Hong Kong gigs

Ex-Eagles guitarist Don Felder can’t wait to play for Hong Kong’s ‘beautiful women’

‘I’ve been told that the city is beautiful, the women are too,’ says Felder – lined up to play at Hong Kong Rugby Club charity ball – who regrets Glenn Frey’s death denied the band a reunion he’d long sought

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 10:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 1:45pm

When former Eagles member Don Felder received the news that group co-founder Glenn Frey had passed away early this year, he thought it was someone else who had died. Felder was returning from a charity concert he had performed at in Mexico alongside Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl when his girlfriend learned via a series of text messages that “Glen” had passed away.

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“I thought she meant Glen Campbell, because we have someone in our touring group who works with him,” the 68-year-old guitarist says by phone from his home in California. “And she said ‘No. Glenn Frey.’ I was absolutely shocked, broadsided.”

Frey’s death in January abruptly slammed the door on any hopes long-time fans had for a final reunion of the Eagles. After being recruited by Frey and drummer Don Henley in 1974 to add more of a rock edge to the group’s harmony-filled country sound, Felder was a member of The Eagles until 2001, when he was abruptly dismissed. A series of bitter financially related lawsuits followed, many details of which were revealed in Felder’s best selling 2006 book Heaven and Hell: My Life In The Eagles (1974-2001).

“I’d reached out to both of them many times over the past 15 years in numerous ways just to clear the air, but I never got any response,” he says. “The only responses I would get would be from lawyers. I regret that Glenn and I were never able to sit down, have lunch, have a laugh and dispel that anger. They just didn’t care to do that. I expect that even with Don, it will be that way going forward.”

The guitarist aims to perform several of the songs he wrote with the group at the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s inaugural Ruck ’N’ Roll Charity Ball to be held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre on November 5.

After all, Felder co-wrote many of the band’s best-known songs, such as Life In The Fast Lane, the Los Angeles ode to a decadent lifestyle, and Hotel California, by now a standard the world over, “where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.

These days, Felder performs about 75-80 concerts a year with his five-piece band, whose members have performed with everyone from ex-Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Stevie Nicks to rock act Whitesnake and US alternative act the Goo Goo Dolls.

“I do about 80 per cent Eagles material, as well as solo material [such as] Heavy Metal [the title song to the 1981 film] in addition to a tribute set to Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he says. “It’s an exciting set with five guys in the band. By the end, everyone is rocking.”

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Felder can be likened to a rock ’n’ roll version of Zelig, the character in the 1983 Woody Allen film of the same name who manages to show up at many pivotal moments in history. In his case, he was a young guitar teacher in Gainesville, Florida, who just happened to give lessons to a high school student named Tom Petty. “I helped him do some arrangements,” says Felder. “Stephen Stills was in one of my first rock bands and the Allman Brothers were there. Then Duane [Allman] taught me how to play slide guitar. People say there must have been something in the water to have so many talents in this one area of Florida.”

Later, after making the move to California in the early 1970s, high school friend Bernie Leadon introduced him to more musicians, and from there, Felder was literally witnessing the birth of the famous California rock scene. “Bernie was working with a new group called The Eagles, managed by David Geffen, who also managed Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell,” he recalls.

“These artists pretty much became the California sound. And the time was as amazing as people have described. Once we were doing some sessions in Miami and Eric Clapton would be in one studio, Crosby Stills & Nash would be in another, Chicago in the next one and then the Bee Gees. It was a great, creative, fun environment to be in.”

Once he joined The Eagles, Felder became responsible for creating one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of all time on the sprawling title song to the album Hotel California. The 1976 album went on to sell more than 30 million copies. After touring the world several times, the band reached their breaking point when recording the follow-up, 1979’s The Long Run.

“It’s like with films,” says Felder. “You see a monster blockbuster and then you see the sequel and it’s never as good. There was a lot of tension. Everyone felt this monstrous pressure and it became The Eagles’ dark period.”

Something strikes me and I follow that. I’m as excited now as I was when I was 15
Don Felder

After The Eagles broke up, Felder would go on to work with a Who’s Who of musicians, including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, the Bee Gees, Stevie Nicks and Bob Seger. He’s also recorded several solo albums and plans to release a new EP by the end of this year. “I try to write five or six songs each year and not just in one genre,” he says. “The new material includes a Latin-flavoured song, some electric rock songs and a ballad. Something strikes me and I follow that. I’m as excited now as I was when I was 15.”

There’s good reason for that enthusiasm. Felder claims he’s in the final stages of negotiations for an extended residency at The Venetian in Las Vegas next year. The mini-Asian tour he’s about to embark on will also feature his first stop in Hong Kong, doing what he loves to do, performing for a charity, in this case the children of the Po Leung Kuk .

“It’s a real pleasure and joy to take my talents and help people with it,” he says. “I’ve been told that the city is beautiful, the women are too and there’s a lot of kindness and human graciousness. I’m looking forward to it – especially the beautiful women part.”

Don Felder, Hong Kong Rugby Union Ruck ’N’ Roll Charity Ball, Nov 5, Grand Hall, Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, HK$2,888. Inquiries: [email protected]