Former Eagle Don Felder will land in Park City on Saturday
Park City Institute’s St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Summer Concert Series presents Don Felder, formerly of the Eagles, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, at City Park. Tickets are $49 and $89. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.
Don Felder remembers when he came up with the opening riff of “Hotel California.”
“It just came to my head one day and I knew it was different, because it had a Southwest reggae feel to it,” the former guitarist for the Eagles said. “So I grabbed a tape recorder and recorded enough of it to have a memory about it.”
A few days later, when Felder started writing out ideas that would eventually become the “Hotel California” album, he came across the riff and made a demo recording.
Park City audiences will hear the multi-platinum hit and a slew of other Eagles tunes when Park City Institute presents Felder and his band – guitarist David Myhre, bassist Bruce Atkinson, keyboardist Timothy Drury and drummer Steve DiStandislao — for a St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, at City Park.
“It’s a high-energy show and a lot of it are the songs that I co-wrote and recorded with the Eagles during the 27 years I was in the band,” Felder said. “They include ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ and ‘Heartache Tonight.’”
The concert will also feature some of Felder’s solo pieces such as “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride),” a track that was featured in the 1981 animated fantasy-sci-fi anthology film “Heavy Metal.”
Felder originally began writing the song for the Eagles’ 1979 chart-topping album, “The Long Run.”
The song’s working title, whether intentionally or not, foreshadowed its future association with the surrealist film.
“The idea was that (fellow Eagles guitarist) Joe Walsh and I were going to play the harmony guitars and trade off on solos, but we never got to the point of finishing it,” Felder said with a giggle. “The song wasn’t called ‘Heavy Metal’ at the time. It had a tentative title, ‘You’re Really High Aren’t You?’ Which may explain why we never finished it.”
Felder finished recording the music, but the song remained incomplete until 1980, when he was invited to a screening of the “Heavy Metal” film. During the screening, Barrie Nelson, the director of the film’s “B-17” segment, announced he was looking for some interesting soundtrack music.
Felder rerecorded the track and wrote new lyrics inspired by the film, and submitted it to Nelson, who used it in the iconic fantasy-horror sequence.
Thanks to the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack, the song hit No. 43 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
“It became a great FM radio track and become one of my first hits,” Felder said.
Saturday’s concert will also include a couple of songs from Felder’s 2012 album, “Road to Forever.”
“I’ll also tip my hat to the late Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, and step out of the Eagles character and play the blues,” Felder said.
The blues are one of the reasons why Felder wanted to play guitar.
“I used to listen to an old crystal radio at night when I was a kid in Florida,” he said. “If there wasn’t any storms between Florida and Tennessee, I could pick up a station, WLAC, in Gallatin, Tennessee, and hear B.B. King playing his guitar and Little Richard screaming and playing the piano.”
The blues guitar sound led Felder to other guitarists such as country pioneer Chet Atkins.
“From there I got into bluegrass and jazz,” Felder said. “I would latch onto whatever came along that was different and learn how to play it.”
Then, in 1956, he tuned into to see Elvis Presley on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I saw all the girls screaming and crying and I said, ‘I think I want to do that,’” Felder said. “So I got an acoustic guitar from the kid across the street.”
The guitar was a little beat up and missing some strings, but that didn’t discourage Felder.
“I mowed some lawns and washed some cars for some money and went to the drug store to buy individual guitar strings each week,” he said.
Felder learned how to play a country song, “Wildwood Flower,” from a man who lived a couple of blocks away from his home.
“After that, I started to listen to stuff and teach myself how to play,” he said.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1970s and working as a session player, Felder was asked to join the Eagles as the band’s new lead guitarist in 1974.
“This wasn’t like being in a band where there was one lead singer and one songwriter,” he said. “It was the case that everyone in the band could do it all.”
That pool of creativity also became a source of competition, which resulted in the band’s breakup in 1980.
“There was an abundance of talent, and as a result there was an abundance of people trying to get their piece of creativity recorded and produced,” Felder said. “It was like having five chefs cooking one meal.”
The band reunited in 1994 and embarked on the successful “Hell Freezes Over” tour, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Tensions reemerged shortly thereafter and after Felder was let go in 2001 he sued the band alleging wrongful termination. The band responded with a suit of their own claiming Felder breached his contract, and in 2007 the two cases were consolidated and settled out of court.
Hindsight is 20/20
Felder looks back on those conflicts with mixed feelings.
“There were a lot of arguments over the music, lyrics and songs,” he said. “The reason was because there were five A-type personalities in the band.”
Still, Felder is proud of the music the band created over the years, and he attributes that to each person’s strengths.
“In the end, everybody brought their prime suits to each record, and that’s what made it a magical combination in my opinion,” he said. “The bottom line of it is I really love the music we were able to write, record and play together, because the idea was that we would make the absolute best record from all of our talents combined.”
Not slowing down
Today, Felder, who will turn 71 in September, still enjoys writing and playing music and doesn’t think he’ll slow down anytime soon.
“I feel in love with music when I was 10 years old,” he said. “It’s always been my passion and my one mistress that has never abandoned me. It has brought me joy my entire life, more so than any other mistress and wife that I’ve had, to tell you the truth.
“Part of the beauty of being a musician is go out live and play the product of your work or going into a quiet studio and leave with something that came out of thin air,” he said. “Those two things together are a wonderful combination.”
Park City’s Memorial Day Service will extend into a plaque-placing ceremony at Squatter’s Roadhouse Pub