. We used Felix Cavaliere's B3. They were on the road. They had multiple sets of gear, so we used to rehearse in Felix Cavaliere's father's oil company warehouse at night, just outside New York City. And, after about a year and a half of starving on the streets, we finally made an album there, but after that year and a half of starving on streets, I realized that it's a difficult transition, from beach bum to Eskimo. From Florida to New York City is not exactly the environment for a country boy.
I wound up in Boston, working in a studio. The producer of our album was a guy named Creed Taylor. He was the largest, most successful producer for Blue Note and Verve Records. He produced some of the greatest jazz albums in the world. Our act was the fourth act to be signed on his label. Quincy Jones was actually a trumpet player, not a producer, but a trumpet player, signed on the label. Plus Freddie Hubbard, my band, a girl jazz singer named Kathy McCord. Finally I went to Creed and said, "New York just isn't for me." I'd just heard that Charlie Mingus had been evicted from his apartment. He was sick and he was thrown out in the street, because he couldn't pay the rent. And I went, "Boy, maybe jazz is not the way to go." [Laughs]
I told Creed I wanted to move to Boston. He called Berklee College and they offered me a job teaching guitar there. I turned it down. I didn't want to be a guitar teacher. I'd done that. So he called two or three studios up there and got me into a couple of studios, one studio where I worked for about two-and-a-half years, doing nothing every day but make records. I was playing sessions, engineering, producing, recording, writing charts for strings and brass, just everything that came through there was my job. Me and this other engineer. I really wanted to learn to make records.
So when I came to L.A., not only was I really well prepared, because I'd been playing a lot every day, but I knew how to make records. So I figured, if nothing else, I could be a session guy in L.A. And next thing I know, I was invited by Bernie to play on this song called, "Good Day In Hell," as a session guy. And I got a call the next day from Glenn, asking me to join the band.
Freeman: What was your first reaction to The Eagles' invitation? Were you shocked, thrilled? Did you have doubts?
Felder: I was actually playing with Crosby-Nash. I was making, in '73, $1,500 a week, which is about probably like 15 grand a week today. And my wife was pregnant with our first child. And, knowing Bernie, I had been very close to The Eagles and their rehearsals and shows, and hanging out back stage. We were friends. I heard all this stuff about the band and even witnessed some of the conflicts and the arguments. And I was worried about joining the band, leaving this good-paying gig, when I had a child on the way, to join this band that seemed like they were breaking up every 10 minutes.
So I went to Graham Nash and said, "What do I do? I've got this invitation to join The Eagles." He said, "You should definitely go do that. That would be a great band for you." So I listened to Graham's advice and humbly bowed out of Crosby-Nash and joined The Eagles ... and the rest is history.
Freeman: Was is ever buddy-buddy camaraderie in the band, or was it always juggling of egos?
Felder: I'll tell you what it was. There were five guys in this band, and everyone had or could have fronted their own band. They had five Triple-A-plus personalities that were front men, lead singers, writers, players. And there was this constant struggle over control issues. And constant struggle over what the best thing was for the record the best lyrics, the best songs, the best solos, the artwork, everything. Everyone was really concerned about making the best possible product we could. When we would tour, where we would tour, how often we would tour.
And once we started having hits, I was the only married guy in the band. So everybody else wanted to just work non-stop on the road or in the studio. And I spent the first probably eight years or 10 years of my kids' early life as an absentee father, which was really difficult for me, to be on the road and gone that much. But it was just the price I had to pay.
So it was always arguments. It was never so personal, as much as it was conflict over what was going to happen with the record where, when, the producer, what studio, the songs, the solos, the lyrics. Everything was just scrutinized with a giant magnifying glass. A telescope. We were just trying to make the best we could of this opportunity we'd been given.
Freeman: How difficult was it, handling all the success, the insane rock 'n' roll lifestyle?
Felder: Well, that was one of my biggest problems, dealing with that, because, in the South, when I was a kid, my mother was extremely religious. She'd drag me into church every Sunday morning by my ear. I still have the scars on my ear to prove it [laughs]. And then, I was raised in a very strict, upright, forthright, religious family. And then, later, in The Eagles, I was dragged into promiscuity and drinking and drugs and alcohol and that whole lifestyle. And there was a big dichotomy or conflict inside myself, about what was happening ... and what was happening to me. And that's why, when I finally left the band and I had that image just stripped away from myself, realizing that's not who I really am, I wanted to take that time and reflect on how that had happened, what had happened, and how I go forward without that. And I'm very happy to have done that. It's really been a great resolution for me.
Freeman: The iconic Eagles song, "Hotel California," how did that come about?
Felder: I'd rented this beach house in Malibu, because I was living in Topanga, and my son was less than a year old and my wife went out, set him on this blanket to get some sun, and, coiled up, literally within a couple of feet from him, was a baby rattlesnake. And she saw it, picked him up and said, "We're moving!" [Laughs]
So, next thing I know, I'm on the road, I come home and she says, "Don't come home to Topanga. Come to Malibu. Here's the address." So, literally, I got to the airport, rented a car and drove home to this rented beach house on Malibu. So I set up there in my one-year-old-daughter's bedroom, a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We were in the process of trying to write for what was to become the "Hotel California" record. And I was sitting on the sofa one day, in the living room, looking at the gorgeous sunshine glistening on the Pacific, on a July day. And I had cut-off shorts. My kids were playing in the sand. And out came that progression, the opening progression of the song. And so I played it five or six times and said, "I've got to record some of this before it goes away."
