With his first solo project in decades, a former Eagle soars again  

It’s 9 a.m. on the west coast and Don Felder is a bit drowsy. “Too early,” he says. “I’ll let you know how I’m doing after my second cup of tea.” Tea? A far cry from the indulgent excesses of his near three-decade rock star tenure with the Eagles—the band that brought him fame, fortune and no shortage of conflict prior to his abrupt termination in 2001. That was a difficult time for Felder, who composed the music to the group’s classic smash “Hotel California.” “Everything I knew just changed,” he says. “My career, my friends—or the people I thought were my friends—and my marriage, too.”

For the next few years Felder endured a protracted legal battle over royalties and an extensive period of meditation and reflection, culminating with his revealing 2008 best-selling book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974 – 2001). “Once I was in the Eagles, I was ‘drugged’—not ‘dragged’—into all sorts of promiscuity and drugs and everything,” Felder recalls. “I realized how that had influenced my life, separated me from the morals and ethics I was raised with. I wanted to understand what took me from being raised dirt-poor to being a multimillionaire, and from the values of the church to a life of sin.”

Eventually Felder turned to music again, recording songs borne from his experiences and performing with a band that includes his son Cody on percussion and daughter Leah on backup vocals. “I’d be in the studio for three or four days and then go right back on the road, so production time was limited,” he says. “I’d be writing lyrics on airplanes and figuring out guitar parts between gigs. The whole process stretched over two or three years. But it was cathartic to take those life episodes, write them into songs and play them for people who might relate to those feelings.”

His efforts yielded Road to Forever, Felder’s first solo album in 30 years and only his second career solo effort. While the songs are emotive and reflective, Felder, 65, still brings the razor-sharp guitar licks he contributed to the Eagles. He also enlisted an all-star supporting cast, including Tommy Shaw, Steve Lukather, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. It was a reunion of sorts for Felder and Stills, who played together as teenagers with the Continentals in Gainesville, Fla.—a group that also included future Eagles bandmate Bernie Leadon.

Felder has learned much from his years with the Eagles. “There were five guys who could all write and sing and play,” he says. “When you get that much talent and that many egos, there’s bound to be conflict. So I always took a great deal of that contentiousness with a grain of salt. Instead of digging in and fighting for something, I’d back off and make concessions.

“A lot of those disputes were for the best of the band—for the best record, the best songs, the best singing,” he continues. “When the motivation was to avoid mediocrity, it raised the bar. In trying to continue to raise that bar higher, the band reached a point that Glenn [Frey] called the ‘hardening of the artistry’—where it’s hard to rise above what you’ve accomplished and make that leap of faith to write, play or be creative. Once I left the band and didn’t have the restriction to write for a specific cast of characters, I found I could write and play to my strengths.”

These days Felder is happy to focus on himself, and plans to keep touring. “I’ve been out on the road for the last six or seven years on and off, and now with the release of this record, I’ll be pretty much working through next summer.”

Lee Zimmerman

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