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Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) by Don Felder (2009)

9780470450420_p0_v2_s260x420From amazon.com

Review By now, no Eagles fan should be surprised by tales told about “The Gods,” Don Henley and Glenn Frey, and how they have treated (or mistreated) their fellow musicians over the years. What makes this book stand out is that the recounting here is done from the inside, by someone who is not only very capable of telling that history, but is also adept at conveying it in a very readable, conversational way. This is guitarist Don Felder’s memoir-to-date, “Heaven and Hell.”

Other Amazon reviewers have covered the basics of Felder’s life story, tracing his beginnings in Gainesville, Florida; his growing focus on music and guitars; and his father’s undue influence on his life. Knowing where he’ll eventually end up, the pages make for interesting and anticipatory reading. We follow Felder’s winding career path (which includes attending Woodstock) as it eventually leads toward the Eagles, to California, and to the celebrity and opulent lifestyle that only rock stars can earn. And of course: simultaneously to alcohol, drugs, extramarital liaisons, and chain-saw attacks on hotel room furniture. (You go, Joe!)

Those folks who have also read books like Jonathan Gould’s “Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain & America” will no doubt be stirred by the resemblance of the Eagles to the Fab Four. Felder himself refers to the analogy on page 116 when Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon are said to have adopted “the George and Ringo positions” in the group. Ain’t it the truth? Here we have a band made up of highly creative musicians, dominated by two of the original members (who seem to be writing most of the songs) and a manager who’s behind it all, calling the shots. And though the first albums took the public by storm, subsequent albums became tougher and tougher to put together as tempers flared, arguments ensued, and individuals walked out. Near the end, in and around the breakup, intricate legalities took over. In both cases, it all boiled down to ego and money. In retrospect, one wonders what would have been the Beatles’ fate if Mark David Chapman had not pulled the trigger. Would John, Paul, George and Ringo have eventually buried the hatchet, just temporarily, and embarked on a “Hell Freezes Over” kind of tour? Wouldn’t we all have fallen over each other to get tickets for it?

As for the Eagles: with just one phone call, the controlling forces decide that Don Felder — after more than 20 years of service, and after contributing the signature “Hotel California” melody — is no longer necessary to the band. To his credit, he does not roll over and play dead, but instead fights to keep his original legal position in Eagles, Ltd. Nevertheless, Felder is left behind in the end, much like the California license plate that graces the book jacket: battered, bruised, and detached; yet still in one piece, ready to be picked up again. I’m quite pleased to know that, due to the outcome of his successful lawsuit, he will still benefit from the CD I bought at Wal-Mart and the ticket I already bought to see the Eagles in concert later this year. Good for you, Don! And thanks for sharing both the good times and the bad times with us. But please know that after reading this book, I’m going to think long and hard before I spend any more of my own hard-earned dollars on the Eagles.

Review I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since Don Felder first mentioned he might write it, apparently just after he was fired from The Eagles by Don Henley and Glen Frey. But then it was not going to be published because of lawsuits and counter-suits, etc., but now here it is at last.

I have to admit I couldn’t wait until now to get the book here in the US, so I paid a bit more and bought a new copy from England, where it was published last year. So I’ve already read it, couldn’t put it down. A great read for any and every Eagles fan, especially those of us who followed the band from the very beginning, when The Eagles were comprised of Henley and Frey and Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner.

Those four put together the band’s first two albums; while working on their third album Felder was invited to join, and these five guys created the Eagles’ most successful music. Back when all this was happening I presumed Felder was just some guy brought into the band to give them a harder-edged sound, much to the chagrin of the country-oriented banjo-playing Bernie Leadon. What I found out from this book, however, was that Felder and Leadon were old friends from back in Florida, and that it was Bernie who first came West and eventually persuaded Felder to come out as well a few years later. I also learned that Felder had known and played guitar with Duane Allman in Florida.

I followed The Eagles all the way through the 70s, was saddened when Bernie took his banjo and acoustic guitars and left the band, to be replaced by hard-rocker Joe Walsh, and then even more saddened when bass player Randy Meisner quit a year later. Felder talks at length about these two events, and how sad he was about it as well. He also gives us a much more realistic take on the “reunion” in 1994, as well as the reunion of all seven band members at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. And then he goes into the events around his firing. I think he writes very honestly here, without any petty vindictiveness.

Sure he was/is upset about the way it all went down. What’s left of “The Eagles” – Henley and Frey and about a dozen or more hired hands on stage filling out that “Eagles” sound – is currently putting on some big-time shows around the world and making a ton of money, and people who go to see them seem pleased. But are they seeing The Eagles? I don’t think so. It’s as if John and Paul, having fired George and Ringo, decided to hire a bunch of backing musicians and call themselves The Beatles. Sure, John and Paul were the main stars of the band, but only the four of them deserved to be called The Beatles. Same thing here. Henley and Frey became the big stars of what was originally a very democratic band. Henley is a fantastic talent, with maybe the best voice in rock. He and Frey wrote some great songs, no question. They can still play and sing and create a lot of good music.

Don Felder created the song Hotel California, and it just doesn’t seem right to see them playing it now without him. Ah well, this old sentimentalist remembers the good old days of The Eagles, and this book is a great way to bring those memories back. Thanks for writing it, Don!

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Book Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) by Don Felder | , | Leave a comment