I went back in my daughter's bedroom. Fortunately, she was awake. And I turned on the tape recorder, just took an acoustic guitar and recorded that introduction. Eventually, I went back in and listened to that, as well as, I think I finished 16 or 17 other song ideas for that record. One of them became "Victim of Love." So when I heard that little acoustic introduction, I said, "Okay, I'll finish this one." So I wrote a bass part to it. Put a drum track on it. Joe and I had just joined the band. He and I had done a bunch of shows together, a television show called "Joe Walsh and Friends." And we played Dodger Stadium with Elton John. We put together this fun band and we were jamming and playing together. And he had just joined The Eagles. So I wanted to write something for this record that would give Joe and I a chance to do on this record what we had been doing before that.
So I got to the end of the track, I picked up a Les Paul, played that first line and then I said, "Okay, Joe would play something like this." I picked up a Strat and played that. And then I said, "I'd answer with this." And I kind of sketched out this demo, on the end, of two guys kind of dueling it out, put it on a cassette if anybody remembers what a cassette is [laughs] and gave a copy to Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe, and Randy Meisner, who was in the band at the time, and said, "If there's anything in these 16 or 17 songs that you like and you want to finish writing, let me know and we'll finish it up."
I talked to Henley a couple days later and he said, "Oh, I like that one that sounds kind of like a Mexican reggae or a bolero, kind of has a Spanish flavor." Obviously that was the only thing on that cassette that sounded like that. So we went and recorded the whole track with the band. And I originally wrote the song in the key of E minor. So we recorded the whole track with the band, without the guitar solos and stuff at the end, just the rhythm track for it. And Don had worked on some lyrics and went out and set up a mic and started singing this lead on it. But it was in the wrong key. He was singing really high, like Barry Gibb, in that really high, falsetto voice. So that was the wrong key. I took the guitar and went out and sat down in the studio with Don and kept lowering the key until we got down to a really odd guitar key, which is B minor. So we went back and recorded the whole song in B minor, which is the correct key for Don's vocal range. And then, at the end of the song, Joe and I would just sit in the control room with Bill Szymczyk [producer/engineer] and take two guitars, put two amps out in the studio with mics on them. And I'd play a lick, Joe would play a lick, I'd play another lick and just do what we made up. So we were doing that and Henley came in the control room and said, "Stop. That's not right." I said, "What do you mean, that's not right?" He said, "Well, that's not like the demo." And I said, "Well, I don't even know what that was. I just made that up. This is what we're going to do." He said, "No, no, no. You've got to do it just like the demo."
We were in the studio in Miami and I had to call my housekeeper in Malibu, have her find the cassette, put it in blaster, play it, holding the phone up in front of the speaker. And were in this studio in Miami and we had to sit down and and learn what I'd just made up a year before. At the time, I thought it was stupid. But, obviously, Henley saw something that was worth reenacting. So that's how that happened.
Freeman: On "Road To Forever," did you reflect, over the course of that year, how you had evolved musically during all those years between solo albums?
Felder: No, because it's such a slow migration that takes place. You don't go to bed one night as a brunette and wake up the next day with a head full of gray hair. It's a very slow process, hair by hair, over time.
When I got into the studio, I was very pleased, not only with the songs that I had written, but the way they were turning out. As a matter of fact, when I started, I said, "Well, I'm just going to take two or three songs, go into the studio and see how it goes." And if it wasn't something that I was really happy with, I would have stopped. And I did that twice before. I went into the studio with my touring band, who are great players, I sent them copies of a couple of the demos and we went into the studio for a couple of days, and I just wanted to hear the songs being played by a band, to see, first of all, how they would translate live. So we recorded for two days and those were good, but they weren't those meticulous, detailed recordings that I was so used to producing in a studio.
So a lot of the process and techniques I had used and developed in Boston and in the studio with The Eagles and Bill Szymczyk and all the stuff, I relied on while producing this record. Not in an effort to try to sound like that, but just in a sense of trying to be as meticulous about the quality that came out as I possibly could. So that's one of the reasons it took over a year to do.
But I was very pleased at the end. And then I went to my good friend, Ed Cherney, who's just a brilliant engineer, who, ironically enough, was the second engineer during the "Hotel California" record, with Bill Szymczyk at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. He was the guy who was setting up mics and sweeping the floor and cleaning stuff up. But he had since that time, gone on to record Rolling Stones records and Bonnie Raitt records and done some just magnificent work. And one of the funniest guys, you can sit in the studio with day after day after day. And he plays golf. So we would go out and play golf, hang out. And Ed finally remixed the whole thing for me. So the whole process, for me, like I said, was relying on people that I thought were extremely talented. And everybody brought something, of another level of quality and fun to the process. And I think that's reflected in the record. I kind of feel that it was a labor of love, but with a smile on your face.
