book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Review of Don Felder’s Heaven and Hell: My Life In the Eagles…

This review was originally written for Epinions.com in May 2008. It appears here as/is.

I was pretty excited when I saw that Don Felder, former guitarist in the Eagles, had written his bookHeaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001). The book, which was published in 2008 and written with help from author Wendy Holden, was in my hot little hands just weeks after it came on the market. Although it’s a pretty sizable volume, I was able to finish it after just a few days of frenzied reading. Don Felder has a lot to say… probably much to the chagrin of his former bandmates.

Heaven and Hell begins with a quick chapter describing what it was like for Felder and his fellow Eagles before a typical show. They would emerge into a stadium, fresh from a beer drinking and cocaine session, take their places, and gaze out at the crowd. The concert would begin and Felder would enjoy the rush of adrenaline, fan adoration, and cocaine as he and the rest of the Eagles launched into “Hotel California”. After this very brief look at life as a rock star, Felder begins his life story, starting at the beginning.

Don Felder was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida. He grew up poor and survived a bout with polio, the second son of hardworking parents who lived in a house Felder’s father had built with his own two hands. While he was sick with polio as a small child, Don Felder discovered the joy of music. One day, he traded some firecrackers for a neighbor’s old guitar and started learning how to play. It wasn’t long before Felder was so good that he was playing gigs and teaching other people how to play. One of his earliest students was none other than Tom Petty. Felder seemed destined for a career as a rock star.

With friends like founding Eagle, Bernie Leadon, Duane and Gregg Allman, and Graham Nash, it certainly seemed like Don Felder had plenty of contacts who could help him get his foot in the door of the music business. As Heaven and Hell continues, Felder explains how he came to meet and marry his wife and eventually end up in southern California where his destiny as a star awaited. Using a very laid back style, Felder continues the story of how he gave up a gig with Stephen Stills to become a part of the Eagles, a band that is notoriously private, yet extremely popular.

It was Felder’s friendship with Bernie Leadon that led him to meet the other members of the Eagles circa 1971, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner. Felder describes how each band member had a unique style and talent that, when blended together, created what became known as the “California Rock” sound. Back in the early 70s, the Eagles’ style was decidedly more country than rock. Felder describes the early Eagles as a bunch of young guys who enjoyed drinking, drugging, and getting laid. All of them, except for Randy Meisner, were single and apparently very horny. Don Felder joined them for jam session. A few years after that, he moved to California and officially became an Eagle in 1974.

Felder and his co-author then describe what a mixed blessing being an Eagle actually was. Here he was, a member of an extraordinarily talented band that would one day be the biggest selling act in America. He was doing what he loved, adored by fans, and making a lot of money. He was also constantly on the road, dealing with the lonely grind of touring. Drugs and girls were constant temptations for Felder, who was happily married and a father. Worst of all, none of the Eagles seemed to get along. Though they made beautiful music together and each Eagle brought something special to the group, the band members bickered amongst each other constantly. Apparently, even in Felder’s early days as an Eagle, there was extreme contention among the band members. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were, according to Felder, the most egotistical members of the group.

Being an Eagles fan, I was pretty interested in reading about the band’s politics. However, I also enjoyed reading Felder’s many anecdotes about other rock stars he got to know. Some of the stories in Heaven and Hell are quite revealing and some are just plain hilarious.

Any Eagles fan knows that the band didn’t always play country rock. In 1976, the band developed more of a rock sound when Bernie Leadon left and was replaced by funky guitar player Joe Walsh. Felder includes some great stories about Joe Walsh; apparently, he’s quite a practical joker. Felder also includes the story about how the great song “Hotel California” came to be created and how, after the album that spawned “Hotel California”, Randy Meisner quit the band and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit. Felder writes about the people behind the scenes as well, including the Eagles’ manager and producer.

What goes up must eventually come down and that seems to be true for the Eagles as well. By 1980, the band was at the height of its success. And the band members were also fighting amongst themselves. Fueled by their egos, greed, and perhaps too much cocaine, the Eagles ended up breaking up. For the first time in years, Felder was able to go home to his family, enjoy some of the fruits of his career, and be a father to his children. Fourteen years later, the band got back together for the Hell Freezes Over tour. Felder includes some juicy bits about that reunion, too.

Yeah… this was pretty legendary.

Heaven and Hell also discusses how Don Felder was eventually fired from the Eagles and how he sued the band when it tried to force him to sell his interest. I got the feeling, as I was reading this book, that Don Felder wrote it, in part, as a way of thumbing his nose at Glenn Frey and Don Henley, who seemed to be the biggest offenders of egotistical and greedy behavior. I was certainly left with the impression that while Don Felder respected their talent as musicians, particularly Henley’s talents as a singer and song writer, he didn’t appreciate being screwed by them. Of course, Don Henley and Glenn Frey have their own sides of the story. We may never get to read what they think of what happened, but it sure is fun reading Felder’s account.

I don’t know how much of this book was written by Don Felder and how much was written by Wendy Holden. I will say that the book did seem to come from Felder– never once did I feel like it was a story told by another person. The book is long and involved, but it’s fun to read and very interesting. And again, I did laugh aloud several times, usually due to Felder’s wry descriptions of @sshole behavior coming from Glenn Frey. I don’t think the two are on good terms at all. Besides lots of juicy anecdotes, Heaven and Hell also includes lots of pictures, especially of Felder and his family.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed reading Heaven and Hell and I would, without question, recommend it to any Eagles fan or anyone who just likes to read about rock stars. While I feel like this book had a slight element of sour grapes to it, I also feel like Don Felder has every right to tell his story. By this account, it sounds like he was not treated very well and I can’t blame him for speaking out. He seems like a nice person and that makes me hope his book is successful… but I also genuinely enjoyed reading his story. It seems ironic that he was a member of a band bearing the name of a bird that symbolizes freedom, yet he’s probably never been freer in his lifetime than he is right now. I, for one, say good for Don Felder.

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