By Ray Chelstowski
Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder is among the most amiable of rock legends. He is quick to throw credit and praise to his peers and continues to exude a genuine sense of wonder about rock and the life it has afforded him. Don is one of the good guys, armed with a talent that could afford him to operate with much more ego. But music is something that he holds in too high a regard to do something so self-involved. His career is defined by collaboration, sharing the spotlight and the praise with those who share his stage.
Here are a few important things Don Felder has shared with Goldmine about songwriting and spotting talent right away.
DON FELDER: Influences comes to me from a variety of places. I’ll hear a lyric and I’ll have to write it down before it goes away. Or I’ll be watching a movie and there’ll be an orchestral progression that will make me grab an acoustic guitar to find out what the chord changes are. It just might make a really great bridge pattern. Or I’ll be driving down the freeway on the 405 (in California) singing some chords into my iPhone. I’m constantly saving these bits and pieces of fresh ideas. I’ll accumulate about 50 or 60 of them and when it’s time to head into the studio I go back and give them a listen. It’s when I’m on airplanes that I write lyrics. I can then go back and put them on top of those recorded guitar licks, and there it is.
On citing other musicians in his own songs
DF: I was at Woodstock in 1969. Those performers there had such a profound impact on me. In fact, I would say that that one event really propelled rock globally and influenced just about everyone in the decades that would follow. So I went back to that event and started citing people who had not only had an affect on me but impacted artists who grew up after that. Slash told me that he loved Jimi Hendrix growing up and that he could play just about every one of his licks. So I thought it was appropriate to include people who had risen to the top in the time that followed, from Aerosmith or Guns N’ Roses to the grunge movement. In fact,there was a lyric in “Hotel California” that says “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” That’s what it’s talking about, Woodstock.
On jamming with other musicians early on in their careers, like Tom Petty and Duane Allman
DF: With Tommy, I was working at a music store teaching guitar students. One day this buck-toothed, scrawny blonde kid came in and it was Tom Petty. He wanted to take guitar lessons and was playing bass in this band called The Epics. So I began teaching him guitar. I went over to his house a couple of times and started working with his band. They had two guitar players, Ricky and Rodney Rucker and they were both just thrashers. So I tried to help them get organized a little bit and went to a few of their shows. Even though Tom was playing bass when he came onstage he had such a confidence, such a convincing charisma about him that while he wasn’t the greatest singer in the business he sold everyone in the room on what he was doing.
The Allman Brothers were always around Gainesville [Felder's hometown]. We were always in the local battle of the bands together and I have never been happier to say that I lost every one of them to the Allman Brothers. They were the best band, Duane by far was the best guitar player, and Gregg was such a cool singer with a great voice. I had seen Duane play slide all summer long that year up and down Daytona Beach. So one night when we got off work at one o’clock, we went to have breakfast with Gregg and Duane. We later ended up at their mother’s house with Duane on the floor playing slide guitar. I said, “You gotta show me how to do that!” So he showed me the tuning, showed me how to pull down from the 5th to the 4, to bend the 3rd really slowly up to a note, drag down to the seventh just kinda the basic way that slide works. Ironically, the first track I recorded with the Eagles was a song called “Good Day in Hell.” If Duane hadn’t taught me how to do that none of this probably would have happened.