The title of Don Felder’s most recent solo album is pretty straightforward: American Rock ‘n’ Roll. In the leadoff title track, the singer/guitarist gives a bit of a history lesson on the genre with namecheck sampling ranging from Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Aerosmith, and Bob Seger to Tommy Lee, Slash, Bruce Springsteen, and Chris Cornell. So – like the cover – there is a bit of musical flag-waving involved.
“Well, pretty much everyone who plays rock ‘n’ roll in the world was influenced by American music. Even the British Invasion, where they basically brought the music back to us,” Felder offers. “It’s mutated over the years, but it all originated here.”
Don Felder and his band will play two intimate shows in the Houston area, December 5 and 6 at the Dosey Doe Big Barn near The Woodlands. And he says they’ll vary up the set list a bit each night.
One of the record’s standout tracks is “Sun.” Its lush vocal harmonies and sonic landscape bring to mind something that the Beach Boys or Felder’s former band the Eagles would do on something like the latter’s “Seven Bridges Road.” Turns out, that’s not so far off the mark.
“I originally wrote that in 1974 to celebrate the birth of my first son, and in fact I called the song ‘Son,’” Felder says. “I played and sang it for [Eagles bandmates] Don Henley and Glenn Frey, and I don’t think they saw what it could be. And that’s as far as it got.” After retooling the words over the decades, he gave it a more universal meaning relating to birth and death.
And while Felder played nearly all of the guitars (and all of the types of guitars, which he rattles off with ease) on his last solo album, 2012’s Road to Forever, he says that he missed a collaborative band feel. So he invited some friends to sing play on American Rock ‘n’ Roll. A lot of friends. Like Slash, Richie Sambora, Joe Satriani. Peter Frampton, Sammy Hagar, Mick Fleetwood, Bob Weir, Alex Lifeson (Rush), David Paich & Steve Porcaro (Toto), and more.
“I wanted them to come in and just make stuff up, with spontaneity. That’s when creativity comes out. That was completely different than the last one,” he says, adding that he tried to match the strength of each players to specific material. “Slash plays on the title track, and that’s right up his alley. He came in and asked me what he should play, and I told him ‘I’m not going to tell you. You just be Slash and play whatever and wherever you want to!’”
He has formed a particular friendship with Frampton, who just completed his farewell tour. The pair have shared studios for Frampton projects, and inducted each other into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, which also happens to be where Frampton now lives.
“I had to fly from California to Nashville in February and it was eight degrees when I got there to do that for him. The street signs were covered in ice! That tells you how much I love the guy!” Felder laughs. “And the next year, he just had to walk over a couple of blocks for me!”
But it was guitar playing virtuoso Joe Satriani who intimidated him most. “Everybody was of such high musical caliber, but I had sweaty palms when I went toe-to-toe with him!” he recalls. “Satch is such an unbelievable, technical, rock and roll monster. It’s frightening how good he is. It’s not my style, but you can’t help but be in awe of him. And it pushes you out of your comfort zone.”
Of course, Don Felder is best known as a former lead guitarist for the Eagles, and among his most noted accomplishments are as co-writer for the songs “Hotel California” (that’s his riff) and “Victim of Love.” His subsequent 2001 firing from the group and flurry of back-and-forth lawsuits have been well documented. And Felder told his own story of life and music in the bestselling 2008 memoir Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001), which by all reports did not amuse Eagles co-founders Don Henley and the late Glenn Frey.
“Hotel California” has one of the most identifiable opening riffs in all of classic rock history. Felder usually saves it for the last song in his show, but the audience begins screaming in recognition even before he hits the first notes. That’s because his guitar tech will bring out Felder’s Gibson EDS-1275 double neck white guitar. And while that instrument isn’t heard on the studio recording, Felder did play it on the original Eagles Hotel California tour and it’s seen in the song’s familiar concert video.
That tour model now has a permanent home in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (into which Felder was inducted with Eagles in 1998). It’s also currently featured there in the “Play It Loud” exhibit of influential and famous guitars, which debuted at New York’s Met Museum. Felder returned to the Hall of Fame recently to play at its opening with Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo of Metallica and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Gibson made a limited edition copy of it in recent years – down to the belt buckle scratch inflicted on Felder’s original - and Felder has five of the artist’s proofs, along with about 10 others that he has and plays on tour.
“They see that guitar, and they know what’s coming next! It’s unbelievable,” Felder offers before detailing why he’s always needed two 12-string guitars-in-one (and two different speakers) to replicate the sound of the record live. “That guitar weighs a ton. And I think it’s directly responsible for all of my back problems!”
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Recently, the Eagles have announced a massive Hotel California 2020 tour that will see the current version of the group play the album in its entirety along with other material, stemming from a hugely successful try-out with a handful of dates in Las Vegas. It comes to Houston’s Toyota Center March 6 & 7.
Given the feelings that Henley has publicly expressed for Felder, the chance of him asking his co-writer of the song to take part in any facet the tour is likely less than that of hell freezing over. And not the “Hell Freezes Over” that was the jokey title of the band’s 1994 reunion tour, based itself on a 1980 Henley quote about the band’s likelihood of reuniting after their initial breakup.
For his part, Felder doesn’t express any ill will about it. “I found out about it at the same way everybody else on the planet did,” he says. “It’s going to be a beautiful production, I’m sure, with an orchestra. There’s a lot of strings on that record!”
Don Felder & Band play 8:30 p.m., Dec. 5 & 6, at the Dosey Doe Big Barn, 25911 I-45 North. For more information, call 281-367-3774 or visit DoseyDoe.com. Tickets $158-$238 and include a three-course dinner served 6:30-7:30 pm.