Editor’s Note: Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder released his solo album entitled “American Rock and Roll” to his legion of fans everywhere. In this interview with Madness To Creation, Don Felder discusses performing at the Library of Congress before venturing off to promote rights for songwriters in terms of their royalties along with his latest album. You’re going to learn that it was a wonderful collaboration with the who’s who of the music industry including Slash, Mick Fleetwood, Chad Smith, Peter Frampton, and scores of other world-class musicians for his current album “American Rock and Roll” Fans can find Don Felder at the following locations:
Madness To Creation: How are you doing today my friend?
Don: Doing great, mi amigo, I’m actually in Washington D.C. having my first cup of coffee, I’m hoping to make semi-complete sentences.
Madness To Creation: What brings you out to Washington D.C.?
Don: I’m actually playing at the Library of Congress in front of an assembly of Congressmen and Senators with a company called ASCAP, which is the American Society of Composers and Publishers, then we’re going to be walking through the halls to speak with Senators and Congressmen about songwriters and publishers’ rights and try to bring some awareness to a few areas to help a lot of underpaid songwriters in America.
Madness To Creation: In a brief statement, what can our legislative body do to make sure that songwriters and publishers get their rights and stuff like that?
Don: There’s a lot that needs to be changed, but back in 1941, the government put this shackle and chains on BMI and ASCAP, and stopped them from being able to control a free market on what their licensing fees and usage fees on what they can charge, that has remained the same, and only adjustments can be made by going back in front of a court and having appointed judges that have no idea about the music business and the value of certain bodies of work, they’re the ones that control it. It is in our opinion un-American to put such restrictions on a market of any kind, they certainly don’t regulate the pharmaceutical market or the automobile industry. There’s really no industry that the government controls whether it’s pricing or fees or how it’s run. It’s all dominated and controlled now by the government, which is wrong, so in the process of reviewing, this was put in place in 1941 and making some changes about it, hopefully we can bring about some positive attention on things that need to be done.
Madness To Creation: This brings me to my next question, what can schools do to promote public education?
Don: It’s funny, I had a conversation a few years back with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was governor of the state of California, and with some other friends of mine that is very close to this issue that we’re discussing about, which is public funding for the arts in public schools. California put a bill up that was a public referendum to legalize the lotto in the state of California. The main premise behind the promotion of that was that the income of the revenue that came into the coffers of the state would be used to develop the best educational system in the country, that money coming in from the lotto would be used for that, so everybody running out and voted “yes, yes yes, we want this”, and then the next time a recession hit, and the first thing that the public schools did was start cutting arts and unnecessary teacher salaries, and things like that, so when I had this meeting with Mr. Schwarzenegger, I said, “wait a minute, we have billions of dollars in our coffers to fund these arts and music programs, where is all of that money, why are they cutting school funding”, and he said, “once a bill like that gets passed, the state legislature has a right to redirect some of those funds to areas that is needed, for example, if the fireman’s retirement fund needs funding or if highway repair needs funding, there’s excess money in these coffers, they have a right to defer those funds”. So what they did is they took all of this lotto money and diverted it into other areas, so when this is hitting, they don’t cut the fireman’s fund, they don’t cut the highway patrol or highway repair fund, they cut the public school fund, and I’m thinking, “that’s bait and switch, you can’t tell the public that you’re going to be voting on this to get the best education system in the country and later say, oh we don’t have the money so we have to cut the public school funds and divert it elsewhere”.
So I think that is the key on the legislature level to make the change to just fund public schools so not only we can pay every teacher better, but so we can fund necessary music programs in schools, instruments, and having more contemporary music departments there like contemporary rock-n-roll or jazz or whatever it is other than just a marching band, typically there are music programs for choir or classical music or marching band, and to have other sources and styles of music available, I think that’s important. So I think that the key is to go to the government campaigning down the halls like what we’re doing in Washington for songwriters to get them to understand that the people voting for them really want the educational system improved.
Madness To Creation: I really appreciate all that you do to advocate for teachers and music education and for songwriters alike. Let’s talk about your album “American Rock & Roll” now!
Don: That would be great!
Madness To Creation: What was the mindset in creating this album and what is the mindset of Don Felder when he steps into the studio?
