Don Felder, the fingers behind ‘Hotel California’s’ riff

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
As soon as the notes fly through the speaker, you just know.
There are some rock and roll performances that emblazon themselves into the musical psyche.
And Don Felder’s riff and solo on the Eagles’ “Hotel California” is one of those performances.
In 2008, Guitar World voted the solo on the song as one of the most recognizable in rock history.
Then this year, the magazine voted “Hotel California” the top12-String Guitar Songs of All Time. The magazine wrote: “Don Felder’s 12-string acoustic guitar intro (and every other note and chord he plays on this song) is, at this point, a part of our collective consciousness. This song, the ubiquitous soundtrack to 37 trillion barbecues, elevator rides and long trips through the desert at 3 a.m., has never gone away — and probably never will.”
Felder—along with Foreigner and Styx—are coming to the Grand Theater of Foxwoods on Sunday, June 29 at 7 p.m.
In a phone interview from California, Felder was asked how it felt to have his performance on “Hotel California” recognized by Guitar World magazine.
“It’s an honor, quite frankly,” said Felder. “No one thinks when they start writing a song, it’s going to have that life long impact.”
Felder said he realized how far reaching the impact of the song was when he played a show recently for the United Nations. There were 450 world leaders in the room, many of whom did not speak English. But when he ripped into “Hotel California,” Felder said every one of them knew the lyrics to the song.
Looking back on the track’s genesis back in the mid-1970s (the album of the same name was released in 1976), Felder said the song pretty much followed the arrangement he created for the original demo with the exception Joe Walsh’s guitar parts.
Felder said he recorded the demo in his home studio in Malibu, laying down the bass, 12-string guitars, acoustic guitars, and harmonies. Listening recently to the original cassette he recorded for “Hotel California,” he said he was amazed at how much of the original arrangement The Eagles had kept.
But the arrangement was key for the other members of the Eagles, said Felder. After he and Walsh recorded their famous guitar dual, the Eagles’ singer and drummer Don Henley listened to the effort and was disappointed. He said it didn’t sound like the original demo. Henley said he wanted the track exactly as Felder had written it.
Well, Felder explained, he had recorded the demo a year before the Eagles had gotten hold of it. And he couldn’t remember what the guitar parts were from the original demo. He said he ended up calling his home. He then had his housekeeper play the cassette over the phone again and again as he relearned his original guitar parts. Eventually, Henley got what Henley wanted, the guitar duet as it was written. At least on Felder’s part.
Felder said Joe Walsh was Joe Walsh. Felder said no one can rein in Walsh when he begins to roll.
Felder is currently touring behind his solo effort, “Road to Forever,” which is now available in an “extended edition” just in time for the Soundtrack to Summer tour with Styx and Foreigner.
Asked why he decided to revisit the album and give the fans a little something extra, Felder explained he originally wrote 27 songs for the album. He then whittled those down to the 16 best tracks. But when he went to the record company with the completed effort, he was told iTunes wanted an exclusive track for its release. Amazon also wanted an exclusive song on their verson of the album. And the Japanese label wanted a special track as well. So, Felder said, he ended up having to trim four songs from the original album so everyone who wanted an “exclusive” would be satisfied.
Felder wasn’t necessarily satisfied with how the album was released, because with those four tracks missing, he felt there also was something missing from the album. A year after the release, Felder decided the time was right to restore those four tracks to the original concept. And he said he decided to add yet another four more songs that could have been on the album in the first place because they fit the overall concept.
On “Road to Forever,” Felder was able to pull in some musical heavy hitters to help him out. For instance, Crosby, Stills and Nash make an appearance. The members of 1970s, 1980s supergroup Toto also chip in. Felder also was able to pull in bassist extraordinaire Randy Jackson (you, the former “American Idol” judge). Felder said people forget what a great musician Jackson is.“He just killed the bass parts.”
CSN, said Felder, was an easy choice to bring on board. He said he and Stills played in a band together when Felder was a mere 15.
As for the tour with Styx and Foreigner, connections were in place even before the contracts were signed.
Felder said he and Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw had written two songs together previously. And Shaw, whenever he is in the same town as Felder, will come over to his house and the pair will jam.
“I know all the guys in Styx,” said Felder, who has been on the same bill with the band in the past. “They’re good people.”
And, Felder said he knew being out on the road with Styx, “There wouldn’t be any drama. There are no boisterous egos. And they’re a lot of fun.”
Felder said he only more recently met the members of Foreigner. But he said, “They’re a great group of guys.”
Given his relationships with both tourmates, when he was approached to do the Soundtrack to Summer tour, Felder said he was all for it. “This is going to be fun.” All three bands are fantastic live acts, he said. And they all appeal to the same concert going demographics. Fans know the music of each of the acts.
“There’s a lot of great music,” said Felder of the bill.
As for what he will be playing, Felder said he will be doing some of the tracks he wrote for the Eagles, such as, of course, “Hotel California,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” He also will tackle some of his solo material, such as “Heavy Metal,” the title track from the animated film of the same name. He also will be doing several tracks from “The Road to Forever,” such as “You Don’t Have.” He also will make a nod to the memory of guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughn when he performs, “Pride and Joy.”
“There’s a lot of full out rock and roll in the set list,” said Felder.
And, Felder said you may never know who might pop up on stage. He said all three acts have been working on some songs together, so they may just join each other for a few tracks here and there.
As for what’s next for Felder beyond the Soundtrack to Summer, Felder said he will continue to tour through February 2015. And then, he said he has about 15 to 16 songs germinating that will probably find their way to a new album once he has a clear two to three weeks to hit the studio.
Don Felder, along with Styx and Foreigner, perform at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Sunday, June 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets run from $60 to $90.
For more information, go to DonFelder.com or Foxwoods.com.

Don Felder comes to Connecticuton Sunday as part of the Soundtrack of Summer tour. The tour also includes Foreigner and Styx

Don Felder comes to Connecticuton Sunday as part of the Soundtrack of Summer tour. The tour also includes Foreigner and Styx