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Interview: Don Felder

Don Felder is a name that needs no introduction, but he deserves one. Don wrote one of the most memorable songs of all time “Hotel California”, from the Eagles album of the same name which has gone onto sell 32 Million copies worldwide and is certified 26 x Platinum by the RIAA.

Following his departure from the Eagles, Felder has lent his guitar playing to Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand and Stevie Nicks. He also contributed to the soundtrack to the cult classic “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”

Fast forward to now, which sees the release of Don’s new solo album “American Rock ‘N’ Roll”, which features guest spots from Slash, Richie Sambora, Sammy Hagar, Orianthi,  Chad Smith, Joe Satriani and Mick Fleetwood among others. Don graciously gave up some time to chat with us, and may I say, gave one of the most upbeat, fun and positive interviews I have conducted, so sit back, relax and enjoy our chat with Rock N Roll Hall Of Famer, Don Felder.

H2Z: Don, thanks so much for your time, I would like to start by asking how you chose your guest performers that appear on “American Rock ‘N’ Roll”?

DF: I knew most of them pretty well, played with and alongside them at some point maybe at a charity even or just jamming with them, so I knew their playing. So once all the songs were written, I sat back and listened and tried to figure out which musician would be the best fit for the song. Slash was the obvious choice for “American Rock ‘N’ Roll”. I couldn’t have imagined him being on something like “Little Latin Lover” or the ballad “The Way Things Have To Be”, where as Peter Frampton was the perfect choice for “The Way Things Have To Be”. He has the most perfect tone for that song, of his guitar going through a Leslie amp that fit perfectly on that.

Mick Fleetwoood, when he plays drums, just sounds like the early 70’s. He just has that feel and that pocket. So with the song “American Rock ‘N’ Roll” we had Mick start off the song as it does have that early rock feel, and then about half way through we wanted it to change and migrate to a more contemporary sound, so we got Chad Smith to come in, and Chad comes into the song playing like a 5 thousand pound gorilla. He is just so high energy (laughs), and he plays with a vibe of a more modern band like a cross between the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Foo Fighters, which made it musically morph through the decades, which is what I also did lyrically. It was so important to get the right people to get the right effect and impact with the songs.

I had written a song called “Rock You” which is a big stadium anthem style of song, and I really wanted it to be a duet. So sat and thought about who I would want to duet with on the track, and originally I was thinking of it being a female duet, but the more I listened to the song, it dawned on me the only person for it was Sammy Hagar! He has that great raspy rock n roll voice. So I called him up, as I have known him for the longest time. We worked out the soundtrack to the movie “Heavy Metal” together, we have toured together, we have done charity shows together. I just said to him “I have this big stadium song, I really want you to sing on”. He invited me up to his studio so I flew up and in about an hour we had recorded all the vocals for “Rock You”, then we got Joe Satriani to come in and play guitar with me on the song, so we set up side by side in the control room of Sammy’s studio, and cut the guitar tracks. While that was happening Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), who has a studio a few blocks from Sammy’s came wandering down the hallway to get a coffee, so I grabbed him and said “Bob, I need you to come in and sing the big chorus on this song”, and so then we have 5 or 6 tracks of Bob singing “Rock You” on the choruses. Everything really just fell together, I just had to match the right person to the right song.

H2Z: Did you record live with everyone, or did they just record themselves and send you the files?

DF: Both! Mick Fleetwood lives in Hawaii, and I wasn’t gonna get on a plane to Hawaii just to get a drum track (laughs). So we just sent files back and forth to one another. Chad Smith came into my studio. Slash also came into my studio. I went to Sammy’s studio and played with him, Satriani and Bob Weir. Alex Lifeson, who is the sensational guitar player from the Canadian band Rush, who I have admired for decades, still lives in Canada, and it was the winter months, and so I wasn’t overly excited to leave beautiful, sunny Southern California (laughs). So I sent him the files and he called me back and said “What do you want me to play on this?”, and I just said “Alex, anything you like”. So, he plays on the song “Charmed”, and when he went into the bridge he was just on an acoustic guitar, and then at the end he played 3 or 4 solo passes, which were just great. So when I got the files back, i went through them and picked what I thought were the best solo phrases, and cut myself some spaces where I could play, he could play, I could play, he could play. The very last line he played is this really amazing, incredible guitar lick, so I figured out what the harmony was for it, and I overdubbed harmony on top of his existing part, so we ended up playing the last part together, even though he did his part in Canada and I did my part in California.

