In what promises to be the classic rock event of the summer, Don Felder, Styx and Foreigner will be playing at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday. Having seen performances in recent years by Felder and Styx, I’m expecting that this one’s gonna be good! Click here for more details, or to purchase tickets online.
Felder is best known as the former lead guitarist for the Eagles, and wrote the music for the megahit “Hotel California,” which is regularly ranked as one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs ever written. He talked to Noozhawk about that song, his recent solo album Road to Forever, and hanging out with his tourmates. Click here for the full interview, which includes more on the Eagles and his best-selling book Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles.
• • •
Jeff Moehlis: I saw you perform here in Santa Barbara at the Notes for Notes benefit concert last December, and when you played “Hotel California” it was almost like a religious experience for me. Can you tell us how the song “Hotel California” came together?
Don Felder: I had leased a beach house on Malibu Beach one summer, Broad Beach in Malibu, and I was just sitting on a sofa in the big room wearing cut-off shorts and playing guitar, looking out at the beautiful California sun glistening on the Pacific Ocean. It was just one of those spectacular July days. I started playing this progression, and it just kind of came out, and I played it over and over and over again. Then I went into my back bedroom, which was my 1-year-old little daughter’s bedroom when she we was awake, and it also served as my recording studio. So I went in and turned on this old reel-to-reel tape recorder, a four-track TEAC, and recorded it, just that chord progression.
Later, when we were assembling songs for what was going to become the Hotel California record, I went back and heard that little progression and decided to re-record it with a little Roland drum machine, and me playing bass, and playing the acoustic 12-string part and little electric guitar parts. I made a demo of it. Then I put in on a reel, I think with 15 or 16 other song ideas — one of them became “Victim of Love,” which is on the Hotel California record — and gave copies of those to Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner, and said, “If there’s anything in these songs that you guys like and want to finish writing with me, let me know.”
So I got a call from Henley a few days later, and he said, “I like that song that sounds kind of like a Mexican reggae or bolero,” and obviously that one with the little acoustic introduction was the one. So we started writing lyrics for it. Henley came up with the concept of “Hotel California,” and ran off with this pile of legal pads and just made lists of lyrics for it, and I worked on some of the music tracks that would need to be recorded when we re-recorded it. It just kind of came together with all the band contributing to it. That’s kind of how it came together.
JM: There’s a lot of crazy theories floating around about what “Hotel California” is about. Do you have a favorite theory that just happens to be completely wrong or misguided, but you think that it’s kind of an interesting theory?
DF: Well, the closest one that’s totally wrong is that there’s a place down in Todos Santos in Mexico, on the Baja Peninsula kind of near Cabo. Some developer bought this old hotel and changed the name of it to Hotel California, and started spreading the rumor that we used to go down there and hang out, and that’s where we were when we wrote the song. He’s got a big tourist business now where he sells T-shirts, CDs and all sorts of stuff, and you can stay at the Hotel California. Which is totally bogus. No one’s ever been there, no one’s been to Todos Santos. Nothing was ever written there. That’s about as wrong as you can get, I think.
JM: Your new CD sounds great! This came a long time after your first solo album came out. What made it the right time to do another solo album, and will we have to wait so long for your next solo album?
DF: Well, the reason it took so long between Airborne, which I think came out in the early ’80's (it was released in 1983), and Road to Forever was that there was a little project (with the reunited Eagles) that got in the way called Hell Freezes Over. That took a long time to do. That was almost six years. Then when I left the band in 2001, I sat down and started writing an autobiography, which took a couple of years, put together my own band, was out doing shows and starting to establish myself as a solo artist, and at the same time writing and recording songs for what became Road to Forever. So, the process of doing it by myself took longer when I had to write all the material.
I’m already in the process of writing and recording new song ideas. As soon as I come up for air and have enough time to go into my studio for a couple of weeks, I’ll start developing those song ideas into tracks and into finished lyrics and that sort of stuff. And, hopefully somewhere in 2015 or early 2016 I’ll get out another CD.
JM: You’re sharing the bill with Styx and Foreigner for the upcoming show. Did you know those guys back in the day, or is it a more recent friendship that you have with them?
DF: Well, I really first came in contact with Styx. Everybody knows the music from Foreigner and Styx. They’ve had just a great catalog, and a lot of great songs, a great number of hits. But we first really became friends about 10 years ago. We started doing these benefits together, like Alice Cooper’s fundraiser in Phoenix called the Solid Rock Foundation, or I put together a benefit for the victims of (Hurricane) Katrina, I guess it was like eight years ago or nine years ago. When we would do these shows together, we just had so much fun.
Tommy (Shaw, from Styx) and I became really good friends, so when he was in L.A. we’d go out to dinner with our wives and hang out. We eventually started doing shows together, the Don Felder Band and Styx. It was just so much fun to do it. The music was great together, the audience really knew both catalogs very well. So when this idea came up with doing this tour with Foreigner, Styx and myself, it just seemed like a perfect package. I knew those guys really well, I loved the songs in all the catalogs. I thought it was a perfect fit for the audience that would get four hours of just literally solid hits.
When we’re not on stage, we spend a lot of time together just hanging out. Like yesterday, half of both bands played golf together, and we have dinners together. It’s a very fun, lighthearted, no ego/no drama organization. Which is extremely different from what I’ve been on tour with. This tour has just been delightful for me. I’ve had a great response from the audience for all the shows. Nearly all the shows have been sold out. It’s just been a really great time together, with dinners and golf, friendships. It’s almost like a big family. A lot of fun and a lot of great music, so what’s not to like?
Click here for the full interview with Don Felder.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.