It doesn’t matter if you were a child of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, or the new millennium, you will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know who the Eagles are. There are only a handful of rock songs that I catalog as classic rock and roll. These are the ones that have had the ability to pass over generation to generation only gaining popularity and momentum each time played. Hotel California, written by Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Fry is one in this category.
It was with eager anticipation that together with a packed audience on March 24, The Turning Stone Casino welcomed Don Felder and his star-studded band to the Showroom. As I awaited the show to begin, you could feel the audience’s excitement and eagerness to begin their evening. After all they knew they were in the presence of a musical legend.
Don Felder, best known as lead guitarist of The Eagles, is one of rock and rolls leading guitarists of all times. Inducted with his bandmates in 1998 in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Don Felder has been recognized as one of the elite musicians and songwriters of all times. When talking with a friend recently about The Eagles, he stated that in all of their music, “there was not one throw away lyric”. I agree wholeheartedly. As I sat listening to the music this evening I couldn’t help but notice the lack of pomp and circumstance on stage. There were no fancy sets, no logo backdrops or drum kits, no fancy lighting, and not even a merchandise table set up outside the doors. Tonight’s show wasn’t about anything but music. I contemplated this, how indicative of this generation of musicians and songwriters. At the time their music was popular and their tours crossing continents, it was only the lyrics and composition of music that brought the feelings. Visual effects were nice, but not necessary. Lyrics had a message, musical composition featured the talent of each instrument, and the combination of the two together evoked emotions. So as I sat there enjoying this show, I became part of the music in a new way that today’s audiences don’t often see. It’s a shame really that many will not see or appreciate music without all the visual effects to carry the point across.
With that aside, for those of you unfamiliar with Don Felder, shame on you. Don began his musical journey at the age of 10 when he traded a handful of cherry bombs for a used guitar. I do believe he got the better end of that trade, or should I say, we did. You see, this trade was prompted by, who other than, Elvis Presley as Don watched him on The Ed Sullivan Show. Mental note, I wonder how many of today’s artists began their musical journey after seeing an artist on the Ed Sullivan show?
Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, Don learned guitar and played throughout his teenage years with his childhood friend Stephen Sills and Bernie Leadon. There must have been something in the water down there in Gainesville. In Don’s high yearbook his band’s photo was featured along side his friend Tom Petty’s band. In fact, Don actually gave Tom Petty guitar lessons. It was also during this time he learned slide guitar from friend Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers. Forget the Fountain of Youth, I want to drink from their musical water fountain.
After graduation, Don found himself in Boston with good friend Bernie working in a recording studio. It was working with Bernie that he was introduced and hired to accompany The Eagles on slide guitar for their new song “Good Day In Hell”. That’s all it took. Immediately following that session, Don Felder became the new Eagle. With a country sound at that time, Don’s input helped to bring the band new audiences with his added rock and roll edgy style in their new music.
As both composers and writers, the team of bandmates churned out hit after hit. How could they not with each and every member having such talent. Individually they each were a storm of musical genius, however together they were a musical tornado. Shortly after Don’s joining the band, they wrote and produced their legendary album Hotel California. Coming to the guys with his musical demo of Hotel California, they sat down and gave lyrics to what would become one of rock and roll’s most memorable songs of all time. With Don and Joe Walsh’s guitar solo at the end of Hotel California, it is no wonder they have been considered one of rock and rolls greatest guitar teams ever. The lyrics evoke a sense of mystery and drama that metaphorically represented to them a time in the music business that sucked them in, however as much as they may want, they could never leave. Well at least for a few more years that is. In 1980 The Eagles broke up. Working individually on successful careers, it was in 1980 after “Common Thread” was made that we saw the original bandmates reunite for the “Hell Freezes Over” live performance for MTV. It was on this live performance we get a glimpse into Don’s original Spanish flavor in his guitar solo at the end of the Hotel California. A live rendition that is absolutely one of my favorites.
