Thursday, June 2, 2022

Recent reading: "Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)"

by Don Felder with Wendy Holden

Legendary Eagles guitarist Don Felder grew up poor and music-crazy in Gainesville, Florida before becoming part of one of the biggest-selling rock bands ever. He tells his story from the beginning with his impoverished childhood and into his teens, during which while teaching guitar one of his students was a youngster named Tommy Petty (yes, that Tom Petty).

In his twenties, newly married and struggling to get by in Boston, he was enticed by a close friend, Bernie Leadon, to head to Southern California. Felder and his wife, Susan, drove across country to Los Angeles in 1972 and he began playing and touring with the likes of Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Joni Mitchell.
Leadon had been a founding member of the Eagles along with Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner. By the time Felder hit town, the band had had a great deal of success with their country-tinged rock. One day he was asked to join them in the studio and play on a couple of songs for their new album On the Border, one of which was the future hit "Already Gone". A few days later he was asked to join the band as an actual member and happily accepted.

What followed was nearly three decades of rock stardom, legendary albums and songs, monstrous egos, and almost non-stop behind the scenes strife. First, Leadon, who was unhappy with the move away from country to rock, left. He was replaced by Joe Walsh. After more friction, Meisner left and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit.

When the Eagles were first formed, the decision was made that everyone would share equally in the singing and songwriting. The idea was that no one became a breakout star, and no one would ever feel sidelined. But over the years as Frey and Henley commandeered control of the band, that concept fell by the wayside. Felder was able to contribute, most notably the opening strains of their monster hit "Hotel California", but Frey and Henley, along with the band's slimy manager Irving Azoff, who was supposed to represent all of the Eagles but always sided with "The Gods" as that twosome became known, ran the show and often kept Felder and other, "lesser" Eagles in the dark about business deals. Felder, just happy to be part of a successful rock band, rarely objected.
But it was the deal that was supposed to reunite the band after a live show on New Year's Eve 1999 (that shafted Felder, Walsh and Schmidt) that finally led to Felder speaking up, and the result was his being unceremoniously fired from the band that he had always loved desperately, despite its dysfunction. It was also this shady deal that led to Felder suing the band. The case was settled out of court, and the good news is that as the book ends shortly after that, he seems to have found himself in a good place in life and also seems to have made his peace with the insanity that was his life in the fast lane.

Highly recommended look at the music industry in the 1970's forward, and for the warts-and-all look behind the scenes of one of the biggest bands in the history of rock and roll. For all the shit he took, Felder made some amazing music and lived an amazing life.

I spent years on the road away from my family, missing my wife and kids. I suffered stress-related health problems and spent sleepless, drug-fed nights wondering if it was all worth it. I endured untold emotional abuse from people who should have been my best friends. We'd been through so much. We'd laughed and loved and lived and cried to the same songs as our audience, but the bottom line is, we never really got along. I realize that now. From the first day I walked into the Record Plant studio, that band was breaking up. Everyone was at each other's throat, emotionally and artistically. We just never clicked the way some bands did. A self-destruct mechanism was constantly ticking away. Beneath a rigid code of silence that hid our fractured, contentious side from the public and allowed our mythical peaceful, easy image to continue, our dream of stardom and togetherness slowly morphed into a Hotel California-style nightmare. Terrified of speaking out in case I made things worse, my years of acquiescence meant that I could check out but I could never leave.

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