Bookshelf: Don Felder, “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)”

Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder titled his memoir Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) in an attempt to sell more copies of the book. Co-written with journalist Wendy Holden, the book is more than the tell-all Felder’s former band feared when they took him to court and held up its release in litigation. In the book, he doesn’t even begin recording with the legendary group until 100 pages into it. Before that, Felder unfolds the tale of a young man growing up dirt poor in Gainesville, Florida, during the late ’60s. Literally raised in a tin roof shack, Felder’s parents were survivors of the Great Depression. Although his father could be a brute with his belt, he also encouraged Felder to pursue his gift for music. This encouragement led Felder to the guitar with which he hoped to emulate his hero B.B. King. While his older brother went to college and law school, Felder struggled to get through high school and fell in with the hippie culture of that era. Felder’s long hair and beard led to a physical altercation with his father and resulted in Felder leaving home in his late teens.

On his own, Felder kicked around Florida, befriending the late Duane Allman and hanging with his childhood buddy, Bernie Leadon. Both men would become influential figures in Felder’s life. It was Allman who inspired Felder to learn slide guitar and told him to “(c)lose your eyes and listen to the music…when your spine tingles, you’ll know it’s right.” Felder has carried these words with him ever since. Multi-instrumentalist Leadon, on the other hand, moved west to Los Angeles and gained fame with The Flying Burrito Brothers and as a founding member of the Eagles. For years, Leadon pleaded with his friend to join him and the growing musical movement on the west coast. Felder chose to toil away in New York and Boston in a band that went nowhere, and doing session work. More important to him, Felder reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Susan, fell in love and they got married. During a tour stop in Boston, Leadon finally convinced Felder and his bride to travel west. Once in California, Felder fell in with the gang at David Geffen’s Asylum Records. After a year being a sideman, he was invited to play some tracks on the Eagles’ third album, On the Border. An immediate chemistry was felt between Felder and the other band members, which included Leadon, bassist Randy Meisner, drummer/vocalist Don Henley, and guitarist/vocalist Glenn Frey. Soon thereafter, Felder was asked to join the band. Despite Leadon’s warning, Felder jumped at the chance to join an established group with two records under its belt.

From there, the book takes off in describing Felder’s dual life, one of a husband and father who was constantly absent from his family’s life, and the other a hedonistic rock star showered with fame, money, booze, drugs and women. In reading Heaven and Hell, one expects the tawdry exploits of a band at the height of their success. In fact, knowing the book was held up in court, the mind runs wild contemplating what exactly Felder wanted to reveal about his famous former bandmates. With their infamous E3 parties after each concert (the “E3” standing for third encore) where women were lined up outside the bedrooms and cocaine was lined up on the mirrors, the Eagles became hardcore drug and sex abusers. Yet, after reading a book like Motley Crue’s The Dirt, Felder’s memoir comes off as rather tame and repetitive. With no specifics of the band’s hedonism, there are only so many ways you can say “we did a lot of coke, drank a lot of whiskey and had sex with a lot of women.” If these dirty deeds represent the reason the Eagles didn’t want the book published, they made a huge mistake. Without the vices, we are left looking at two men, Henley and Frey, slowly taking over control of the band with their own ambition and greed. Their greed becomes so powerful that these two force out the original members of the band and strike up shitty deals with newer members (albeit, multimillion dollar shitty deals). Throughout the book, Felder refers to Henley/Frey as “The Gods.” In truth, they don’t come off as gods; they’re just dicks.

As the band achieved massive success with their multiplatinum album, Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (it continues to be the best-selling album of all time), Leadon quit and was replaced by Joe Walsh. Pressure mounted to follow up the greatest hits album with something bigger and better. That follow-up was Hotel California. The title track from that album was something Felder primarily wrote by himself. He does a fine job of detailing the birth of this classic song, how it grew from a melody that popped in his head, to the opening guitar part, and then into a full length demo complete with the dueling guitar solos at the end. All that was missing were the lyrics. Ultimately, what Heaven and Hell does is a reasonable job of debunking the myth that Henley and Frey were the sole reason for the band’s success. Manager Irving Arzoff (another “villain” in the story) aligned himself with Henley and Frey early on, and focused all of the media attention on these two. Felder pulls away the curtain to reveal that each band member contributed important roles to the quality and success of the Eagles’ music. Besides “Hotel California,” quite possibly the most recognizable and overplayed/popular song in the Eagles’ history, Felder also came up with the haunting bass intro and killer guitar solo to “One of these Nights,” cowrote most of FM radio hit, “Victim of Love” and performed the lovely, poignant acoustic solo on “The Sad Café” (from The Long Run).