This reunion became short lived however as differences still continued, and amongst lawsuits and hard feelings, the band split for a final time. This however hasn’t held Don back. Working in the industry with legendary musicians like the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, Stevie Nicks, and Kenny Loggins to name a few, Don’s music continued to find it’s way to the recording studio, movies, and television. He is known for his work with Gibson and in 2010 they honored him with two signature reissues of the Don Felder Hotel California 1959 Les Paul and the Don Felder Hotel California EDS-1275 guitars. This avid guitar collector has never sold any of his guitars, and this photojournalist would love an opportunity to one day see this extensive collection and photograph it. A girl can dream!
Moss has not grown on this rock and roller however, touring extensively over the years with bands such as Styx and Foreigner, and even penning a New York Times Bestselling book, “My Life in The Eagles (1974-2001). This therapeutic non-fiction allowed Don to tell his side of the story as well as move onward and upward, which he has so graciously done.
As he and the band took the stage last evening, I couldn’t help feel as though I was in the presence of greatness. Joining him was an elite group of the most talented musicians in the world. On bass we had Shem von Schroeck who played with Kenny Loggins and Ambrosia, on drums/percussion was Chris Ralles who played with Pat Benetar, on keyboards was Timothy Drury who played with The Eagles and Whitesnake, and last but not least was the one who helped keep Don on his toes on guitar, Greg Suran. Greg was lovingly referred to as the “young whippersnapper” and who has played with Joe Walsh, the Goo Goo Dolls, and the B52’s. Yes, the stage was peppered with some of the most amazing musicians in the world.
As Don began his set with Already Gone and One of These Nights, the crowd began to warm up. It was the third song into the set though that took me by surprise. Don asked, who in the audience liked Stevie Ray Vaughn? Hello, who doesn’t like Stevie Ray Vaughn? It was at this moment I realized this man’s extensive vocal and musical talent far exceeded what I expected, as he rocked the crowd playing Pride And Joy. I could have left at this moment completely satisfied, however I’m glad I didn’t because as the night went on, and the songs played on, he only got better and better. In fact I must make note and tell you this. Sometimes a musician sounds wonderful on an album and then live his voice can be strained and not sound quite a clear. This was the exact opposite for Don. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with his vocals. His voice is so very smooth, so very strong, and so very melodic that I’m shocked he wasn’t front/lead vocals on more numbers for The Eagles.
As if my musical crush couldn’t get any larger, the man has a sense of humor to boot. That’s the equivalent to a musical hat trick for me; voice/musicality, stage presence/audience attention, and humor. Yep, I was over the moon happy to be covering this show and bringing this to my readers, as Don teased how he wrote the song Tequila Sunrise about his new friend Jose’. Jose’ Cuervo that is. It was on this particular song that I took note of how well this group harmonized together. Then came Seven Bridges Road. For anyone who has seen Don’s live show, you will know exactly what I’m talking about here. Originally as a warmup song vocally for the group, I would say that they surpassed warm up right to red-hot. Wow! Again, did I mention how well these men harmonize together? Thank you. That is all I can say about this song. Thank you.
I sat listening to these songs, one right after another, of hit after hit; Those Shoes, Witchy Woman, The Long Run, Heartache Tonight, and Life In the Fast Lane. Let me tell you, it was a set list of some of the most famous rock songs of all times. However it was an original call Girls In Black that really impressed me. This song truly rocked. Was one of my favorites of the night.
As the crowd cheered for an encore, the band took the stage for one of my personal favorites “Take It Easy”. I found myself amongst those standing and singing along like a teenage groupie. Then out to the stage came the double neck guitar. Yep, we all knew what was coming, and deliver he did. Was a highlight in my career, I must say, to see Don Felder with that double neck guitar performing Hotel California within a few feet.
As the song ended, and the crowd came to their feet chanting and clapping, I knew that this show was truly special. Don brings his passion of music to audiences sharing with them one heartfelt performance. No matter how many are in the audience, he brings you an intimate performance without pomp and circumstance. This toned down, music first approach showcased not only the songs sang, but the musicians singing them.
For more information on Don’s Tour Calendar, please visit donfelder.com to see if they will be coming to a venue near you.