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Don Felder finds the Road to Forever' beyond The Eagles

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You never know when or where success will strike. Sometimes you need to be in the right place at the right time. It could result from bumping into an old friend. Or success might be sparked by a sun-drenched day at the beach.

For Don Felder, a former member of The Eagles - the most successful American band in history - success came from each of those circumstances. The latter setting inspired him to write the music for the group's signature song, 'Hotel California.' That tune's most famous line has become all too prescient for Felder - 'You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.' He may no longer be an Eagle, but Felder will forever be associated with the band.

Eleven years after his acrimonious departure from the band - which he chronicled in shocking detail in the 2008 New York Times bestseller 'Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles' - Don Felder has returned with a new CD called 'Road to Forever' (Rocket Science Ventures). And in the process, he managed to out-Eagle The Eagles.

The new album's songs of love, loss, forgiveness and redemption stem from situations in Felder's life. 'While I was writing the book, I started writing songs about the experiences that I had been through,' Felder says. 'When I left the band in 2001, I did a lot of self-study to try to figure out how I got from impoverished conditions on a dirt road in Gainesville, Florida to winding up in one of the biggest bands in the world. I also needed to take stock of what happened to me while I was in the band and find out how to keep my feet on the ground and move forward in life.'

A few famous friends joined Felder in the studio during the 18 months of recording sessions for 'Road to Forever,' including someone he first met back in Gainesville in the mid-'60s. 'Stephen Stills came in along with David Crosby and Graham Nash to sing background on some of these songs,' Felder told me. 'Tommy Shaw from Styx came in to play and sing, and he helped me write the lyrics to 'Wash Away.' Steve Lukather from Toto played great guitar on the title song, 'Road to Forever.' Randy Jackson, the guy everybody knows from American Idol as the 'Dawg dude,' is an incredible bass player one of the top players in Los Angeles. I've known for a while that I wanted him to play on my album, and it just happened to work out that he could do it.'

In 2007, six years after Felder left The Eagles, the band released their first album of new material since 1979's 'The Long Run.' The 20-track 'Long Road out of Eden' turned out to be a serious letdown for many longtime fans. It was well produced and well sung, but the record lacked the most essential ingredient good songs. When Felder joined The Eagles in 1974, his guitar (especially slide) added some welcome rock and roll grit to a band's country-rock sound a genre that was gradually becoming pass. Felder's addition to the lineup (along with that of Joe Walsh the next year) was one of Don Henley and Glenn Frey's best moves.

During his years in The Eagles, Felder frequently offered up new original songs for consideration only to have most of his ideas rejected by Henley and Frey ('The Gods' as they were nicknamed by those around them). It's interesting to note that Felder's new songs on 'Road to Forever' are superior to nearly everything on his former band's latest offering.

Instead of focusing on the idea that creative karma may have caught up with 'The Gods,' Felder prefers to be grateful for where he is and what he has today. 'There's a song on the new record called Fall From the Grace of Love' about the feeling everybody gets when we lose a love or lose a friendship or something tragic happens in our life and how we deal with it,' he said. 'There's another new one called I Believe in You' that goes I believe in a love that lasts forever' a sign of optimism. It's about how you get the courage after you've been hurt or damaged in life to put yourself back together and get back on your feet to go forward. '

When Don Felder joined The Eagles in 1974, he says they seemed like they were on the verge of breaking up. As the band became more successful than they had imagined possible, greed, ego, drugs and (as Felder refers to it) 'the machine of The Eagles' consumed them.

Felder's parting with the band in 2001 coincided with his personal breakup as his marriage of 29 years also came to an end. Felder's subsequent introspection and healing from that difficult time can be heard in the lyrics to his new songs on 'Road to Forever.'

Dow: Before we begin, I just want you to know that you're my favorite member of The Eagles named Don.

Felder: (laughing) Oh, thank you very much for that. That's quite an honor. I'll have to remember that.

Dow: 'Road to Forever' is the first Don Felder album in almost 30 years. Why did you decide to wait so long to release a second album?

