If anyone knows what life in the fast lane is really like, it’s Don Felder. After nearly six decades in the music business, Felder — who played lead guitar for the iconic band The Eagles from 1974 to 2001 and co-wrote their anthem “Hotel California” — can check in any time he likes but he can never leave. At 71, Felder, who is also a singer and a New York Times best-selling author (for his controversial autobiography “Heaven and Hell: My Life With The Eagles, 1974-2001), is out with a brand new album titled “American Rock ‘n’ Roll.” He and his band will headline Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s “Spotlight 2019 event” on May 23.
Jmore recently spoke with Felder, a native of Gainesville, Fla., about his life and career.
You’ve said in interviews that you were inspired to become a musician by watching Elvis on TV. Tell us how you were all shook up.
I first saw Elvis Presley on “The Ed Sullivan show” in about 1956. I think I was about 9, almost 10 years old at the time. And the energy and the excitement that came out of that little black-and-white television, all those girls screaming at him and crying and dancing and everything, that enthusiasm really struck me like a bolt of lightning. That, indeed, has been what has propelled me for the last five decades through all of the things that I have gone through in my career. That excitement, that energy, that fun, that ability to do that to people, to excite people, share your talent with those people, is really what got me started and what propels me today.
How’d you help The Eagles make the leap from soft country to rock?
When I was asked to join the Eagles in 1974, it’s because they had started heading in a different direction musically. Their first two albums had been that really early country music sound, and Glenn [Frey] and Don [Henley] both wanted to play more rock ‘n’ roll, more AM-friendly, R&B and hit records. So they brought me into the band to do a slide guitar part on a song called “Good Day in Hell,” and the next day I got a call from Glenn asking me to join the band.
So what I did was every time there was an opportunity in the writing or the arrangement or in the shows we played live, I put more of a rock edge on it. Glenn used to play an acoustic guitar during “Take It Easy.” I had him put that down and put on a Stratocaster and plug it into an amp, so it would add a little more edge and rock to it. We just transformed into that record of “One of These Nights” and “Hotel California” and “The Long Run” really from a country rock band with its roots in country to more of a rock band. Especially with the “Hotel California” album and “The Long Run,” and very little country music on those last final records that I made with those guys. That was my job. To make them rock, and I think I did that.
Your favorite Eagles song and album?
I would have to say my favorite Eagles song and favorite Eagles album would both be the song “Hotel California” and the album “Hotel California.” I feel that period of time, with those members that were in the band at that time, was some of the band’s best work. The records that we made, the engineering, the feeling of all of us playing together, the harmonies, the lyrics, the songs — everything was just done at an absolutely spectacular level. Those would be my favorite song and my favorite album.
Tell us about your new album.
I had so much fun making my new album, “American Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I was able to collaborate and bring in a lot of my friends and amazing musicians that I knew and played with over all the years. People like Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Mick Fleetwood, Slash, Peter Frampton, Richie Sambora and Orianthi, [and] including Alex Lifeson, from the band from Canada called Rush. Chad Smith from the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, and my daughter Leah Felder actually came in and sang on it, too.
It was such a fun, exciting project to bring in all these other players to play with me, to write parts with me, play guitar parts together with me, help put together vocals like my daughter did on a couple of tracks. It was really fun having so much talent at my disposal, to be able to use in the right places on my record.
What do you think about the popular music of today, like rap and hip-hop?
You know, music has always been in a state of mutating. Over the years, from big bands like Count Basie to Benny Goodman to Elvis rockabilly to Hendrix and rock as we know it today. It’s a moving, growing, living thing that changes from one generation to the next. It’s all influenced by our culture and the people of our times.
Whether rap, hip-hop, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, it’s all part of our culture of our music today. All of it has influenced me. Country music, the big bands back in the ’40s and ’50s, obviously all of the Jimi Hendrix and all of the people that were at Woodstock. Just all that type of music. Jazz, classical, it all goes into doing what we do. So it has impacted me, along with the entire rock music business at the same time.
What do you consider your career highlights?
I actually have many career highlights in the five, almost six decades, that I have been doing this. I’ve won Grammys back in the ’70s, which is an amazing honor. I’ve been awarded platinum albums. I have the first and third best-selling albums of all time. I’m a New York Times best-selling author for my book.
But the one thing that is probably the highest honor that I have ever received is having my white, double-neck guitar hanging in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with some of the greatest instruments in the past seven decades that actually built rock ‘n’ roll, back to Chuck Berry and all the artists up to today. It’s a really amazing honor for me to be included in that and on display there.
What can we expect from your Beth Tfiloh show?
Well, the audience can expect a lot of Eagles songs that I co-wrote with the band, recorded with the band and played with the band in the 27 years I was out with them on the road and in the studio. I also do a couple of special songs from some of my solo work like “Heavy Metal” and a salute to the fabulous guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan with one of his songs called “Pride and Joy.’
It’s a really great, fun, rockin’ evening, and by the end of the night everyone in the place is up on their feet with their iPhones taking videos of “Life in The Fast Lane,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Hotel California,” “Take it Easy,” so it’s a really fun exciting night. Can’t wait to be there.
You know, there are a lot of things in store for me, but I never plan too far in advance because it seems like life has things in store for us all that we can’t foresee. I’ll be writing new songs for a new album, working in the studio, touring, trying to get a few days of rest and relaxation along the way. Maybe get out and lose a few golfs balls here and there, too. That looks like my future.
For tickets to Beth Tfiloh’s Spotlight 2019, visit bethtfiloh.com/spotlight