Felder makes an effort to jump back and forth between the wild world of touring and what was going on with his wife and three children. The guilt he feels over missing so much of their lives and cheating on Susan, the woman who supported him through all of the hard times, is palpable. His confessions of love continue up until the moment she finds independence and starts a business of her own. After that, the marriage falls apart and a bitterness creeps into the book that I find a tad unfounded. Let’s be honest, there’s no telling how many women this guy slept with during the Eagles’ heyday, and he’s angry at her for finding professional satisfaction after years of being a stay at home mom? Honestly, I’m surprised she stayed with him so long.

There is an even greater bitterness toward Henley and Frey, primarily at Frey. Of all the people in this book, Frey comes off looking the worst. He manipulates, insults and does just about anything he can to get his own way. Henley is no saint, mind you, but Felder has a much higher regard for the pensive drummer, lavishing praise on most of his solo albums and the quality of his lyrics. Strangely, both men took on a sort of “parental” role in Felder’s life as he was always aiming to please them and gain their approval, very much like he sought approval and acceptance from his father.

In the ’90s, the Eagles reunited for a very lucrative album and tour. On the surface, they appeared to have buried the hatchet, but behind the scenes, these men were barely speaking. After that tour ended, talks began of a new album. Before that could happen, though, Azoff, Frey and Henley came up with new contract for the band members (who included Timothy B. Schmidt on bass, having joined the band in 1979 after Frey browbeat Meisner into quitting). The Gods offered Felder, Walsh and Schmidt less substantial contracts than what Frey and Henley would be earning. Finally fed up with their bullshit, Felder stood up to them, questioning the terms of the deals. This led to his dismissal from the band. In describing the news that he would no longer be an Eagle, Felder appears more heartbroken than when his marriage ended. But this makes sense. After dedicating most of his adult life to the legacy of this band, and sacrificing his family relationships and watching his marriage crumble, this was the ultimate blow. However, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, in his writing, you can actually feel a weight lift off of his shoulders once he doesn’t have to deal with the insanity of being in the Eagles. The book ends on an upbeat note; Felder even proclaims that he would go onstage with his former band at a moment’s notice, if asked. He writes “After all these years, those guys still feel like family to me. And like family members you don’t always get along with all the time, the physical connection is there, underpinning everything. Blood is thicker than water, they say. We shed enough blood, sweat, and tears in the three decades we spent together, and our ties are strong.”

On the whole, Heaven and Hell is a good read for any fan of rock and roll and anyone who is looking for a rags-to-riches story that ends on a positive note. Felder seems like a decent guy who is trying to be honest about his feelings. His writing style falls somewhere between confessional blogger and the ramblings of an aging rocker regaling you with war stories between sets and shots backstage at a middling dive somewhere in the southwest. This may explain why Wendy Holden was brought in to co-write. One senses that she made many of the passages more poetic than you’d expect from the typical rock and roll autobiography. For most people, Felder was always the mysterious member of the Eagles; in concert, he never took center stage and sang lead vocals on a song. He always let he guitar speak for him. With this memoir, Felder has finally found his voice, and he steps into the spotlight with confidence.




  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    One more reason to dislike Frey, aside from his crappy solo output.

  • Elaine

    Thanks for this piece. I might actually read the book. Can't say I'm surprised about Henley & Frey. They're such control freaks, they'd probably have tried to stop Felder from writing, even if he was 100% positive. Instead of Frey's awful solo records and Henley's endless political whining, it's good to hear from others in the story. They deserve it.

  • Malchus

    It's a pretty quick read, even though it's over 300 pages.

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    I am so tired of The Eagles, but your review made me see the band a new light. I've listened to their music since I was kid, but I never paid attention to the bios of the individuals members enough to care about the friction between the guys. However, it's interesting to read how “The Gods” are control freaks and complete dicks.