Freeman: The fact that there are so many colors on the record, all the session you've done with so many diverse artists, does that enable you to do so many things stylistically?
Felder: Yeah. I mean, for example, when I was back in Boston, I worked in that studio from nine in the morning to five o'clock. I'd get out at five o'clock, get on a train and ride it down to Harvard Square, walk into the Holiday Inn in Harvard Square, in Cambridge. And I would sit in Holiday Inn with a nylon-string guitar, playing "Shadow of Your Smile," the movie themes, romantic things, while people sat there and ate their steak and ordered dessert and clinked around in the restaurant. But every day, playing nylon-string guitar for three hours, you get really good at it.
And we had to do the unplugged version of "Hotel California" for the Hell Freezes Over tour. I still had several nylon-string guitars. But really I hadn't worked on them for a while. So I had to come up with a way to do "Hotel California" that was unplugged. So I didn't want to do it on steel-string guitar and sound like a couple of hillbillies flat-picking. So I said, "Okay, let's do it flamenco style." It's kind of a Spanish flavor anyway. So I worked up the track with Joe, kind of went through the whole thing and organized it in rehearsal. And then we got on the sound stage at Warner Brothers at sound check and it used to start just with the introduction, just like the original one did. So we started it that way and, at the end, Henley said, "This song really needs a special introduction." "What do you mean? What are you going to do?" "No, no, come up with something." And Don had realized, along with a lot of other people, that my years of developing jazz and improvisation, I could just throw myself out into something and make up something. And a large percentage of the time, it would be okay. So that night, when we taped "Hell Freezes Over," we taped it two times, the whole show, so we could have a lot of footage to cut between. And both times, I just made up that introduction at the beginning of "Hotel California" on nylon-string guitar. The second performance was better than the first, but it was just made up on the spot.
So having developed the ability to improvise in whatever format or tonality, whether it's jazz or country or rock or gut string Spanish guitar, it's something that's enabled me to be able to just jump in with both feet into fresh territory and not feel like I'm in quicksand. So I've really enjoyed the challenge of not only working with a lot of other people, a lot of other artists, but also going into the studio and pushing myself kind of off the cliff and trying to land on my feet. To me, that's part of the thrill of taking a leap of faith musically and coming up with new, fresh things. And that's what I find so exciting about still making music.
Freeman: Any of the session work stand out to you as particularly memorable?
Felder: [Laughs] Yeah, Barry Gibb was producing a Barbra Streisand record. And I was the guitar player in the band. Steve Gadd was the drummer. Nathan East was the bass player. Greg Phillingames was one of the keyboard players. James Newton Howard was the other one. And Barry Gibb and Albhy Galuten, who was The Bee Gees' producer, were over in the control room. So, in between every take, somebody in the band, whether it was Greg Phillingames, whose nickname is 'Mouse,' or James Newton Howard, or me or Nathan, would just out of the blue, pick a key and go, [sings a bit of melody] "Da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-dum." And everybody would have to play the chord of the key that it was in. And anybody who would miss a chord, everybody would laugh at them. Everybody has pretty close to, not only relative pitch, but pretty close to perfect pitch, that you can hear a note and tell what it is. And so we'd play these games, in between each take, to see who would screw up. And nobody screwed up. And I thought, "Wow, I'm in a room with really talented guys!" So just little things like that, were more fun, as sidelights, than making Bob Seger records or things like that. Those were great times, but I really have fond memories of the little challenges we threw at each other, just to have fun doing it.
Freeman: Over the course of your career, what have been the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards?
Felder: I think the rebuilding of myself, after 2001, where I lost my identity as a husband, with a family, in a marriage, and, at the same time, lost my identity of being in a rock band and having a whole group, an organization, and what I thought at the time were friends, around me, just having all of that torn away and having to rebuild myself, reinvent myself and not lose sight of what brought me there, which was the love of music. I wanted to head in the direction that I had started out on, when I was 10 years old, pursuing that not for money, not for fame, not for any kind of self-promotion, but just because I was given this talent and love to use it, love to play.
And that's one of the reasons I do a lot of charity work, as well, like for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, where I play music, donate money to cancer research from shows, or Autism Speaks. There's a lot of really worthy charities that really need your help. So, if I can use my talent, which I love to, and give people a smile on their face, through the music, and, at the same time, put money in the hands of people that really need it so desperately, I'm certainly more than happy to do it. I play at this point not for any other reason than I love music.
Freeman: Any as-yet-unfulfilled goals?
Felder: Wow. I think the thing about music is that you're never satisfied. The creative process is not something where you finally finish something, you step back and go, "That's the best that I'll ever do. And it stops right there." You constantly strive, daily, really, to improve, to find new areas to develop your skills, to write new songs, to look for new guitar tones. I build a lot of guitars myself. I'm working with a couple of companies now that are developing some ideas that I have. It's a great occupation to be involved in ... for me, not necessarily for everyone. It's the constant surge, musically, and writing-wise, as well, pushing myself the whole time to explore new areas. Otherwise you get bored.