Backstage with Ron Onesti:
Former Eagle to soar back to The Arcada
All Eagles’ music, including the solo projects from most of the band members, is some of the best-loved music in history. The band has sold more than 150 million albums and its Greatest Hits release was the best-selling album of the 20th century!
During last year’s show at the Arcada Theatre with former guitar player and Eagles’ vocalist Don Felder, I was absolutely blown away by not only his talent, but also by his story and just how much I love this music. So much so, we invited him back!
He was also one of the most down-to-earth entertainers I have met in a long time. We were hanging out in the dressing rooms before the show and he was very accessible, and very “Don-friendly.” All along I could not help but think about a biography I watched on TV where he talked about the circumstances that caused him to leave and ultimately stay out of the Eagles’ organization.
It was a “greed thing,” he said, referring to an unequal distribution of profits stemming from the 1994 “comeback” album titled “Hell Freezes Over,” the album’s tour and other subsequent projects involving him and band founders Don Henley and Glenn Frey.
The Eagles began with Frey and Henley (and Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner) in 1971. The group was principally a country act before becoming a “soft-rock” iconic band when Felder joined them as a slide guitar player in 1974. He wound up writing, cowriting and performing on many of the Eagles’ smash recordings, including composing the music for the band’s biggest hit, “Hotel California.”
I didn’t realize the band actually broke up in 1980 and remained that way for 14 years. They re-grouped in 1994, but apparently, the same “love” wasn’t present among the band members that was there before. Frey and Henley put forth an unequal financial situation among the members of the band that caused quite a bit of tension. “To this day, I still don’t get it,” Felder told me. “We all did our thing that made the band grow, and we should have all shared in it equally.”
I then asked him about their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he appeared somewhat emotional. “It was an incredible night. We were all together, having fun with a great sense of pride. We put our differences on a shelf that night, and it was actually heartwarming.” The band performed “Take It Easy” and “Hotel California” to a standing ovation that lasted for “what seemed like an hour,” he said.
It all erupted in 2001 as Felder continued voicing his concerns about the tumultuous financial issues. As a result, Felder was abruptly fired from the band. Lawsuits and countersuits ensued, and the cases were ultimately settled out of court.
“Do you still talk to the guys anymore?” I asked. “Only if I get a letter from their attorneys,” he said, shaking his head.
His history is also quite a cool story itself. He went to Gainesville High School in Florida with a guy to whom he gave guitar lessons at the local music shop: a scrawny, straight-haired blonde by the name of Tom Petty. Felder was asked to join the Eagles because he was one of the best slide guitar players in the business. His teacher? Duane Allman!
As a 15-year old, Felder started a band with Stephen Stills called the Continentals. Felder wound up going on tour opening for his friend Stills and Stills’ friends, David Crosby and Graham Nash.
When Don saw that his old buddy Graham Nash was to appear at the Arcada a couple weeks after his own show, he took out a Sharpie pen and wrote on our dressing room wall: “Hey Graham, hope you had a great show. This place is great! — Don.” Usually we have celebs just sign our green room walls. Now it’s become an on-site message board between the entertainers!
So his show begins and as usual, I am the biggest fan in the room. But man, this show was out of control. I don’t usually publish set lists, but here is what he performed that night, a virtual “Greatest Hits box set” live on my historic stage:
1. “Already Gone”
2. “One Of These Nights”
3. “Pride And Joy” (A “tip of the hat” to Stevie Ray Vaughan.)
4. “Victim Of Love”
5. “Tequila Sunrise”
6. “Seven Bridges Road”
7. “Girls In Black”
8. “Witchy Woman”
9. “The Long Run”
10. “Heartache Tonight”
11. “Life In The Fast Lane”
12. “Take It Easy”
Then he put on his signature Les Paul Double Neck guitar that he used on “Hotel California.” The place went nuts, even though nobody sat down all night during his “hitfest.” The guitar riffs on that song are revered as one of the best guitar solos in rock. The guitar parts are very complex, as a twelve string was needed for the opening solo, and a six string was need for the battling solos with Joe Walsh on the record. So he elected to use the Double Neck, which ultimately became his signature instrument, and the rest is rock ‘n’ roll history.
After the show, he once again complimented me on our venue. “The sound was absolutely fabulous,” he said. “But I did have one distraction.” My eyes widened as he continued. “I usually don’t eat before a show, so by the end of the set I am pretty hungry. Around ‘Witchy Woman’ I started smelling the garlic of your meatballs and the songs started to get a bit faster than they usually are!”
The last time I fed an “Eagle” was at Brookfield Zoo. Then, I got to feed an Eagle whose music is as much a part of Americana as the American Bald Eagle itself.
I wonder what I’ll make for him next Thursday night …