Don: The beauty of the creative part is walking into a studio that is absolutely dark with no idea and turning it on, picking up a guitar and just start writing, and out of it will come something that you didn’t preconceive, something that comes spontaneously comes out, sometimes it’s fantastic at the end of the day and you go, “that rocked, I loved that”, and other times you play and you go, “eh, I don’t know”, and you send that thing to digital heaven and you hit the erase button. To me, that’s the exciting part and I lived in New York City for two years and I studied jazz, and I have the ultimate respect for them, their ability to improvise is unmatched than in any other form of art. I think Cream may have come close to doing that in rock-n-roll back in the 60’s and 70’s, but that ability to freeplay is what I enjoy doing in the studio. Sometimes I go in and have little bits and pieces of ideas, but sometimes I just go in with no idea, and just start recording, writing and playing and seeing what comes out. That’s where I start out. But when I started this album, I had no preconceived idea what it’s going to be. I had this idea of when I was back in Woodstock in 1969 and started writing that idea, which is a salute and a tip of the hat to the people that I saw at Woodstock, including Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Janis Joplin, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and Grateful Dead, and I wrote the songs thinking about through the decades who were highly influenced by that music from Woodstock and have risen to the cream of the crop in the decade all the way up to the 21st Century, that was just an idea that came to me, I thought it was great to be able to cast that record and with the players that I had at my disposal. For example, when Mick Fleetwood plays the drums he sounds like the early 70’s, the way he plays and the way he feels the sound. We start off the whole album with Mick Fleetwood playing the drums, and it sets the tone not only for that song but for that period of time, and about halfway through the song, Chad Smith comes in like a 5,000 pound gorilla and he plays so hard and so strong just like all the Red Hot Chili Peppers records, the Foo Fighters records, there’s that edge and that aggressive attack developing in rock-n-roll in later decades, I wanted this to start off with this 70’s feel with Mick and migrate towards something much more aggressive and intense, to hear that happen on this record, whether you’re aware of it or not on that song, it starts from the beginning of the song with “American Rock & Roll” and going through a bunch of different types of rock-n-roll, there’s a wide variety of songs on it.
There’s an acoustic guitar song called “Little Latin Lover” which I wrote when I was down in Buenos Aires, I went there with a friend of mine who was dating this tango instructor, this beautiful woman who took us to a tango club, a tango club has this large mobile dance floor, and all the way around the outside of our table where we had our dinner and drinks as we watched couples tango as they go around and around this dance floor, and sitting there as they spin their tango dresses in just an erotic dance, and I said “that’s a song, I need to write a song about that feeling”, and so I started messing around with the idea about a little thing about a “Little Latin Lover”.
I also wrote a song called “Falling In Love Again”, which Peter Frampton played on, but back to “American Rock & Roll” after I put those drum tracks on, I wanted Slash to come in and play a few licks in that verse, when it talks about Slash and Rose and their band, he came in and he asked, “what do you want me to do”, I said, “whatever you want, let’s just go back to the top and start recording”, so he played three passes from the top to the bottom, and I went back in later and I edited it to where what I thought were his best licks and placed them around in different verses, he did an amazing job, he was the absolute perfect guitarist to play on that particular track. Frampton played on a song called “The Way Things Have To Be”, which I wrote on piano, and he sang harmony with me on the chorus, and when we were touring together I had heard him play on stage this Les Paul through a Leslie Amp, and he has this angelic tone, and as I was writing on Piano, I kept hearing Peter’s playing on this track, and I was leaving Nashville to head to a studio in a couple of hours telling jokes and hearing stories and just hanging out, he had recorded his lovely guitar part and he sang the choruses. Things just came together in a natural way.
I had also written this song called “Rock You”, which is a big stadium anthem, I kept thinking back in the 70’s right after I joined The Eagles, and one of the first massive shows that we played in Wembley Stadium with Elton John. There were 110,000 people there and I remember standing on stage and seeing this mass of people jumping up and down and just rocking out, so I wanted to write a song that was playing to that particular instance, so I wrote the song “Rock You”, and I wanted to have a rock duet, I never had a rock duet before so I called up Sammy Hagar, and he agreed to sing on it, so I pulled up to his studio in Sausalito, which is outside of San Francisco, and an hour after setting up the mic, we sung the verse, and he said, “man this is so easy”, I said, “what do you mean this is so easy”, he said, “when I work on a record, I have to write the song, I have to write the lyrics, and I have to do all of the hard work, and here you have all the track, the lyrics, the melody, this is easy”, so I said in the future we’re going to collaborate on a couple of tracks, so Sammy did such a great job singing on that, we have known each other since the 80’s. We got Satriani and had him come in to the studio, and he and I sat down and figured out the guitar parts and the harmonies and where we are going to play it together, just as we finished that, Bob Weir has a studio about two blocks away from Sammy’s place, and when it’s boring and nothing going on in the studio, here he comes wandering down the hall for a free cup of coffee, and we go, “Bob you gotta come out with Rock You”, so we got about five or six Bob Weirs going “Rock You” in the chorus along with about 50 other people that are on that chorus, it just sort of fell together, it’s really ironic on that big stadium rock song I got Bob Weir from The Grateful Dead singing the chorus while remembering that I was standing in the crowd of 400,000 soaking wet mud-covered people watching Bob Weir play Grateful Dead tunes, that’s about as sweet as it gets, to go from standing in front of the audience, to playing in front of an audience, it was a nice turn of events.