  • David_E

    Great post, and I've ordered the book from Amazon based on your write-up.

    Felder's story, from abusive dad to Florida youth to LA dreams to success, sounds a lot like Tom Petty's (and is connected, as it stands, by Bernie Leadon's younger brother Tom, an original member of Mudcrutch).

    And call me apostate, but I like “You Belong To The City.” Though I pretend it was written by Joe Piscopo.

    This doesn't take a lot of imagination.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    I love anything that makes Glen Frey look like a douchebag.

  • Malchus

    I like a couple Frey songs, too. “The One You Love”, though sappy, is a nice love song, and I have a sentimental spot for “Part of You, Part of Me.”

    Petty is mentioned a couple of times in the book, too.

    The Eagles are one of those groups in which I have to separate my feelings about the individuals from the music they made.

  • Pingback: Cookin’ With Leftovers « The Hits Just Keep On Comin’()

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    I wonder if Felder ever mentions folksinger David Blue in the book. The first time I ever saw Felder, then known as “Cotton” Felder, he was accompanying Blue at a club in Greenwich Village years before The Eagles. Blue was a talented songwriter who just somehow never made it.

  • Malchus

    HeFelder covers quite a bit about Blue and how touring with the folk singer led to his being hired to tour with Graham Nash and David Crosby.

  • Pingback: White Label Wednesday: Don Henley, “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” | Popdose()

  • Pete

    Thanks for this review-I'm contemplating reading it based on this.

  • el bandito

    Thanks, great review.

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/ Pico

    Very nicely done, Malchus. Sounds like an intriguing read, especially in light of the Eagles recent new album.

  • Ray

    what exactly happened when he quit the eagles? someone please email me at wnyghosts, type Don Felder in the subject bar. thanks!

  • Ray

    why?! glenn frey is amazing!

  • Ray

    fuck you! there is nuthn wrong with glenn frey, he is the founder of the best band on earth!

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Glenn Frey was not the founder of The Damned.

  • Elaine

    You're right about “The One You Love.” Did he also have a hand in “I Can't Tell You Why?” That's one fine, fine song.

  • Elaine

    To All: I just read this blog entry: http://idolator.com/392421/rolling-stone-flies-

    I don't know the blog or the author, but I found the article interesting, and right in line with our discussion here. It's a discussion about the Eagles being on the cover of the Rolling Stone. There's Eagles backstory for those of you who are interested. And, is the blind item about R. Kelly? Is he saying Henley liked to relieve himself on girls, or that he always got it up for the touch of the younger kind…? HM.

    “Glenn Frey…now defers to Henley. 'Without Don,' he says, '…we'd be Air Supply.'” That's almost .sig worthy.

  • http://wbcb1490.com joe

    Felder's book doesn't come as a surprise. I can remember seeing the
    Eagles “Hell Freezes Over Tour” back in 1994 at Hershey Park Stadium.
    It was an amazing concert, but not long after the show, I was watching Entertainment Tonight and Don Henley gave a brief interview about the tour. Without being asked, Henley volunteered some information that suggested “Hell” wasn't completely frozen over. In paraphrasing his comments, he said “I don't want to break up the party or anything for the fans, but we really don't bother with each other after the shows or hang out.” As I recall, the reporter didn't even ask him that question, he just decided to let it out. JLC

  • kevin markham

    fuck you ray . they are jumped up bigheaded bastards.

  • John

    True, but he is a talentless hack.

  • Roy G

    Here are their rates for their 9/08 show at United Center in Chicago;

    MAIN FLOOR
    US $185.00

    LOWER (100 LEVEL)
    US $85.00 – US $185.00

    CLUB (200 LEVEL)
    US $85.00 – US $185.00

    UPPER (300 LEVEL)
    US $50.00 – US $85.00

    Meaning, the back of the upper level is $50, back of
    the middle level $85. The only good seats are ALL
    $185 – even those not on floor.

    I am glad Felder exposed them for the egomaniac,
    elitist f*ckwads that they are. Sure, we all love their
    songs. But they are persons who play music, not
    gods.

    They are completely out of touch now with the
    lunchpail crowd that put them on the map with
    $6 LP's and tickets, and now are effectively locked
    out at this price. Hell Freezes Over or, “We'll Do
    Anything At This Price”?

