Classic Rocker Don Felder Prefers "Pros" to ProTools
Photo courtesy of DonFelder.com

Classic Rocker Don Felder Prefers "Pros" to ProTools

“It should be illegal to have so much fun and get paid for it!” singer/guitarist Don Felder says from a hotel in St. Louis, a couple of hours before heading to that evening's venue for sound check. “I feel like I’m dealing drugs or something. Like I’m high.”

The source of the former Eagle's elation is his slot on the current “United We Rock” summer shed tour with Styx and REO Speedwagon, which he makes sound like sort of a summer camp for classic rockers, complete with sporting activities and communal eating.

“We’ve known each other for decades. REO and the Eagles were on co-bills in the ‘70s, and I’ve known the Tommy Shaw and the Styx guys just as long. Tommy and I have also written songs together, and he’s sung on my album,” Felder says — before adding that some of the good times the musicians share together are now of an, um, more family-friendly nature than perhaps they were back in the day.

“On our days off, we’ll play golf together or go to the bowling alley or take over a whole restaurant with the whole bands and crew. It’s a great camaraderie we have together; it is a family. And the show is nearly four hours long, just hit after hit. It’s just fun rock and roll. There’s no hissy-fits, drama, or egos.”

Felder, Styx singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw, and REO singer/guitarist Kevin Cronin even filmed a hilarious promo video, as if they were calling a gathering of the Legion of Classic Rock Superheroes. And Tommy Shaw recently spoke to the Houston Press about the tour and the band’s new album.

Felder opens each show playing nearly an hour of almost all-Eagles material (save his 1981 solo hit “Heavy Metal [Takin’ a Ride]” from the cult hit animated movie). And he says the “United We Rock” banner that the tour is flying means more than just a grouping with his musical buddies. It’s about bringing together disparate-minded people who have one thing in common: a love for live classic rock.

“We don’t care what your politics are. We’re gonna play rock and roll and dance and not go into people’s differences or religion or anything else,” Felder says. He also adds that with three acts on one bill, they tour can play larger venues and cross-pollinate their fan bases.

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, the 69-year-old Felder is the middle link in a guitar god chain of axe players from the area. Duane Allman from the Allman Brothers Band taught the then-teenager how to play slide guitar, while Felder, in turn, gave guitar lessons another local, but younger teen looking to find his way around six strings: Tom Petty.

“It was just a bunch of kids, garage bands and high-school bands I was fortunate to have known those people, which also included Stephen Stills and [original Eagle] Bernie Leadon. I don’t know if it was something in the water or something we were smoking!” he says.

“Duane and Gregg were always the two best musicians around, regardless of what band they were in or what flag they were flying, they were the best guitar player and singer,” Felder continues. “And I am pleased to say I have lost at least five Battles of the Bands to those guys! And Duane teaching me slide led directly to my playing on my first Eagles song, which was ‘Good Day in Hell.’”

His guest work on that track from 1974’s On the Border record – along with his lead guitar in “Already Gone” — gained him a permanent place in the band for the next year’s One of These Nights, through the band acrimonious dissolution in 1980. Their body of work includes the epochal 1977 album Hotel California, on which Felder co-wrote the title track with Eagles co-founders Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

“The reason I was brought into the band was to put a harder, tougher edge on the Eagles sound. I think I was successful in that in [co-writing] songs like ‘Hotel California,’ ‘Victim of Love,’ and ‘Those Shoes,’ the harder-edge songs,” he says. As for the album itself, Felder says it did not start off in the writing as a concept record, but after the title track was written, the rest of the songs became ruminations of both the state of residence and the state of mind of the Eagles.

“Nobody in the band was from California originally. But driving in, you had all these images about the state and stardom and the Beach Boys and all the marketing of California,” Felder explains. “So songs like ‘New Kid in Town,’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane,’ ‘Wasted Time,’ they all mean something about our experiences, the basic conceptual foundation from the title song. It didn’t start out to be a concept record, but it happened that way, and it all ties together.” Felder previously spoke with the Press more about that title track in 2014.

Of course, things did not end well between the three songwriters, and relations have not healed. While The Eagle reunited for the "Hell Freezes Over" tour and album in 1994, Felder was fired from the group in 2001 after questioning his financial stake and compensation. He went on to file a lawsuit against Henley and Frey, the results of which are not publicly known.

And his raw 2008 memoir, Heaven and Hell, did not sit well with the head Birds. He did participate in the 2013 career-spanning documentary History of the Eagles, but was shut out of the subsequent long tour. Throughout the doc, he is referred to by his former bandmates as “Mr. Felder.” He talked about that to the Press previously as well.

When Glenn Frey died rather unexpectedly in January 2016, relations had not changed. But it still came as a shock to Felder, who found out about it after landing at LAX airport when his then-girlfriend’s phone started “blowing up.”

Felder had come back from Mexico, where he had been playing with Billy Gibbons, Dave Grohl and Sammy Hagar at a club. When his girlfriend leaned over and said “Glenn’s dead,” the guitarist thought she meant Glen Campbell, who Felder knew and has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some time.

When he told her that wasn’t a surprise, she informed him, “No, Glenn Frey.” And even then, Felder says he thought it was an Internet hoax until it started appearing all over the news, though it was still a shock.

Today, Felder talks more happily about his current band, who have played onstage and in the studio with acts like Crosby, Stills and Nash, David Gilmour, Todd Rundgren, Whitesnake, and former Eagles bandmate Joe Walsh.

“You know what came before Pro Tools? Pros," he laughs. “Guys who could actually play and sing. And these guys can.”

After the summer “United We Rock” tour ends, Felder has a packed calendar with solo dates and trips to the studio to finish up his next album, following up 2014’s Road to Forever. He says he has seven tracks out of a total of 12 nearly ready to go, and hopes to wrap things up in December and drop the new effort in early 2018. So it seems that Don Felder is still living his life in the fast lane.

The “United We Rock Tour” featuring Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Don Felder hits the Cynthia Woodlands Mitchell Pavilion on Saturday, July 29 Gates open at 6 p.m. For more on Don Felder, visit donfelder.com.

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