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Don Felder: The Long Road To Forever

Don Felder: The Long Road To Forever

BY JEFF CLARK

Courtesy Photo Don Felder

Courtesy Photo
Don Felder

It’s been more than 10 years since Don Felder unplugged his signature Gibson EDS-1275 (the “SG double neck”) guitar and left the Eagles. And in that time period, Felder has seen lawsuits with former band members and a divorce from his wife in 2000 – all of which helped catapult him to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list when he released his first book “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles.”
But regardless of the turmoil, the songs have always remained. Felder first contributed guitar to the Eagles album “On The Border” (1974) before he was asked to become a full time band member. His contributions to the Eagles catalogue remain some of their best, including “Victim of Love” and “Those Shoes,” which not only includes a dual guitar talk-box solo with Joe Walsh, it was also sampled by the Beastie Boys or their critically acclaimed second album “Paul’s Boutique” as the basis for the song “High Plains Drifter.” Felder also co-wrote the Eagles biggest hit – “Hotel California.”
For the kids of the 80s, there was also a very impressive body of work that included two songs of the landmark sci-fi animated film “Heavy Metal” and contribution to the ‘“Fast Times At Ridgemont High” soundtrack.
In 2012, Felder released his second solo album, the introspective and critically-acclaimed “Road To Forever.”
Packet Managing Editor Jeff Clark spoke with Felder, a native of Gainesville, Fla.,  about the upcoming show at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater with Styx and Foreigner, the pressure to follow up one of the best-selling albums of all time, and his love for the Florida Gators.

Are you excited about this tour?
I’m very excited about it, mainly because of all the people that I’ve met in the Styx camp, who I’ve known for years, and the people I’ve met in the Foreigner organization turned out to be not only unbelievably talented people, but they are the nicest people to work with. We’ve had a blast. There’s no drama, there’s no egos or hassles, which is something is very rare for me in dealing with the bands that I have worked with. So far, everyone is having a great time. I’m looking forward to spending the summer living with these guys. It’s like a big family. When you are touring, you’re on the stage for a few hours and then you are in hotels and traveling and hanging out. It looks like it’s going to be a great time. Plus the catalog of hits that Foreigner has and Styx has and my history of songwriting that I wrote and recorded with the Eagles and my solo stuff. It’s going to be a four-hour rock fest. I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting bangs for the buck this summer. It’s going to be a really fun show.

It looks as if the tour is selling really well.
I think people look at that package and it puts together three different groups of people. It’s kind of the same audience that follows all of the classic rock stuff. I think it’s a brilliant package. We’re just excited to be out spending the summer together and playing some great music.

I grew up listening to the Eagles through my parents. But I must admit, my friends and I thought it was really cool that you had two songs on the Heavy Metal soundtrack, which was a huge movie for us. Are you glad to have been a part of that?
The song “Heavy Metal” was originally a track I had written for the Eagles, and we had recorded it for “The Long Run” album. We didn’t have any lyrics for it. It had all of the same guitar parts and all of those harmony things I had done. We got to the end of “The Long Run” record and we just did not have time to finish the song. A year or so later, I went to see the original screening of “Heavy Metal” with the director because they wanted me to write a song for it. I said, “I’ve got a great guitar track that fits this movie perfectly.”
I went in the studio and re-recorded it, which is almost verbatim the way the Eagles recorded it, rewrote the lyrics and had Don Henley and Timothy Schmit come in and sing background vocals on it with me and put it out. Much to my surprise, it became an FM hit. I just thought I was writing a song for a movie. I didn’t know it was going to played on the radio so much.
The strange thing is that during a lot of the Eagles shows, during “Hell Freezes Over,” there would always be a couple of people in the audience that yelled out “Heavy Metal” and Henley would scowl at me because he knew we would never play that song in an Eagles show. I play it at every show I do now. It’s part of my show. I was really proud to have been a part of it. I was really proud of the version they used in “South Park.” It was hysterical, really funny.