But there is also Richie Sambora, he plays on a song called “Limelight”, which is right up his alley. I had done a bunch of stuff with Richie for charities, so I called him up and said “ I have got this shuffle that is right up your ally, it’s got your name all over it”. So I went up to his house, got set up in his studio, and we played together side by side. Then I look around and down the staircase comes Orianthi, and I completely forgot that Richie and Orianthi were together as a couple at the time. So I said “Orianthi, you got a play, get over here and play on this”. She just gotten up in the morning, just dressed casual in cut off shorts a shirt, flip flops and a baseball cap (laughs). She grabbed the guitar, plugged in and played, such a great track, and it’s probably my favourite solo on the record.

I have known Ori since she first moved over from Australia and we always get to play at charity events together. When we play Alice Coopers events she always plays the harmony guitar line on Hotel California with me. We just did a great event a few months ago with me, Orianthi, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Steven Stills, Robby Kreiger, a bunch of great people and players, and she played Hotel with me then too. She is just an absolute magician on guitar, I absolutely love her. A lot of people I was lucky and fortunate enough to play and record with directly, and other people there was no way logistically to do that, so we did it via the internet, well except for Peter Frampton where I flew back to Nashville to have him play on “The Way Things Have To Be”, and he actually sang harmony on the choruses too which was great. When I have time here in the studio I try to get people scheduled for when they are in town to come and jam or play on a track or if not I just get the files together and send them over to them online.

H2Z: Was there any song in particular that took on the most changes from its first demo to the finished product we hear on the album?

DF: I would actually say “American Rock ‘N’ Roll”. That started out as just a little drum loop, and I just played some bass and the guitar parts. But once I wrote the lyrics, i realised it couldbt just go from 1969 to the 21st century in the lyrics, the music has to migrate as well. That’s where the decision to have two drummers came from. The only time I have heard two drummers playing on a record together, it sounds just like that, two drummers, like The Allman Brothers. That wasn’t the concept for that particular track though. We had to set it up so it grooved from 1969 to 2019. So I would say it’s the track that changed the most.

H2Z: Are you looking to tour to support the album, and if so, will Australia be a part of that tour?

DF: I would absolutely love to come to Australia, I absolutely love it down there. The audiences are fantastic and Australians are some of the nicest people on the planet. I have always had great times and great beer down there (laughs). Right now it’s about finding out, when we can get down that way, but I would absolutely love to.

H2Z: Your famous Gibson EDS-1275 Doubleneck is part of the “Play It Loud” exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. How does it feel to be a part of something like that?

DF: It was really funny, and coincidental that the exhibit started the same week my album dropped. About 4 years ago I was doing a show at The Beacon Theatre in New York City with Steve Miller, and at the end of my sets I always play “Life In The Fast Lane” and “Hotel California”. So “Life” finishes and my guitar tech comes out with the white Doubleneck onto the stage, and the crowd is already on their feet, yelling and screaming like they know what is coming. That night there happened to be a guy in the crowd who is the head curator for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he sees this and goes “Wait a minute, there is a correlation between the instrument and the audience, and the song. Not necessarily just the artist, but the instrument. So he calls the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame within the next week, and they start organising this whole event, about what instruments will be in it, and he says “We have to have Don’s guitar, the one I saw the audience connect with, we have to have that guitar.” So to be fortunate to be included in that along with Jimi Hendrix’ guitar that he played at Woodstock, that I saw him play live, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie”, Jimmy Page’s Double Neck and Les Paul, all these incredible people like Van Halen. Everybody that has been in American Rock ‘N’ Roll, back to Chuck Berry, which is one of the first guitars you see from the early 50’s. Whether you want to call it an award or an accolade, its truly an honour, beyond anything I have ever expected in my life.