    They were extemely fortunate to come along after
    technology could make them that big, but before
    it democratized the industry with digital technology
    that everyone can copy. Bands in the future will never
    get this big, and Frey and Henley show us all why
    that is a very good thing…

    – Roy G / Cincinnati

  • Roy G

    They'll never take in another dime of my money, btw…

  • http://www.vinceadame.com VinceAdame

    I just finished this book after purchasing it just a couple of days ago. I only put it down when I had to. I was impressed with Felder's even-handed approach while still laying bare the brutal reality of the Eagles, the record industry, and the Zeitgeist of L.A. in the 70's-80's. At the center, “Heaven and Hell” is a voyeuristic ride to redemption, relatable to anyone who ever felt marginalized in their work or betrayed in their life. Be it through victimization or self-empowerment, it is a testament to finding the courage and taking the steps to regain your integrity and move on.

    I'll always love their music, but now with a touch of bittersweet. Good for Don Felder. Shame on Glenn Frey and Don Henley.

  • Ken

    I saw the Eagles in Chicago and although they sounded great, the fact that Don Felder was gone had a big impact on the the feel of the show. When you see Don Play with the Eagles< he is in a zone and just plays beautiful with grace and a sound that the new sideman just can't c ome close to
    hell freezes over is their best work(touched up as it may be) All I can say is best of luck Don, I always thought that frey was a pompus asshole anyway! Henley has a great voice But a bigger ego that Pumpkin head of his. they are lucky to still have Tim and Joe ( Timmothy has a voice from God and Joe isa great guy and way too popular to get rid of) but Don was just a great guitarist who had the balls to stand up to George Bush and Dick Chaney and lost. the two others( Joe and Tim) should be ashammed to have let him stand out with his dick in the wind. GO Don!

  • http://www.theswingkings.com bob

    I have just finnished reading dons book it will make me look at the eagles a differnent way. But I will look out for some other ons side of the story unless we think we no it all I will judge after maybe reading take it to the limit unless anyone can recomend any other source.I found Dons book very absorbing & I wanted to read it once I started very good book

  • Wolfgang

    As a born German and a proud US-Citizen I saw “The Eagles” in Duesseldorf, Germany, when Hotel California came out. Since then I saw the Band at least 50 times, and that gives me the right to comment on the book from Don Felder. Here it is: it is very, very sad, that a person like Don Felder is not seen these days on stage. I personally miss him. Without him, would there be a “Hotel California?” Let's face it, he is a wonderful human being ( actually you can see it on stage ), who is very much concentrating on his guitar.
    He stood up for himself, and it is so sad, that only money put that great musician away from “The Eagles”. But you are dealing with a Jewish Manager………….
    Wolfgang, Santa Monica,CA

  • Wolfgang

    As a born German and a proud US-Citizen I saw “The Eagles” in Duesseldorf, Germany, when Hotel California came out. Since then I saw the Band at least 50 times, and that gives me the right to comment on the book from Don Felder. Here it is: it is very, very sad, that a person like Don Felder is not seen these days on stage. I personally miss him. Without him, would there be a “Hotel California?” Let's face it, he is a wonderful human being ( actually you can see it on stage ), who is very much concentrating on his guitar.
    He stood up for himself, and it is so sad, that only money put that great musician away from “The Eagles”. Wolfgang, Santa Monica,CA

  • Bob Tanner

    Hey don Felder, just would like to thank you for a writing a great book. i just finished it. i heard you on the howard stern show last year and went out and bought the book. love all the stories about “THE GODS” Good job fingers.

  • jadnecdereisen

    There are a number of typo's in the article, but it does entice me to read the book.

  • Danny

    Thhe Eagles Has to Be One of the most Influential Band Of The So Called Early Cult Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame….Danny

  • Danny

    Thhe Eagles Has to Be One of the most Influential Band Of The So Called Early Cult Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame….Danny

  • JKGOLF

    I agree whole heartedly that THE EAGLES just don't sound the same without Don Felder. I saw them twice during the 2007 tour and just recently in the 2010 tour and the guitarist they have replacing Felder is just another guitar player…….Felder is one of a kind, an artist. To echo the sentiments above, shame on Frey and Hendley and what the heck were you guys thinking.

