Though Don Felder, former lead guitarist of the Eagles, wrote the music for "Hotel California," he is truly a Florida guy. The Gainesville native spent his college years playing music around the state with other future rock legends and many of his adult nights recording in Miami.
Felder came up musically with a crew of highly talented performers, many of whom ended up as major recording artists, some even as Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. "At the time, we were just a bunch of kids," Felder says, mentioning casually that Tom Petty was one of his students. The fame doesn't stop at there. Bernie Leadon of the Eagles replaced Stephen Stills -- yes, that's Stephen Stills of Crosby Stills and Nash -- in Felder's young band. Petty played bass in the Rucker Brothers at the time with (actual) brothers Rodney and Ricky Rucker. Felder remembers that each summer, they would all travel down to the Ruckers' mother's house in Daytona Beach during the summer and, he says, "work the dance clubs over there. We ended up being in a lot of battle of the bands with those guys. Duane [Allman] actually taught me how to play slide guitar. We were all just a bunch of young kids making music together and stealing from each other musically."
Quite an all-star circle of chums. Felder mentions that there were a lot of scenes like that at the time around the country. "We were like a Southern rock scene. Lynyrd Skynyrd was up in Jacksonville. Everybody knew each other at one time or another."
Felder had been jonesing to perform way before making these talented acquaintances. He became obsessed with playing music after seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show at age 10. "All those girls screaming at him -- I decided that's what I want to do," the guitarist continues. "I grew up in a really impoverished circumstance in Gainesville, and I had nothing to begin with, so I had nothing to lose as far as pursuing my dreams."
His dreams and talent led him to play with one of the most beloved and lucrative bands of all time. When questioned on his favorite Eagles song, he says, "I am primarily biased to the one that was probably the biggest hit that the band every had." That is "Hotel California." "When I wrote that, it really was a great part of my life. I was just exploding with the Eagles. We were playing stadiums; my career was taking off." He rented a Malibu beach house, where he used his 1-year-old daughter's room when she wasn't napping to record. (Side note: His musical daughter Leah just married Bruce Jenner's son Brandon in Hawaii. Maybe this influenced her career choice...)
It was there that he wrote the tune for "Hotel California and about 15 other songs. He turned the demo over to Don Henley and Glenn Frey to see if they liked it. "Henley called me up and said, 'I like the thing that sounds like a Mexican reggae. Sounds like bolero or something.'" They recorded it in Miami at Criteria Studios. This was yet another scene Felder was a part of, "All the large '70s acts would fly to Miami, rent these houses out on Key Biscayne," he recalls. "Up and down the hallway, they had six or seven different recording studios. In one room, there'd be Eric Clapton; in another room, there'd be Crosby, Stills and Nash; in another room, there'd be Chicago. The Eagles would be in another. And so, when we needed horns, we'd grab somebody out of Chicago. When somebody needed guitar parts, somebody would grab me, and I would play on Stills' records." The Bee Gees spent time there too. The Eagles' producer ended up creating another studio, Bayshore Recording, in Coconut Grove, and Felder remembers, he "got a room at the hotel next door, and I'd literally crawl from the studio back to my studio back to the hotel room to bed." The Long Run was recorded in Miami, as was most of Hotel California.
Today, he'll be back in South Florida donating personal memorabilia to Hard Rock International at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood. This includes his Gibson 100th-anniversary celebration denim jacket that he wore in advertisements in the 1990s with fellow former band member Joe Walsh. "I have a soft touch for charities to help raise money for good causes. It's my pleasure when they ask me to come do this," Felder says. He is also involved in work with Autism Speaks and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Felder has a new record due out at end of August. He tours regularly, playing around 65 gigs a year, traveling all over the world with the Don Felder Band. He performs songs he wrote for the Eagles and some metal songs from the '80s, saying, "It's a really rocking show. I like to rock 'n' roll -- that's what I do!" He'll perform tonight at Hard Rock Live for an audience of do-gooders and lifelong rock 'n' rollers.
The donation takes place at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7, at Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. It's free and open to the public. Felder performs at 8 p.m at Hard Rock Live. Tickets cost $49, $39, $29 and $19; visit ticketmaster.com, or call 800-745-3000.
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