H2Z: So speaking of your guitars, how many do you currently have and do you have a favourite you used on the new record?

DF: Last time I went down to my locker I had a little over 300. It’s been some time since we have done an updated head count and done an inventory, and add a whole bunch of new guitars that I have gotten. I did go down there and cherry picked around 25 guitars to use on the album. I wanted to have a range of them, some for slide, some for nylon, some for acoustic. There was about 12 different electric guitars. There were Stratocasters, Telecasters, some old Gretch Guitars. A few Les Pauls, including my ‘59 Les Paul, and some Gold Top Les Pauls which all came out of storage to be on the album. A really great ‘57 Les Paul Jnr came out. Do you know James Young from Styx? I used one of his custom guitars, he has this company that makes him custom guitars with special pick-ups, switches and a sustaniac in it. I grabbed that and used it on the track Sun. I used it and played slide and it came out sounding like a pedal steel guitar part. I just wanted to have a lot of different sounds. I also used between 12-15 different amps. Things like the tiny Tweed Champs that i used on Eagles “Hotel California” and “Victim Of Love”, all the way up to 50 Watt Marshall Stacks. Also some Leslie, and Bogner amps, so I could have a different colour combination from song to song. And when you play alongside someone you have to play a different guitar so it all doesn’t sound the same. So say Slash plays a Les Paul, then for my part I use a Fender so we each had our own sound. There was such a wild variety of sounds on this record.

H2Z: Now you mentioned “Hotel California” a few times, and it’s an iconic and classic song, but I have to ask, outside of that song, was is the song you are proudest to have composed?

DF: That is a really difficult question to answer because a lot of musicians see their songs as their children so it’s hard to pick just one. But I have to say there is a song on this album called Sun, which I actually wrote in 1974 when I first joined the Eagles, right after my first son was born. And i played that song, with its unusual guitar tuning for Henley and Frey and they said “Oh that’s really sweet you wrote a song for your son when he was born, let’s go back to working on ‘One Of These Nights’”, and they just left it there. I went back and listened to it but I thought the scope of the lyrics were very narrow. So I broadened up the song, but they (Henley and Frey) but they just couldn’t hear what I heard. But now I am really proud people get to hear that song and I can let people know that I loved it when I wrote it in 1974 but they rejected it. Sometimes you can revisit the past and the things you cast away, and they turn out great.

H2Z: Speaking of the past, are you still in contact with anyone from your pre Eagles bands “Flow” and “The Maundy Quintet”?

DF: I still talk to Bernie Leadon, we are still really good friends. The Bass player from The Maundy Quintet, was a guy called Barry Scurran, became a doctor and just today I actually recorded a video celebrating his retirement. The drummer was a guy called Boomer, I stay in touch with him and all those guys. The singer not so much. Two of the guys that were in “Flow” have passed away, one from a drug overdose and the other from natural causes, and that only leaves one other guy and we were at odds when I left that band so not really anyone else

H2Z: Thanks for your time today Don, we will wind down now, any final words for your fans in Australia?

DF: I miss you all dramatically, I would love nothing more than to come back down and spend a month down there, play some shows, hang out with you all, share some beers, and just enjoying all you beautiful people and your country

Don Felder’s new album “American Rock ‘N’ Roll” is out now physically and digitally via BMG


American Rock ‘N’ Roll (ft Slash, Mick Fleetwood and Chad Smith)
She Just Doesn’t Get It
The Way Things Have To Be (ft Peter Frampton)
Little Latin Lover
Hearts On Fire
Limelight (ft Richie Sambora and Orianthi)
You’re My World
Falling In Love (ft Steve Porcaro)
Charmed (ft Alex Lifeson)
Rock You (Ft Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani and Bob Weir)

Hear2Zen Magazine
Hear2Zen is a "Non Genre Specific" publication that celebrates all things sensory.

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