  • Pingback: Don Felder's Heaven & Hell - My Les Paul Forums()

  • Ppcools

    Dear sir,

    I must say that the worst thing rock and roll bands can do is get political. You and I probably know more about the issues than these guys do and I will not base who I vote for on a celebrity endorsement. These same bands that seem to hate authority and capitalism are also looking to make mega-bucks on tour. Let them play in Cuba and see how much money they make. I don’t mean to be a jerk, just looking at this from a different perspective.

    BTW, Don Felder is a great guitarist and I hope he succeeds.

  • A. Nonymous

    Buy the book to find out the answer!

    (he didn’t quit)

  • Newtunez9

    How exactly do you measure the man who brought the Hotel California to our ears? The man never was respected by the the Gods, and shove them for that. I for one wouldn’t spend a dime watching a concert of theirs, without him, oh yeah When Hell Freezes Over for this fan. lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacqui.reidpath Jacqueline Reidpath

    This is well past the atmosphere this excellent review was written in (thank you Scott Malchus) and my comment is late because I have only just become reacquainted with Eagles music through watching their Farewell 1 Tour DVD; and through that, joining their message board over at http://www.eaglesonlinecentral.com to find the thread about
    Don’s book. I try not to be swayed by other people’s comments or opinions, since I have very strong and definite opinions of my own – last week I borrowed Don’s book from the library. I am just over 100 pages in and I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying it. It is a darn good read, his upbringing and stories around it. He was a rebel with a cause, is what strikes me louder than most. I noticed the photos of Frey and Henley as well and the thought process wasn’t lost on me either. I have only got to the part where Frey rang him and asked him to join the band. So I guess the revelations are going to come thick and fast now. From the publicity and comments I have read (and let’s not forget the timing of Don’s book release – wasn’t it within a few months of the release of Long Road Out Of Eden? I am thinking the law suit was more for stalling tactics than anything else because they didn’t want any dirt coming out that could affect the sales) – it seems to me that for the lawsuits to be settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, indicates guilt on the part of Frey and Henley. It’s well known the power struggle they created within the band. I recently blogged about Schmit and Henley but purely on their musicianship, nothing else. I’m really not interested in the dirt going on behind the scenes, I am only interested in the music. But hey, gossip and dirt sells faster than anything else but that isn’t the basis Don wrote his book on – he wrote it with a need to cathartise and validate his ambition, struggles and ultimate success to be with one of the greatest American bands in the world. Is it any wonder he was shattered. As far as his personal life goes, in all fairness to his wife at the time, I agree she was justified in the path she decided to take. And Don knows he will just have to live with that the rest of his life. I did not know Felder while he was with the Eagles but I agree, he is an exceptionally gifted guitar player. As a journalist myself, I also noticed the writing style and his personal touches enhanced by Wendy Holden; the family photos add the personal touch so vital to his story. I think he did an honest job and I’m really enjoying the read.

  • FF

    You might be the only person on Earth who defends Frey. He is clearly a greedy, heartless pig, who puts himself on the same level as Don Henley (he and Henley get the same cut, the others, including Felder, who was one of the 3 members of “Eagles, Limited” get considerably less). When I watched the “History of the Eagles,” and Frey says “I told Irving I was only going to do this (Hell Freezes Over), if Henley and I get more money, I seriously thought he was going to break into a big smile, and say “just kidding.” Shows how much I knew about this POS. He also contradicts himself, saying at one point that classic rock was responsible for keeping the Eagles’ music in front of the public. Later, to justify he and Henley getting more money, he said it was his and Henley’s solo careers that kept the Eagles music alive. I don’t know about you, but I certainly had End of the Innocence in my music catalog, but i never quite got around to buying the Miami Vice soundtrack. This was a band, not a group of individuals. John and Paul never said they should get a bigger cut than George and Ringo, just because they wrote most of the songs. If you want a bigger cut, you have a solo career, which they did, but don’t try to “rank” the members of the band. Without Felder, the Eagles wouldn’t even be in the Rocj and Roll Hall of Fame, because he brought Hotel California to the band, and without it, there’s no way they get into the HOF. Glenn Frey is a royal a**hole, period.