I also wrote this song called “Limelight”, which is a shuffle about on how getting into the business can affect you both positively and that wonderful feeling it is to go out on that stage and be in the limelight, it’s what all musicians at one point or another want to do, so I kept thinking, “Who can I get to play on this”, and I thought of Richie Sambora and that is right up his New Jersey alley, so he has his studio set up in his kitchen, so we are in his kitchen set up playing, and he’s got a guitar, I’ve got a guitar and we’re trading off solos, and I turn around and look and Orianthi comes walking down the staircase, I had completely forgotten that Orianthi and Richie were a couple back then, it’s been a couple of years ago when I was recording this track. I have followed Orianthi since when she first came to the U.S. from Australia, I have played with her many times whether at charity events or when she was with Alice Cooper, we just played together a couple of months ago with Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Orianthi, Stephen Stills, Robby Krieger, and just a bunch of people on this show to raise money for vets, so I said, “Orianthi, go get a guitar, you gotta play on this”, and she literally had just gotten out of bed in her cutoff shorts, t-shirt, baseball cap and her ponytail and she was just coming down to get some breakfast and grabs a guitar and plays absolutely my favorite solo on the record, just unbelievable, I would expect nothing less from her, I think she is going to be by far the best female rock-n-roll guitarist alive and doing it today, and she’s pretty easy on the eyes to boot, she’s got a big career coming up. A lot of it just sort of happened, just came together in different ways.
Madness To Creation: So having all of these artists something that you always wanted to do?
Don: I never had the idea of stacking all of these artists on this record. As a matter of fact, I would’ve been just as happy with having all of these people play on this record under alias names. It was more about what I felt was really appropriate on these tracks. There are incredible drummers on this record, for example Steve Gadd, who is the drummer for James Taylor did such a great job on a track called “The Sun”, he had a day off and came over to my studio, walked in and 30 minutes later made three passes on this track, that was something that just fell together. James Keltner played on two songs for me, I love Jim Keltner, maybe the most classic rock drummer in history, and Todd Sucherman of Styx, I’ve played a bunch of shows with Styx as I have opened for them, and Todd has always been one of my favorite drummers, and we have talked numerous times about playing on a record with me, so he wound up available at his studio in Austin where his drums are set up, and he sent me three passes back, and Alex Lifeson who is living in Canada, Alex and I have golfed together, hung out together and played music together for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital charity, and I knew since Rush ceased to exist I knew Alex was walking around with a golf club in his hand waiting for something to do, so when I reached out to him, he responded immediately, I sent some files up to him and he played some great guitar on the choruses and on solos on “The End”, and he did it on that day, it wasn’t really an effort to stack the deck for artists as much as it was selecting the appropriate musicians that I know to bring their feeling and their style for that particular record, for example, you couldn’t put Slash on “Little Latin Lover”, or on “The Way Things Have To Be”, it’s about choosing the right person to play on the right record, and I just happened to have a lot of friends to give their time, energy, and effort on that.
Madness To Creation: What is your biggest plans for the summer and the rest of the year?
Don: I’m going to be working this record and touring both in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and after this winter after the first of the year, I’ll be trying to go to Australia, we’re trying to put together plans for that, it’ll be summer down there when it’s winter up here, I’ll be working this record for the next 18 months, playing live shows, and when I’m off and that doesn’t mean in a hotel room that means in my house, I don’t go out in the California sunshine by my pool, I go into my studio in my beautiful dark dungeon and write, and I will be writing and putting together another record in a couple of years, in three to seven days a month that I’m actually at home in my studio, that is my plan to promote and play live and writing on the record at the same time.
Madness To Creation: Thank you very much for your time Don, I know that you have other interviews.
Don: Thank you to Madness To Creation and be sure to check me out at www.donfelder.com and you can pick up my album at any show or wherever music is sold!
And there you have it! Don Felder has some gigs coming up to promote “American Rock & Roll”. Check out the dates below:
Sat. 6/22- Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphys, California
Sat. 7/6- The Summer Music Festival in Ellicottville, New York
Fri. 7/12- Buck Hill Ski & Snowboard in Burnsville, Minnesota
Sun. 7/14- The Hudson Gardens & Events Center in Littleton, Colorado
Fri. 8/9- Nugget Event Center in Reno, Nevada
Sat. 9/14- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi
Thu. 12/5- Dosey Doe in Spring, Texas
Fri. 12/6- Dosey Doe in Spring, Texas
Sat. 2/15/20- ’70’s Rock & Romance Cruise in Miami, Florida
For tickets and further information on any of the gigs listed above, click here.