Don Felder on the Florida Roots of "Hotel California" and Teaching Tom Petty How to Play Guitar

Don Felder will play songs from his new album, along with Eagles classics, at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.
Don Felder will play songs from his new album, along with Eagles classics, at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. Michael Helms
Dark desert highways, mirrors on the ceiling, and pink champagne on ice — who would want to leave Hotel California even if you could?

It turns out the song some people believe to be the quintessential Golden State anthem might have just as easily ended up “Hotel Florida” — an ode to traffic jams, neon lights, and mojitos.

“Even though ‘Hotel California’ sounds like it should have been recorded in California, most of it was recorded in Miami,” says former Eagles guitarist Don Felder, the song’s co-writer. “I’d say about half the Eagles records we made with our producer Bill Szymczyk were recorded in Miami.”

Felder is a Florida native who grew up in Gainesville. He cut his chops with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stephen Stills, and Tom Petty — the last of whom Felder taught to play guitar.

“It was really a friendly level of competition in that area,” Felder says. “Who was going to be the best guitar player? Who was the best band? I’m very proud to say that I’ve lost three battle of the bands to the Allman Brothers. They were always, by far, the best.”

After honing his craft in New York City and Boston, Felder eventually made his way to California, where in 1974 he joined the already established Eagles. He went on to record megahits with them such as “One of These Nights,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Already Gone,” “Victim of Love,” “Those Shoes,” and, of course, “Hotel California.” He left the band in 2001.

In August 2018, the band's album Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) flew past Michael Jackson’s Thriller to become the top-selling album of all time. The group has sold more than 150 million albums, and in 1998, Felder and the Eagles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Florida’s favorite adopted son, Jimmy Buffett.

Felder will play songs from his newest album, American Rock 'n’ Roll, and solo hits such as “Heavy Metal,” along with Eagles favorites and a star-studded Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute, August 2 at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.

“It gives me a chance to step out of being a songwriter and just play the blues,” Felder says of performing Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.” “I love that song.”

In fact, it was because of that song that guitarist Alex Lifeson from Rush — a band Felder refers to as “the Canadian Beatles” — found his way onto American Rock 'n’ Roll.

Felder asked Rush drummer Neil Peart, who was attending a birthday bash at Felder’s house, to sit in on an all-star jam session of “Pride and Joy.”

“He says, ‘I don’t play anymore,’” Felder recalls. “I went, 'What? You’re probably one of the biggest drummers in rock history. What do you mean you don’t play anymore?' He was like, 'No, I quit playing. I’m done.’”

Felder was taken aback and wondered where Peart’s decision would leave the rest of the band. “I kept thinking about Alex walking around the golf course twiddling his thumbs, bored stiff,” Felder says.

There was no way Felder was going to let that happen, so he asked Lifeson to guest on the fun and funky “Charmed.” “He made this beautiful acoustic arrangement in the bridge and did these amazing guitar solos on the end,” Felder says.

American Rock 'n’ Roll
includes a handpicked selection of some of rock’s greatest musicians. Mick Fleetwood, Slash, Bob Weir, Richie Sambora, Steve Porcaro, and Sammy Hagar all make appearances. Even Peter Frampton played on the only song Felder says he has ever written on piano, “The Way Things Have to Be.”

“I kept hearing that sound that Peter and I played together when we were on tour with Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus,” he says of having Frampton’s signature echoey, Doppler effect-style sound in mind from the onset.

What Felder didn't know at the time they recorded the heartfelt ballad at Frampton’s Nashville studio was that Frampton would soon be diagnosed with a rare muscular disease that could end his touring career.

“I found it really ironic that I would choose that song for him to play,” Felder says. “It sounds ethereal. It sounds angelic.”

Felder says each guest musician on the album was chosen for a specific reason, but he didn’t want to dictate how any of them should sound.

“What I wanted to do was let each of these artists be themselves on the record,” he says. “I wanted that fun and excitement and energy, that live spontaneity that comes out when two people are there shoving each other to make the other person reach a little harder and step up a little higher.”

One of his favorites is Sammy Hagar, who trades almost indiscernible vocals with Felder on the hard-hitting “Rock You.”

“I really wanted to do a duo with someone who's got that great, growly rock voice,” Felder says. “And I thought, Who could I call? Sammy! Sammy would be perfect!

Fortunately, when Hagar gets onboard, his good buddy Joe Satriani is never far behind, and he joined them on "Rock You."

“To sit in the same room with Joe, who probably has the most phenomenal guitar technique of anybody playing rock 'n' roll today... you can’t rely on your old standard licks; you have to dig down and find something new,” Felder says.

No doubt American Rock 'n’ Roll includes some of Felder’s best work to date. He says the whole creative process of making the album was vastly different from working with the Eagles.

“When I sat down to write tracks and song ideas for Eagles records, I had to write stuff that was almost like you were writing for a sitcom,” he says of composing for each member's distinct talents. “You know the characters... and you kind of write their dialogue — one guy is going to be wacky, somebody is going to be funny, somebody is going to be serious or dramatic, so you kind of write that way for them.”

Today, as a solo artist collaborating with a multitude of musicians, he says that strategy no longer works — and that’s a good thing.

“If I made something that was too heavy, too hard, like 'Rock You,' it would have never got recorded [with the Eagles],” he says. “It was outside of their framework.”

At 71, Felder says he plans to continue touring and collaborating with folks such as Hagar and Satriani, with whom he already has a few shows planned this summer. And though American Rock 'n’ Roll proves Felder has no intention of hanging up his strings anytime soon, he does have one thing on his bucket list.

Not to kick the bucket!” he laughs. “That’s at the top of that list!”

Don Felder. 8 p.m. Friday, August 2, at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, 5550 NW 40th St., Coconut Creek; 954-977-6700; Tickets cost $25 to $45 via
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Wendy Rhodes is a lover of rock 'n' roll and all things vegan. She has witnessed a green flash, kissed a live shark, and stood atop an active volcano. She is always open to new story ideas.