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SOUNDTRACK OF SUMMER TOUR
STYX, FOREIGNER & DON FELDER
TUSCALOOSA AMPHITHEATER
MAY 29TH – 7PM
Tickets: http://tuscaloosaamphitheater.com

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“Hotel California” was one of the biggest records ever. How intense was the pressure to make the follow up album “The Long Run?”
I think it was probably one of the most difficult times in the Eagles lifetime, not just for me but for everyone. After we had come off three years of touring “Hotel California” around the world a couple of times and it had been so well-received worldwide and so successful, it was hard to go back in the studio and try and top that.
Our philosophy had been “every record has to be better than the last; every song has to be better than the last song.” We just kept pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves and trying to raise the bar with what we were able to do.
Glenn Frey described the recording of “The Long Run” as the “hardening of the artistry,” which is a deadly disease. We felt that Don and Glenn weren’t writing together very well during “The Long Run” and there was some friction going on personally and the songs weren’t – I think I wrote 16 or 17 songs for the album, one of which became “Heavy Metal” – it just never got finished. We had an abundance of ideas and songs but it never really got finished. There was so much pressure. We’d go out and play some shows and go back in the studio and go out and play some shows – it was a really difficult time.
There were a couple of points during that period when we didn’t know if we were going to finish it or it was going to finish us. We just barely squeaked by. We finished recording “Heartache Tonight” and we said, “OK, we have enough. Let’s get out of the studio before we kill each other.”
So we went immediately back on the road touring again and everyone was just cooked. We had little to no vacations, hardly any breaks – it was just work, work, work, work. I think it was probably the hardest time, when there was so much friction going on between everyone in the band trying to top “Hotel California.”

How do you think “The Long Run” holds up today?
I think there are some great songs on “The Long Run.” “The Long Run” itself is a great kind of Southern influenced track. It reminds me every time I play it of all of the fraternity parties I played. I think “Heartache Tonight,” which was a Bob Seger-originated song, is a great song to have been on that record. I wrote “Those Shoes” that Joe and I played harmony talk boxes on – there was some great stuff on that record. I think it was as good as we could have possibly done at that time. Personally, I think we should have taken three months off and gotten everyone fresh and then gotten back in the race. But it didn’t happen like that. It is what is. I think it’s a great body of work.

Were you surprised at how well your book was received?
I’ve been surprised that it never started out to be a book. I was surprised that it was a book, to tell you the truth, and then more surprised that it went on to be on the New York Times bestseller list. Even earlier this year when “The History of the Eagles” came out, the book jumped back up to number one in paperback and now it went to number one in Kindle edition. It’s done every well. I didn’t really look forward to or expect me to be an author by any means. I found it to be a very cathartic process. I was able to lay out my life story and look at what had happened to me growing up in a small town in the South on a dirt road and my pursuits of music and eventually winding up in the Eagles and how that had all changed me.
When I left the Eagles, I needed to get centered and understand what had happened to me before I went forward in life and drug all of this awful baggage I had with me. It was a very cathartic healing process.
Although I was writing in text, I would go in the studio and record music. A great deal of the songs that are on “Road to Forever” came and were written during that period and reflect a lot of the experiences in my life.

Having grown up in Gainesville, are you a fan of the Florida Gators?
During football season, every Saturday I would go over to Florida Field and you would stand outside the main gate. If you were there at a certain time, a bunch of kids would gather and they would get so many kids to sell snow cones and things. You would walk up and down the stands selling these things. I would always sell Coca Cola. You would make a few dollars for your effort and you would get to watch the Gators play for free, which was for a very poor boy in town a great way to spend a Saturday. It was funny because a couple of years ago, I went to the SEC Championship and saw Tim Tebow and his father. His father used to go there every Saturday and do the same thing. He sold snow cones. We started talking about it and I ask him, “Why in the world would you sell snow cones at a football game in Florida?” He said, “They didn’t want the syrup on it, they just wanted the ice for their booze.”
I’m a Florida Gators fan – football, basketball, any sport that’s down there. My buddy Stephen Stills is a huge fan, as well. He still has a house in Gainesville. I think once you get a taste of that part of the world, it never leaves your blood.

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