When guitarist Don Felder joined the Eagles in 1974, he was seen by many as a sort of bridge member as the band was morphing from the more countrified lineup with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner to the latter, rockier quintet that also included Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh.
But – just in case anybody ever thought any differently – the Eagles were always run by the not-always-so-benevolent dictatorship of co-founders Don Henley and Glenn Frey. And while Felder was in the lineup when “Hell Froze Over” and the band reunited in 1994, he was terminated in 2001 after purportedly questioning the split of the financial pie.
Felder in turn sued for wrongful termination and breach of contract and fiduciary duty (the suit was settled out of court years later), raising Henley and Frey’s ire. Felder’s no-holds-barred autobiography, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) ramped ill will up even more.
Felder contributed his reminisces to the recent lengthy History of the Eagles documentary DVD, sitting for what he says was about 3 ½ hours of interviews in which about five minutes ended up on screen.
And while he doesn’t necessarily quibble with his onscreen time, saying “the full story would take about 12 hours,” he was taken aback at how much vitriol Henley and Frey apparently still hold out for him. The pair refer to their former band mate as “Mr. Felder” throughout, getting plenty of shots in. One scene is even edited to show a tearful Felder bolting from his interview chair when discussing his dismissal.
“I felt a lot of the history of the band members before they joined the Eagles was left out, and a lot of [us] were in popular bands before. Most of it was about Don and Glenn. But they controlled it, owned it, and paid for it, so they could do what they wanted,” Felder says today. “But it did take me back how angry they were and how much venom they still had toward me, especially Glenn.”
Still, Felder says he got a kick out of seeing old footage and remembering how “skinny we all were and how long our hair was.” He also juxtaposed in his mind viewing the at-the-time recent Beyoncé Super Bowl halftime extravaganza with pyro, dancers, lip syncing, and effects versus Eagles shows of “five guys in ripped jeans and football jerseys with no concern about making a visual statement playing and singing live” (though, to be fair, the comparisons are hardly comparative).
Outside of the Eagles, Felder has steadily recorded and toured on his own, as well as with others like the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, and Stevie Nicks, while contributing the occasional song to a film. With no chance at singing in a band that already had three lead vocalists, he also had to find his performing voice.
Interestingly, it was Felder who scored an early post-Eagles breakup hit in 1981 with the title song to the cult favorite animated film Heavy Metal. Although the tune could have actually appeared on the Eagles last pre-breakup record, having begun life during the recording of The Long Run.
“There were rigid constraints writing and recording songs with the Eagles. You had to be in ‘Eagles World’ and anything outside of that just didn’t fit. And it might be that some guys couldn’t play the parts,” Felder says today.
“So I wrote this great guitar track and we recorded it, but we didn’t finish it because we ran out of time. A couple of years later, I rerecorded the basic track and wrote new lyrics, and that became ‘Heavy Metal.’”
His first solo record, Airborne, came out in 1983. It would be almost 30 years before he released the follow up, Road to Forever (recently re-released as an extended edition with bonus tracks).
Even with all the bad blood that’s flowed amongst them, Felder has hoped that some bridges could still be mended, but says even his divorce from his wife of 29 years has been much more amicable.
“I tried numerous times to reach out to the Eagles in a brotherly way to dispel a lot of anguish, but the only responses I’ve ever gotten is from their lawyers. So I’ve decided to move on,” he says.
“But if they ever wanted to have lunch or try to be friends again, I’d be up for that. I don’t want anything from them and I don’t necessarily want to play with them again,” he continues. “I would not want to go back into that environment with those [bad] feelings. I just want to resolve it and go on in that happier way. But they’re just not interested. And I’m thinking, ‘Gee, didn’t [Henley] write ‘Get Over It?’”
Even without his former band, though, the 68-year-old Don Felder is not just sitting around collecting royalty checks. His concert schedule includes classic rock package tours, band dates, and solo acoustic shows ranging from charity concerts to “billionaire birthday parties.” And he’s already working on a new record.
“At my age, if I’m not loving what I do, I should just quit. But music drives me,” Felder says. “And I’m writing constantly. Either using a program called Master Writer on my computer, or singing into my iPhone while driving!”
Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.