Felder: The Eagles resumed in the early a'90s and when you're in 'The Eagles machine,' all you can do is Eagles stuff. You write songs for The Eagles, you tour, you're in the studio - it's all consuming and there's really no time to do anything except eat, sleep and breathe Eagles. When I left the band, I did a lot of insightful self-study, and in the process I wound up writing my book. I went out and promoted it for about a year and a half. When I came back from the book tour, I had 26 songs sketched out in the studio, picked 16 of them, I pared it down to the songs you hear on the record and am out now doing shows with the band that I've played with for over 10 years.

Dow: In your book, you write about the Gainesville music scene in the '60s. It's amazing how many now legendary music-makers drifted in and out of there in their formative years.

Felder: Yes, there was an unusual number of people in that little area who went on to become Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and multi-platinum selling artists. I had a part-time music store job after school. One day, this scrawny, blonde-haired, buck-toothed kid named Tommy Petty came walking in and asked if I could give him lessons. I ended up teaching Tommy for about a year and a half. He was in The Rucker Brothers Band and I helped them kind of arrange some of their songs. Tommy was just fearless on stage a great performer just as he is right now.

There were a lot of people in that particular area of Gainesville when I was growing up. Stephen Stills and I had a band together when we were 15 years old called The Continentals. When Stephen moved to California, another guitar player moved to town called Bernie Leadon who was one of the founding members of The Eagles. Bernie and I had a high school band together for a few years called The Maundy Quintet.

Duane and Gregg Allman had a band called The Allman Joys. They were in Daytona but would come to Gainesville and we played 'Battle of the Bands' shows together. Duane actually taught me how to play slide guitar. He was the first guy I saw who played electric slide and he sat me down and showed me how to play.

Dow: Your book laid out the truth about life in The Eagles for the first time. Have you heard from any of the other guys since your book came out?

Felder: Not really. There's very little communication between the guys in the band and myself. That's been their choice. As you know from my book, I was in a marriage for 29 years and when I broke up with my ex-wife, we became really good friends about six months later. We talk on the phone - she comes to my house for Thanksgiving dinner - we have kids together hundreds of friends together. It really seems silly to go through life carrying resentment and anger.

Several times, I've tried to reach out to the other members of The Eagles. They choose not to respond unless it's through their lawyers. Maybe that will change maybe it won't. I'm just moving forward with my life making great music and having a lot of fun doing it.

Dow: The Eagles disbanded after The Long Run tour in 1980. If drugs had never entered the picture, do you think the band could have avoided that breakup?

Felder: Yes drugs were a great part of that friction. We were working for 10 or 11 months out of the year either in the studio or on the road and nobody wanted to take a break. There was not a lot of joy in our lives between constant work and travel and the pressure to raise the bar higher and higher with each album and every tour to make it better than what we had done before. It starts to erode all of the nerve endings you have to the point where people have outbursts, say crazy things and act irrationally. I think that was amplified by the drugs that were involved in the '70s and the rate and intensity of the work. I think the band would have had a different outcome in 'the long run' if we hadn't been so heavily involved in drugs. (Felder has been drug-free since the '80s)

Dow: When the band reformed in 1994, how was it different from the old days?

Felder: We had all matured dramatically from where we were in the '70s. We'd all had a shot at solo records. We really respected what the band had as a total not just five individuals. We wrote and recorded some of the best music that I think anyone has ever been a part of. When we got back together, we were all walking around on eggshells all on our best behavior trying to make it work. But much like The Beach Boys' most recent reunion, a lot of the old frictions started resurfacing a couple of years into it and it just became difficult. It was kind of like remarrying your ex-wife. Those old issues start surfacing again and it turned out that it just couldn't work any further, and that was the reason we finally decided to split.

Dow: Congratulations on your new CD and thanks for writing that book. It's an amazing read and I've recommended it to many people.

Felder: Thank you so much, Mike. When I come to Bangor, I'll come into the station and bring my guitar, how's that? We'll play some music and tell some stories.

Mike Dow can be heard each morning on WABK -104.3 FM. Soon, he will also be heard on Big 104 104.7 and 107.7 The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Last modified on Thursday, 15 November 2012 09:43


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