In the third and final installment (at least as far as the print publication goes) of our interview with The Eagles’ Don Felder, the guitarist talks about Joe Walsh, the writing of the song “Hotel California” and other matters pertaining to one of rock’s most enduring, yet dysfunctional, units.
When Joe Walsh joined the band for the Hotel California album, was that a boost for you as a player, someone who could stand toe to toe with you and play that kind of rock guitar?
Don Felder: Yeah. Joe and I had done some things together before he joined The Eagles. We had done a TV show project called “Joe Walsh and Friends.” We also did some shows with that band. We’d also done some recordings together, too. We’d done some stuff just as friends. It was also a little bit of me wanting to find out how well we could play together before he was officially invited in to replace Bernie (Leadon).
I really felt bad that Bernie had decided to quit the band. He was a longtime friend from our high school days, and mainly when he left, I had to adopt all the pedal steel, five-string banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar parts, and all this other stuff that he had brought to the band. There was nobody else who could play that, so when we did those songs I wasn’t able to play electric rock and roll guitar, which is what I wanted to do.
When I wrote “Victim of Love” or “Hotel California,” I was really aiming it in the direction where Joe and I would have the opportunity in The Eagles to do some of the things we had done on some of his records. That’s where I was focusing those tracks. Don and Glenn both heard and realized that and said something like, “OK, we’ve got the players, and we’ve got the tracks; now we can do some of these songs.”
You wrote the music for what has become The Eagles’ quintessential song, “Hotel California.”
DF: Yes. That song is such an unusual combination of music and lyrics. I just did an interview for Japanese television, and they were asking me how I put together the musical elements for “Hotel California.” I looked at it and said that it kind of has a reggae feel; the bass part comes from jazz roots, and it’s got an acoustic 12-string, which gives it a country sound, but it’s in a minor key, which makes it rather dark.
And then, it’s got these electric guitars on it, too. It’s like a convergence of four or five different styles that makes it fairly unique as a track. Then, on top of it, it’s got Don’s brilliant lyrics. I really like the line “they stab it with their steely knives” — that was a tip of the hat to Steely Dan. “You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave” I believe was about Jackson Browne’s wife, who had committed suicide. The lyrics are really great visual images that sit well within the framework of being in this hotel. When Don first heard the music I wrote, he really liked it and wanted to work on it. It was either Don or Glenn who called it “Mexican reggae” because it sounded to them like a Mexican band playing reggae.
“Hotel California” was originally in the key of E minor, which is a great guitar key. That’s the key I made the demo in, and we actually recorded the first time it was in that key — the whole basic track, almost everything except for the guitar solos.
Then, Don had filled up a bunch of legal pads with lyric ideas and went out to the microphone to sing and to me, he sounded like Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees, a really high falsetto, and nasally. It just did not fit the track, so he said, “The key’s too high.” I went and got a g