Illinois Entertainer: What accounted for the nearly 30-year delay between your first solo album Airborne and the new Road To Forever?
Don Felder: When the Eagles kind of hit the hold button in ’81, everybody scattered and made solo records. We were so tired of working at such an intense level in the studio making Eagles records – it had to be absolutely perfect – that everybody wanted to go make music, but not under those conditions. I didn’t want to go back on the road [because] I had four little kids at home, so I made that first studio record and started doing music for film and television, like that movie Heavy Metal and scoring movies of the week. That way I could be at home, still drive car pools, go to soccer games, and coach little league baseball. Then when the band resumed in ’94, it completely geared back up. There’s no time when you’re in that kind of situation to take time off to write solo material, and then when I left the band in 2001, I spent a couple of years trying to figure out how I had gotten from this little dirt road down in Gainesville, Fla., followed my heart and the love of music, wound up in the Eagles and being devastated when I left the band. How was I going to go forward without dragging all that baggage with me for the rest of my life? So I started writing my autobiography Heaven And Hell: My Life In The Eagles (1974–2001) and then had to go out and promote that by doing book tours and television interviews. I had a band of my own since 2005, so between touring with my own band and promoting that book, I finally said, “I need to go back to the studio and write and record some new material because I want some new songs in my live show . . . ” It was so much fun having a lot of friends come in working on the record with me. There was a lot of laughter, not that intense struggling, conflict, and arguing over every word and every lyric and every note and every guitar solo. I played close attention when I was making this record to try to maintain the highest quality possible, but not to the point where it killed the fun and excitement of doing it. As a matter of fact, I had such a good time I’m already writing for another record, so who knows, you might see another one in the next couple of years.
IE: Your list of collaborators is amazing: Crosby, Stills & Nash, members of Toto, Styx, and more. Give us a taste of what these sessions were like.
DF: A lot of the songs on this record were very close to my heart, so I wanted people involved on the record that knew my life and understood very clearly what I had been through and had experienced similar things so that they could relate to it. In the case of Tommy Shaw, he’s been through a divorce and gone through trials and tribulations in different bands [Styx, Damn Yankees], so when we sat down to write lyrics for “Wash Away,” we wanted to write about how as we go through life, we get battered through life’s experiences, but want to find a way to go forward and not carry that with you. Crosby, Stills & Nash came in and sang on “Fall From The Grace Of Love,” which was about breaking up with my wife and getting a divorce after 29 years, and all those guys have experienced [breakups]. And Steve Lukather [Toto] is one of the funniest guys you’ll ever be in a room with and you’ll laugh to the point where your cheeks hurt. It was such a contrast to the feeling in the Eagles’ studio sessions that I really enjoyed it.
IE: What did life look like for you at the peak of the band’s fame throughout the ’70s?
DF: A lot of it now looks like a blur. We were young and energetic and foolish and burning both ends of the candle every day with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll parties, a lot of music, and constant travel. When I first joined the band, we were driving rent-a-cars. We had five rent-a-cars that we would drive from one college campus to the next, and if we were lucky, we got on a commercial flight and flew coach. As it progressed from that to private planes, we were really just unbelievably lucky to have a Learjet or something like that we could all climb into and hop from one city to the next. When it finally got to the height of the ’70s, it was larger chartered planes and limos and hotel suites and that kind of “king of the mountain” lifestyle that everybody envisions. I really thought it was more fun when we were down in the trenches driving these rent-a-cars, hanging out, and having beers together. We had CB radios in every car so that if somebody had to stop, we could talk back and forth on the radio about getting off and going to the bathroom or getting a sandwich. As it got bigger and our entourage got bigger and money and fame got bigger, I think that lost a lot of its brotherhood to tell you the truth. It was still fun, but to me it was like getting caught up in an image or caught up in an idea of what you were supposed to be as a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle instead of being who you were. We became clichés if you know what I mean. And I never really got deeply into that self-image because I was married and had kids. I felt I couldn’t go way off the chart because I had to go home and be a dad and be a husband. I had to watch my drug intake and my alcohol intake. I was a vegetarian. I would get up in the morning and do yoga and try to maintain some sort of health awareness so that I could just be there for my family. The bigger it got, the less comfortable I was with it to tell you the truth.
IE: It’s no secret that your split with the Eagles in 2001 wasn’t very amicable. Has time healed any of those wounds?
DF: For me it has, yeah. You know I had a really cathartic process of sitting down and writing my book . . . and I’ve come to a great deal of peace about not being in the Eagles anymore. Nothing lasts forever and I’ve accepted that. I’m very happy with it and happy with what I’m doing with my life right now. I don’t think from watching History Of The Eagles that everyone in the band still feels that way. I was somewhat taken back by how angry Glenn Frey still is. I don’t think that’s very healthy for him. I wish I could do something to help him get beyond that anger and release that and go on and be happy. It saddens me to see him still so bitter. I wish he wasn’t, if not for any other reason than just to have a peaceful parting. When I separated with my wife of 29 years, about three months into the process, I called her up and said, “Look, this is stupid. We’ve got four children; we’re going to have grandkids together. We have thousands of friends and will see each other at parties and weddings and funerals. Let’s just sit down and figure this out. You bring your lawyer, I’ll bring mine. What do you want? O.K. you take this, I’ll take that. Here’s a hug, I love you to death, go forward and be happy.” We still talk all the time on the phone about our kids and grandkids and she comes to my house on Thanksgiving. She’s madly in love with another guy. I’m madly in love with another woman. Our lives could not be happier and yet we still have a great connection together because we lived together and shared 29 years of our lives. We’ll never be romantic again, but we found peace with what happened and are able to very comfortably go forward appreciating that and each other. I wish I could do that with those guys in the band and I’ve tried numerous times to get there with them, but I just don’t think that’s who they are and that’s not what they want. Unfortunately, until they decide they want to reach out with an olive branch or friendship offer or something, it’s just at a frozen stalemate.
IE: What’s your message to people who’ve gone through a loss of any kind, whether it be a band, a relationship or whatever the case may be?
DF: Loss is a part of life. There’s yin and yang, light and dark, happiness and sadness. We would not live life to its fullest unless we had loss . . . It’s easy to celebrate the good times, but it’s difficult to bandage and get through the difficult times. That’s what the song “Wash Away” is about. There’s a lot of that on this record. The song “I Believe In You” is another example of somebody who’s been seriously hurt in love and is afraid to step back in. They don’t want to be hurt again, but you have to have enough faith and belief to take that leap of faith if you want to have the thrill and warmth and beauty of love. You have to trust that you can have that once again with the risk that you may suffer for it. That’s just part of life.
Don Felder’s latest CD Road To Forever (Rocket Science) is available at www.donfelder.com.
— Andy Argyrakis