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Former Eagle Don Felder avoids too much life in the past lane

If it’s true that time heals all wounds, Don Felder has made good use of the 21 years gone by since he was unceremoniously booted from the Eagles, where he’d been lead guitarist since Richard Nixon was in the White House.

The co-writer of “Hotel California” originally came from Gainesville, Florida (Tom Petty used to hang around the music store where he worked). He’s back in the Sunshine State this week with his own band.

The tour stops at Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre Friday.

“My golf game has really gone downhill,” he laughs, “because I’ve been working so much I’ve got to have a little more time to knock the rust off that. Life just goes by so fast. If you don’t get your priorities in order, you just can’t take care of the things you need to take care of.”

Felder’s band includes a handful of session and studio guys who’ve worked – in some cases, for many years – with the likes of Kenny Loggins, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Kid Rock.

“A lot of these songs have a different energy now,” he reports. “It’s really a powerful band, and everybody sings just spectacular. It’s a really impressive presentation of the songs that I co-wrote, recorded and toured with the Eagles for so many years.”

Along the way, he showcases his stellar electric riffing on “Heavy Metal” (a solo hit from the 1980s), a blistering cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” and a couple of surprises.

The last four songs in the show, Felder reveals, are “Heartache Tonight,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Take it Easy” and “Hotel California.” He composed the music to that last one, still the signature Eagles tune to beat them all. Don Henley, who sang it, wrote the words to Felder’s melody.

“I thought I could sing OK,” the guitarist laughs. “If I were to write a song and hear Don Henley sing it, and then me go sing it … I would choose him. He could literally sing the New York phone book and I’d buy it. There’s a magical timbre and tone and soulfulness in his voice that it really stands out.”

Circa 1975: Leadon, left, Frey, Henley, Meisner and Felder. Asylum Records publicity photo.

He was brought into the Eagles after the second album, 1972’s Desperado, introduced by the band’s then-guitarist, his old Gainesville running buddy Bernie Leadon.

They were looking for a harder, leaner sound, more rock ‘n’ roll than their earlier, country-influenced rock. So they added Felder as a second lead player (Joe Walsh replaced Leadon in 1975).

Felder was OK in the axe-man-only role. “There were so many great singers in that band, and they had already established a vocal sound, with Don Henley or Glenn Frey singing lead,” he explains. “Randy Meisner had an incredible voice. When Joe came in, he had a following of his own. And Timothy Schmit, who replaced Randy. They all had amazing voices. They were far better singers than me.”

Anyone who’s seen the documentary History of the Eagles knows the rest of the story – Frey and Henley formed a power bloc and declared themselves the greater of equals. Egos, addictions, money fights and musical friction drove them apart in 1981, and the Eagles sat out 14 years while Glenn and Don called each other names in Rolling Stone.

They re-formed for a few years of lucrative stadium touring, until things came to a head between Frey and Felder. These ugly encounters are described, by Frey, in the documentary.

Felder did the same in his tell-all memoir, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles 1974-2001, sparing few details. Frey and Henley sued to stop publication, but Felder emerged victorious, and the result is considered one of the most honest – and hard to put down – exposes of what rock ‘n’ roll excess can do.

Frey died in 2016. The surviving Eagles continue to tour. Felder doesn’t expect to be asked back for a reunion.

But that’s OK. It is, he says, “ancient history.” He’s having a great time writing new songs, making new records and playing with his road band.

“Here’s what I have gleaned after years of thought about that. It was an absolute magical combination of people and musicians, and writing. Everybody brought a huge amount to those songs and records – whether it was lyrics, melodies, harmonies or guitar parts, that combination produced this amazing sound.

“And then it changed. Something happened, I don’t know if it was the songwriting, or the sound of the band, whatever it was it lost some of its … glamor, I guess, if you want to put it that way. Something happened. It changed from a bunch of people that were really great song craftsmen into world-touring multi-millionaires.”

Recently, he says, he started writing a song called “Whatever Happened to the Boy I Knew?”: Hair so fair and a heart so true/I guess all that money finally got to you/Whatever happened to the boy I knew?

“It’s kind of a comment on how you go through bein’ really hungry, and writing, and the craft and everything, and then it becomes tainted with the success and the money and the fame and all that other stuff. Those things that come with it can really destroy the creative part of it, too. And I think that’s kind of what happened.

“I’m very proud to have been part of that band, and I hold everything I did, with all those guys, in ultimate high esteem. I respect our work together, and I respect the people I worked with, too.”

“You can’t hold on to the past because it affects the present and the future. I resolved that inside myself and I’ve moved on.”

Details and tickets are on the Capitol Theatre site here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill DeYoung

Catalyst Senior Writer and Editor Bill DeYoung was a St. Petersburg Times correspondent at the age of 17. He went on to a 30-year career at newspapers in Florida and Georgia. He is the author of "Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down," "Phil Gernhard Record Man," "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews," "Vintage St. Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism - and More" and "Vintage St. Pete Volume II: Legends, Locations, Lifestyles."

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