Riding in on a dark desert highway and cool wind in his now slightly thinner hair, the former Eagle who wrote the music to one of Rock’N’Roll’s most iconic songs — “Hotel California” — is swooping into Casino Arizona at Talking Stick Resort for a concert 8 p.m. Friday.
Don Felder, whose trademark with the Eagles was playing the Gibson custom shop double-neck, white guitar alongside Joe Walsh, when the band would bust into one of the most familiar guitar riffs of all-time, will be belting out some of his new songs from his recently released album “Road to Forever” during a 75-minute show, Don Felder: An Evening at the Hotel California, with his five-piece band.
The show will include numerous Eagles songs Felder co-wrote and many of his news ones ranging in styles from hard rock and rhythm and blues to ballads and a lullaby. The show also includes three new singles, “Fall from the Grace of Love,” “Girls in Black,” and “Wash Away” which is emerging in popularity (co-written with friend Tommy Shaw of Styx). Ticket prices range from $45 to $68.75.
“Road to Forever,” which was released Oct. 9, and co-produced with Robin Dimaggio under Sony’s Rocket Science label, is Felder’s first solo release in nearly 30 years.
Numerous other familiar names also lent their talents to the production, including Felder’s friends, Stephen Stills, Shaw and Steve Lukather of Toto, the only other guitar player Felder invited to be on the record.
Felder’s last solo release was “Airborne,” in 1983.
Felder, 65, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was removed from the Eagles in 2001, he said during a candid interview with the Tribune Wednesday, hours before a concert at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. He said he is discovering there is peace outside of the Hotel California. But Felder points that the old place – the original Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard has more caché to it than just gaining notoriety on the Eagles 1975 “Hotel California” album cover, admitting he still goes there to enjoy the food in its famed Polo Lounge.
“There was some trepidation about getting in the studio and going on tour to play new songs,” Felder said. “About 60 percent of my performances include about 60 percent Eagles songs, many of which I wrote or cowrote, but the reaction to the new songs has been positive. The music kind of is the same genre of the Eagles songs; it’s kind of a familiar sound, but not that I tried to clone those songs.”
Felder’s happy-go-lucky sentiments sounded more like the words of a Joe Walsh song:
Life’s been good for Felder in recent years, following a rocky beginning of the millennium that included him leaving the Eagles — of which he was a member for 27 years. Only the band’s co-founders Glenn Frey and Don Henley surpass his tenure.
Felder also divorced his wife of 29 years and there was a lot soul searching during the song-writing and selection process for the album. It includes 12 songs and four “bonus tracks” that he whittled down from 26 songs originally.
The songs come from part of that soul-searching and healing process he described as a “cathartic search” to find himself, his love of music and realization that he could find fun and peace again in the recording studio.
“You either hold on to all the negative feelings or fly on the wings of faith to take you to some place that’s better,” Felder said. “What propelled me was my love of music.”
Felder contrasts his new project against his time with the Eagles.
“During my time with the Eagles, our recording sessions were filled with drama and conflict, and I didn’t want to deal with that anymore,” Felder said. “After we got going in the studio for ‘Road to Forever,’ I realized that, hey, making music is fun the way it’s supposed to be. I wanted to have a child-like energy of fun in the studio and this was done with some very fun and talented individuals. I’ve been very happy going through the process. The time was very well spent in a very bright way. You don’t work music, you play music. Playing live is a lot of fun. I’m pleased with the outcome.”
Love of music kept Felder going
A native of Gainesville, Fla., Felder grew up in impoverished conditions in a white clapboard house with a tin roof along a dirt road.
The son of a mechanic, who worked for Koppers, a company that manufactured telephone poles, Felder was 10 years old when he acquired his first guitar after he was inspired by Elvis Presley’s famed appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.
When Felder was 14, he attended a B.B. King show and made it a point to shake King’s hand when it was over.
A friend of musician Stephen Stills since he was 15, and also a friend of fellow Floridian Bernie Leadon, an early member of the Eagles, Felder played extensively in bands that featured David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in the early 1970s.
Felder first came to the Eagles in 1974 after being introduced to the band by Leadon (of Seven Bridges Road banjo fame), when he was asked to play guitar on the song “Good Day in Hell.”
Some of the other notable Eagles songs that Felder co-wrote included “Victim of Love,” “The Disco Strangler” and “Those Shoes.”
Felder said his father, who often came home after a hard day’s work and would sit in his chair and listen to the music of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller on the radio, died at age 66, a year after retiring and never saw his success in the music industry.
Felder said that his father’s death inspired the title track, “Road to Forever,” an acoustic ballad that pays homage to lost loved ones like his father and his friend, Grammy-award winning record producer Greg Ladanyi. Ladanyi died after a tragic fall off a stage in Cypress in 2009. The track features a “pool of souls” effect at the end, which is a conglomeration of whispering voices of that Felder says is like a peek into what heaven could be like or listening in on of those who have passed on to the afterlife.
The end of the track features Ladanyi’s voice from a record production conference saying, “And that’s the difference between two worlds.”
“Wash Away,” which Felder said he was surprised to see emerge as the popular song on the album, is inspired by the experiences of bearing the scars of life — childhood trauma, lost love or losing a loved one and finding a way to wash away the pain, Felder said.
“Life is a beautiful experience,” Felder said. “There’s not a whole lot of things that I’ve seen better than life itself.”
Solo Eagles, music projects
Whether Felder will ever soar as a member of the Eagles again remains to be seen.
Accused of a breach of contract, Felder was abruptly ousted from the Eagles just a little more than a decade ago. The accusation ruffled his feathers enough to trigger a lawsuit against his former band and Henley and Frey as individuals. The lawsuit was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Six years after leaving the Eagles, Felder was surprised to become a New York Times best-selling author for his 2007 tell-all book on the band, “Heaven and Hell.”
“Who would’ve known that a poor English student would have become a New York Times best-selling author?,” Felder laughed.
Felder also has followed a procession of former Eagles members releasing solo projects within the last year — Walsh released “Analog Man” this past summer, and Timothy B. Schmit’s “Expando,” came out in 2011. Frey released covered classic love songs and standards in his release, “After Hours” earlier this year.
Henley also is working on two solo country projects expected to be released later this year.
Felder, who also appears in various Pro-Am golf outings and benefits, said he feels it his personal obligation to give his time and talent to help raise money for causes such as Austim Speaks, St. Jude’s Hospitals, cancer research and Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation as well as the U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Is there a chance of Felder soaring with the Eagles once again for a 40th anniversary reunion tour in the works for next year?
For now, only Henley and Frey’s attorneys will return phone calls to Felder when he has tried to reach them.
“There’s always a chance,” Felder said. “You never say never, but I just don’t see any light at the end of the dark tunnel with those guys. I’ve reached out to the Eagles a number of times to offer an olive leaf, but I only hear from their attorneys. There’s no animosity with Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit as they weren’t part of what happened.”
Felder said he performs about 50 to 60 shows a year and will be performing more on the tour, which has included stops overseas and in Canada, but he admits he doesn’t like the constant traveling.
“You might be living your life in the fast lane, but we’re all on the road to forever,” Felder said. “I’m in the fast lane of joyous experiences and I can spend my days writing and playing the music I want and making myself happy. There’s no drama. I’m having the best time of my life.”
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