Joining The Eagles in 1974, Florida born guitarist Don Felder helped transform the group’s peaceful easy feeling country-rock sound into a bona fide, hard-hitting rock band, thanks to his dazzling six-string finesse and virtuoso ability.
A formidable songwriter, he penned a slew of Eagles classics including “Victim of Love,” “Those Shoes” and “Disco Strangler” and, most significantly, crafted the music for the band’s quintessential ’70s air-guitar anthem, “Hotel California.”
Listen to Felder’s stinging lead guitar on “One of These Nights,” the snarling bite of “Victim of Love” or the spectacular guitar solo that frames “Hotel California” for further proof of his accomplished musicianship. It’s no surprise that this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1998 inductee is championed as one of rock’s finest players.
Unceremoniously fired from The Eagles in 2000, Felder has come full circle, emerging from a dark depression and relationships woes to forge a new positive direction in his life. “Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles (1974-2000)” is a candid, revealing and often painfully honest look behind the curtain at the inner workings and dysfunctional relationships of one of the world’s most popular rock outfits. Pulling no punches, the book balances the “heaven and hell” ups and downs in his career with admirable insight and class.
In Part 1 of this interview, Felder talks about how he came to join The Eagles and his tension-filled early days with the band.
What prompted you to write the book?
Don Felder: I always found my life story about growing up in a really impoverished upbringing on a dirt road in the deep South and going through the trials and tribulations of what every young guy goes through pursuing the American dream of becoming a rock star and what I went through to get there valuable.
And the story would also touch on what life in the fast lane was like once I found success in The Eagles. I thought it was a very interesting story, and that it was worth going through the time and effort to do the book. Working on the book also turned out to be very cathartic for me. I found it very cathartic to be able to look back at my life and relive memories about the people I had met along the way and revisit a lot of the stories and experiences that had happened to me.
The title “Heaven or Hell,” taken from The Eagles song “Hotel California,” pretty much sums up your experience in the band.
DF: As you go through life you have to take the joys and the laughter along with the pain and the tears. So heaven and hell talks about the duplicity of emotions and experiences in life as well as my experiences in The Eagles. It went from soaring in the heavens to frying in hell.
There were a lot of great experiences when I was in The Eagles, and there were a lot of trying, difficult and disappointing experiences as well. Also, there’s another overtone to it. I was raised in a very religious family, a southern Baptist family, which is a God-fearing, hellfire and brimstone kind of religion. I was dragged into church by my mom every Sunday from the time I was old enough to walk.
Later I was dragged into hell in the ’70s by taking drugs. It’s the exact opposite lifestyles. One is a very spiritual, religious-based approach to life versus the other part of my life in the ’70s [which] was really just destroyed with drugs and alcohol and sins of all imaginable shapes and sizes. So in those periods of my life there was also a lot of heaven and hell that I staggered through.
Bring us back to when you received a phone call from Glenn Frey asking you