Heaven And Hell: My Life in the Eagles, 1974 - 2001 by Don Felder
|Heaven And Hell: My Life in the Eagles, 1974 - 2001 by Don Felder|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: The memoirs of Don Felder, former guitarist with the Eagles, who portrays the reality behind one of the most successful groups of all time, with no punches pulled about the tensions and differences which eventually drove them apart.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 376||Date: November 2009|
In terms of record sales and income from live tours, hardly anyone matched the Eagles' rate of success during the 1970s. Yet the constant search to better themselves with each record, the in-fighting, the drugs and egos, soon got the better of them. They say it is tough at the top, and nobody is better equipped to tell the often painful story than their former guitarist Don Felder.
Born in 1947 and raised in Florida, Felder was a typical teenage rebel, frequently at odds with his more conservative parents and law-studying elder brother with his long hair, anti-Vietnam war views and love of playing the guitar. Among his early friends after running away from home were Tom Petty, whom he taught guitar for a while, Stephen Stills, and multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon, and the latter helped to form the Eagles in 1971.
After two albums of country rock, the group were starting to lose direction. Their decision, and that of everyone around them, was unanimous – they had to rock more to compete with the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Basically all they needed was a good incendiary guitar player. Don was invited to join them while they were recording their third album, firstly as a session musician to give the music more punch, and then as a full member. Nicknamed 'Fingers', he proved to be the magic ingredient, and stayed.
Nevertheless he never felt really secure in the group. From the start, he felt it was like walking with a keg of dynamite on your back with the fuse lit, only you don't know how long the fuse is. There was an edgy creative tension which made the music so special, but how long would it last? Glenn Frey and Don Henley, whom he calls 'the gods', were indisputably the Lennon and McCartney figures, with the rest little more than sidemen. A year later the disillusioned Leadon walked out, to be replaced by Joe Walsh. There are some entertaining tales about the latter's exploits, who could have given the Who's Keith Moon a run for his money in the hellraising stakes.
The group's success continued to grow, and peaked with the 1976 album 'Hotel California'. But the usual rock'n'roll excesses – drink, drugs, groupies, egos, fights and everything else – soon showed the writing was on the wall. Original bassist Randy Meisner, whom Felder calls the sweetest man in the music business gave it all up to go back to his family. Recording 'The Long Run', their fifth album, released in 1979, was a tortuous process during which they realized their best days were behind them. After struggling to complete a live album, they walked away from the group – but without telling the fans.
All former group members dabbled in solo projects with varying success, and after one or two false starts the group reunited in 1994. Yet the old tensions were still there, and in 2001 Felder was summarily fired – for asking too many awkward business questions, he maintains. As one of the three legal owners of Eagles Ltd (alongside Frey and Henley), he filed a lawsuit alleging involuntary dissolution of the company, settled six years later. (Legal reasons, I believe, prevent him from saying more than that in print).
Throughout the story runs the thread of Felder's marriage. Unlike some of the other members, he was already a married man with children when he joined, and life on the road gradually took its toll on his marriage till the eventual and sadly inevitable end. However he made his peace with his father before the latter's death, and it must be said that despite a gruelling life on the road, he looks in good shape for his age.
I found this an engrossing book, yet with several sad moments. Felder has had little contact with the other members and ex-members of the group since he was fired, yet it is significant that all of them, except 'the gods' and manager Irving Azoff, are thanked in the acknowledgements. In retrospect, he reckons that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. They may not have got on with each other or socialized in their spare time, but the tension made for some great music.
The book finishes on a refreshingly philosophical, even upbeat note, without a trace of bitchiness. If any of his former colleagues asked him to play with them again, he says, he definitely would; those guys still feel like family to me.
To sum up, I would unreservedly recommend this book to anybody interested in music of the era, whether a fan of the Eagles like me or not. While it would be interesting to read a similar memoir from Frey or Henley, should they ever publish their side of the story, this account certainly rings true enough.
If you enjoy this, you might also be interested in Lowside of the Road: a biography of Tom Waits (one of whose songs was covered by the Eagles) by Barney Hoskyns, or Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music by David N Meyer (notwithstanding its author's apparent dislike of the group).
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