Don Felder Gives 'History of the Eagles' a Mixed Review
The Showtime doc brings back memories good and bad for the band’s erstwhile guitarist, now a solo artist.
In a number of ways, guitarist Don Felder’s experience as a member of the Eagles was extremely positive. He was an integral member of the biggest band on the planet for a good chunk of the 1970s, and between record and song royalties, along with touring revenues, his piece of the pie has brought him an estimated net worth of $60 million. What’s more, he’s stayed close with fellow former band members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, while fronting his own band and revisiting Eagles classics like “Victim of Love,” which he co-wrote.
At the other extreme, Felder has endured a series of deeply acrimonious experiences with Eagles co-leaders Don Henley and Glenn Frey. After they fired him in 2001, Felder sued his former bandmates for a reported $50 million in damages, alleging wrongful termination, breach of implied-in-fact contract and breach of fiduciary duty; they countersued to block the publication of Felder’s pull-no-punches memoir and New York Times bestseller, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001). The suits were settled out of court.
So it was with considerable trepidation that Felder, now a solo artist who recently released his second album, Road to Forever, sat down to watch Allison Ellwood’s two-part History of the Eagles documentary, commissioned by Henley, Frey and longtime manager Irving Azoff and broadcast on Showtime. Nonetheless, he found plenty to appreciate in the authorized film.
“I especially enjoyed some of the old hairstyles, with my hair down to my shoulders and a beard,” says Felder. “And Henley’s nickname used to be ‘Furry Basketball’ because he had that ’fro. It was fun to just look at what was going on in that era, and how we presented ourselves on stage. Later, when things resumed with the Hell Freezes Over tour [in 1994], it had become more like the Eagles Orchestra; it had lost that core energy that was the reason the band was so successful in the first place. But that early, raw footage of five guys doing ‘Hotel California’ live was really the essence of the band.”
But Felder is critical of what the film left out. “In the documentary, you got the feeling that Don and Glenn had been best buddies since ’72 or something,” he says. “And in fact there was always a lot of friction between them, especially when Glenn quit the band in ’81 and called up Don Henley and said, ‘I can’t work with you anymore; I’m leaving to go do my solo records.’ And Henley finally said, ‘I’ll work with you again when hell freezes over.’ Thus, it was 14 years of them holding hard feelings against each other. Don went on to have a sterling solo career, Glenn made some solo records, Joe [Walsh] did, I did, Timothy [B. Schmitt] -- everybody went out on their own. But a lot of that was omitted in the documentary.
“Also,” Felder continues, “there was an extreme amount of segregation, where everybody rode in their own cars, everybody had their own hotel room, their own bodyguard, their own dressing room backstage. When you got on the private plane, you had your own private lounge where you could close the door. So there wasn’t a lot of friendly conversation; we were in incubators by ourselves. That just bred a void -- avoid each other and avoid the issues. I think it was Irving Azoff’s idea that we do that. And that wasn’t in the documentary at all.”
Perhaps the biggest issue in the film for Felder -- the way these two alpha males seized control of the Eagles, relegating everyone else to subservient roles -- isn’t about the accuracy of its portrayal of the power struggle; it was that reliving the experience was the emotional equivalent of picking a scab.
“When the band first formed, everybody had been sidemen,” he points out. “So they said, ‘In this band there are no sidemen,’ and when I joined the band, it was still the same. There were some power struggles emerging, because Henley and Frey had sung all the hits at that point. But there was a big shift away from it being a band into being a dictatorship, with dual-headed dictators.
“That’s why Bernie and Randy left, and eventually I was the only remaining member in that Three Musketeers mode and was still fighting for that. Because when Timothy and Joe came in, they weren’t given any ownership, they were just hired sidemen, and still are. I was the only one that was still an equal partner; Don, Glenn and I owned Eagles Ltd. So I was fighting for equality, and my head was put in a guillotine as a result.”
Ultimately, watching History of the Eagles left Felder feeling wistful, not just about the good times but also about what might have been. “It’s like going through a marriage and then having it fall apart,” he says. “You think, if only I had not said that, or if we could’ve gone to counseling, or whatever, things could have been different. But unfortunately, it is what it is, and any sort of attempt or possibility of us getting back onstage together is completely up to Don and Glenn. And as you saw in the documentary, I would suspect that’s not a realistic possibility in the near or even the distant future.”
“Not until hell freezes over?” he’s asked.
“And thaws and freezes again,” Felder replies with a rueful laugh.