Don Felder Biography
Donald William Felder was born on September 21, 1947 in Gainesville, Florida. His early life was difficult due to the fact that his family did not have much money. Interested early on in music, Felder worked at a music shop in order to obtain equipment and traded guitar lessons for music theory lessons in order to learn how to write. One of his students was none other than Tom Petty.
Felder's efforts paid off as he became part of the Gainesville music scene, which was brimming with talent at the time. His first band, The Continentals, included fellow Gainesville resident Stephen Stills (later to be part of the group Crosby, Stills, and Nash). Felder was 15 at the time. When Stills left the band, Felder looked to his high school classmate Bernie Leadon to fill the gap. Their group became The Maundy Quintet. When Leadon left for greener pastures in Los Angeles, Felder went to New York and formed the band Flow. They released one self-titled album in 1970, but broke up soon thereafter. Now married to a woman named Susan with whom he would have four children, Felder moved to Boston to work as a studio musician; there, he would cross paths again with Leadon and his new band, the Eagles. Leadon encouraged Felder to move out to Los Angeles as well, where there would be far more opportunities in the music business.
In 1972, Felder finally took Leadon's advice and headed west to California. He did studio work and toured as a part of the backing band for David Blue, among others. In fact, he first functioned as a studio musician for the Eagles. One night in 1974, he joined Leadon and the rest of the Eagles for a social visit, and they jammed together for hours. Impressed, band leader Glenn Frey called upon Felder to play guitar on the song "Good Day in Hell" for the album they were currently recording, On the Border (1974). Felder's blistering slide guitar on the track sold him to the band as someone who could help them move to a harder "rock" sound, and Frey called him up the next day to ask him to join the band. (Also playing guitar on "Already Gone," Felder would be billed as a "late arrival" on the album.)
Felder's first album as band member, One of These Nights (1975), contains Felder's only Eagles lead vocal: Visions. He also co-wrote "Too Many Hands" and contributed to the edgier guitar sound of the album. However, he quickly came to realize that all was not well within the band's ranks. Bernie Leadon was unhappy with the direction of the band and with what he perceived to be the heavy-handedness of Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Finally, he got fed up and left, replaced by Joe Walsh.
While Felder was sorry to see his friend Leadon go, he and Walsh clicked both musically and personally. Their one-two guitar punch added not only to the albums but to the quality and energy of live shows. As the band went into the studio in 1976, they were ready to make an album that would be unapologetically rock'n'roll.
The title track and thematic centerpiece of that album, "Hotel California," began as a guitar part written by Felder on a lazy day at the beach. He worked the guitar part into an instrumental and handed it to the rest of the band for their consideration. Frey and Henley liked it; they dubbed it "Mexican Reggae" and added lyrics. To Felder's surprise, the finished product was chosen as a single despite its length. Tremendously popular, "Hotel California" became a signature song of the Eagles and remains so to this day. He also co-wrote "Victim of Love" for that album.
Despite the band's surge in popularity with the release of Hotel California (1976), tensions remained. In fact, they worsened as the band came under pressure to sell even more with their next album. The copious amounts of cocaine, alcohol, and other mind-altering substances didn't help matters. Bassist Randy Meisner left at the end of the tour, emotionally exhausted. He was replaced with Timothy B. Schmit, but the fighting didn't end with the addition of the mild-mannered Poco alumnus.
While conflicts occurred between all the members of the band, intensifying during the recording sessions of The Long Run (1979), Felder and Frey were especially hostile towards one another. Although they respected each other's musical ability and even collaborated on "The Disco Strangler" and "Those Shoes" with Don Henley, they could not seem to get along on a personal level. This led to insults, hard feelings, and even minor physical altercations. It did not end there: Felder felt both Frey and Henley were being too controlling and arrogant. He sarcastically called them "The Gods" and believed that they did not treat him with the respect he felt he deserved.
Resentments simmered and brewed until they finally came to a boil at a benefit concert for Alan Cranston in 1980. When Frey overheard Felder make some comments which he deemed disrespectful to Cranston's wife, he confronted Felder. Unable to let it go once they got onstage, the two men threatened each other throughout the concert. Frey has stated that it was the animosity of that night that made it clear to him that he had to leave the Eagles; it wasn't worth it anymore to him. Felder would not see Frey again after that night for years. Frey's parts for the Live album (1980) were delivered by Fed Ex. It was over.
Once Felder got over the shock of the Eagles' breakup, he started work on his solo album Airborne (1983). It contained some music originally intended for the Eagles as well as some new material. He also wrote and performed the title song for the movie Heavy Metal (1981), currently a cult classic. However, he did not pursue a solo career any further than that album, which he was contractually obligated to do. Instead, he settled into session work for artists like Stevie Nicks. He got involved with television in the mid-80s hosting a short-lived variety show called F-TV (1985-1986), as well as writing and performing the music for the children's cartoon Galaxy High (1986).
Although at first prospects for an Eagles reunion seemed bleak, Felder never gave up hope. In 1994, his patience was rewarded when the band "resumed" for Hell Freezes Over. While he did not write any new songs for that album, he created the intro for the famous acoustic arrangement of "Hotel California" as heard on the DVD and CD. Tainting the experience for Felder was his new contract with the Eagles, which diminished his percentage of earnings. Told to "take it or leave it," Felder decided to take it. Hell Freezes Over was hugely successful and highly lucrative. By the time the tour ended in 1996, Felder and the band were both sincerely gratified and considerably enriched by the audience's response.
While there were at first no plans to get back together, the Eagles found themselves performing with each other again at their induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Joined by Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, all seven past-and-present members of the band played together for the one and only time.
This bright moment was soon clouded, however. On the home front, Felder and his wife were having marital difficulties. In 1999, after 29 years of marriage, the two divorced.
Professionally, he was also having troubles. He began to wonder if he didn't deserve more money from Frey and Henley. He had never appreciated his lesser percentage and felt that as a partner in "Eagles Ltd." he should get just as much money as they did. As negotiations progressed for another Eagles album, it became evident that Felder would not receive what he felt he deserved. Although he was included in the Millennium Shows around New Year's Eve 2000, they were to be his last concerts with the Eagles. He continued to argue for an equal share and questioned whether Frey, Henley, and manager Irving Azoff were acting ethically. Finally, after Frey, Henley, and Azoff received letters requesting additional information from Felder's lawyer, he was fired. He filed suit, and the case was settled six years later for an undisclosed amount. After the lawsuit was resolved, Felder published his controversial autobiography Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-1999).
Currently, Felder spends his time playing corporate shows and charity benefits with The Don Felder Band. He especially champions the charity Autism Speaks. An avid golfer, he also frequently plays in pro-am charity tournaments.
As for future plans, Felder is working on a second solo album. He hopes to complete it within the next year or two.
Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-1999). (2008)
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