Guitarist, Don Felder is an American Rock ‘N’ Roll legend and still going strong, performing Friday, July 12 at Buck Hill.
By Danny Sigelman
Guitar player, Don Felder has had a very long career and can be considered one of the more iconic guitar players from the 70’s up to today. Most famous as a member of the Eagles during key moments of their career, Felder has a strong legacy of his own solo material as well through the years and has not slowed down along the way.
His latest record, American Rock ‘N’ Roll, is the perfect culmination of his extensive career. With the new record he has managed to put together a who’s who list of collaborators throughout including Sammy Hager, Mick Fleetwood, Chad Smith, Richie Sambora, Orianthi, Slash, Joe Satriani and Peter Frampton, among others to celebrate the art form and toast the future of the music.
Ahead of Don’s appearance this week at Buck Hill, I was able to catch him on the phone to discuss his career, his catalog of hits and what went into American Rock ‘N’ Roll. I’m looking forward to hearing the music come alive on stage and to hear the influences and the fresh new take on some real classics from Don’s ouvre. It’s going to be quite the evening of Rock ‘N’ Roll this weekend at Buck Hill!
Hey Don, I have been listening to the record for the last couple days and I wanted to really rewind all the way back with you and the record you made with your band Flow, back in 1970 on CTI Records. That’s a pretty obscure one but I think shows the roots in a way with what you are doing now. Int terms of band leader in a recording project.
Don Felder: Yeah, that was my first album absolutely. It was really an experience because I’d done a single with my band, the Maundy Quintet before that where we recorded two sides. It was a local Southeast hit as far as Florida and Atlanta. But I’d never done a whole album. So I really was a bit intimidated going into the studio with Rudy Van Gelder. He wore a white lab coat and was well known for recording some of the greatest jazz artists and records in the world really, on Blue Note and Verve. It was an intense experience.
There’s definitely some abandon on that record. I was really curious to think about that era, a new label, a new band on the scene. How long did Flow carry on after that?
I think we kept Flow going for about a year after the record came out. Two of the guys in the band had some fairly serious drug problems. There was a lot of pot and LSD, they were not really motivated. I finally realized this band isn’t really going anywhere. They are just getting high. So I went to Creed Taylor, who owned the label and told him I got be doing something else. He recommended I go up to Boston and the Boston School of Music. I really hadn’t had that much education with music. I’d taught myself how to read. But he directed me towards teaching others how to play. For every hour I would teach he would teach me music theory.
Cool. I mean I’d say you got the real life education and experience. That’s almost more important!
Sure, and I learned quickly that I didn’t want to be a teacher. I have to be a player.
Well it definitely sounds like a crucial part of your history and a really important step professionally in your early years.
I think the biggest thing I learned making that record and working with Creed and Rudy Van Gelder is that I had no idea how to make records. That’s why I moved to Boston and worked in a recording studio to primarily be a guitarist and learn how to produce and use my own ideas. It was my engagement that taught me how to make records.
That’s really cool. Certainly a lot of that era of jazz, transitioning from the 60’s to the 70’s, incorporating a little more rock in the sound. And those two key figures, Creed and Rudy, they took you on and passed the knowledge, that might not be that well known in terms of your career as other things. I think that’s really cool that you were there at the right place at the right time. So kudos to those two for getting you going. So how do you channel some of that past experience into what you are doing now. I’m seeing this new record being a product of a lot of collaboration.
I learned a great deal from making Eagles records and performing. There was a lot of detail to making those records. Almost to ad nauseum! With a jazz band it’s usually just one take then you move on. I learned how to just make stuff up in the studio and figure out what really works in terms of solos and my style and developing those abilities, it came in really handy to come up with something in the future. Trying to maintain a lot of that theory helped when I would have to record something with the Eagles and do it over and over again 12-15 times in the studio until it’s perfect. I mean those are some of the most perfect records I’ve ever been a part of.
With the new record, American Rock ‘N’ Roll, I tried to leave more room and have more fun and passion and lot more spontaneity and that kind of energy. It’s a nice balance of the production being tight and organized and lot of guitar parts being just made up on the spot. I would just sit in the control room for 45 to an hour and made up all the guitar parts, trading licks back and forth, harmonies. Sure there’s going back and overdubbing or redoing parts. But really it was really just playing. I tried to utilize what I’ve learned from all my experiences and that’s really what held it all together.
Right on. The best of both worlds. I’m sure it took a lot of time and thought. Whereas you’ve been able to manage in the studio and on stage. I can imagine working with so many people you may have been limited to their time and availability so it seems like you got the best out of them spontaneously. It’s a really nice clean sound out of a lot of people. Were you intending the record to turn out that way?
No, I started out writing a song about the evolution of Rock ‘N’ Roll. I was at Woodstock in 1969 and saw Hendrix, I saw Janis Joplin. All the artists there for three days. It was the biggest impact on music. Enthusiasm for Rock ‘N’ Roll was just exploding then. So I started writing this song as an homage to that time. At the beginning of the song it’s that experience at Woodstock and all the people that became really big stars. But I thought it’d be really cool to get Slash in the studio and carry the story to current times. I think he took just 3 passes on the solo which took about 45 minutes and I was able to play and trade with him. It came together in a different way of evolving the idea.
Hey, it was really cool when you played at the benefit for Matter that Gene Simmons hosted here a couple Summer’s ago. That bill with yourself, Cheap Trick, Gene and Ace was a great event!
It’s always interesting doing those charity events when you don’t really know everyone. I knew Gene and Rick Nielson a little bit and that was about it. It was a real credit to the musical director, Gene’s guitar player, that worked out the arrangements for the songs I was going to play. You really just cross your fingers when it all comes together. There’s not any rehearsal and it’s a bit of a coin toss when it all comes out on stage with no rehearsal. We had a great time playing together. When it’s a charity event it’s a lot easier to get people involved as everybody wants to help. I’ve done some others with Billy Gibbons and Robbie Kreiger and a bunch of other people. It was a great event.
So tell me about the band and the show you are taking out on the road that’s coming to Buck Hill this weekend?
I have probably what I’d consider one of the greatest pedigree of musicians. My drummer, Steve DiStanislao has played with David Gilmour for years, he’s toured with Crosby Stills and Nash and he’s incredible. My keyboard player was an accompaniest with the Eagles for the Hell Freezes Over tour. He’s played with the Eagles, Whitesnake and several others. Great player, singer, a great guy. Everybody in my band are professionals. We play my stuff, Eagles stuff, songs I’ve co-wrote with others. So it’s a lot of material these guys learn. With this shows you don’t want to lose the audience so you try to pick material that a lot of people know and get into and a lot of songs I really like to play. We keep it uptempo. It’s a great show and a lot of fun!
Yeah, I suppose you aren’t going to pull out anything from that Flow record?! I might be the only one standing up for that one! [Laughs]
I mean you’re a great entertainer and I think it’s really interesting how this music is carrying on and manifesting itself in a lot of different ways. And based on the title of your new record alone, clearly you are one of a few who really go out there and represent the history of this music but also keeping it fresh for new audiences.
All I can really say is longevity is ultimately based on raw talent. And you need to have great songs in order for the future generations. It comes down for me, the level and the quality of the songs and we are always excited to bring this music out on the road for everyone to get together and enjoy!
Photo credit 2019: Michael Helms
Don Felder with John Waite and Them Pesky Kids are performing as part of the “Buck Hill Concert Series 2019”, Friday July 12 at Buck Hill. Click for tickets