Don Felder was born in Gainesville, Florida on September 21, 1947. He was raised in a Southern Baptist family.
Felder was first attracted to music after watching Elvis Presley live on The Ed Sullivan Show. He acquired his first guitar when he was about ten years old, which he has stated he exchanged with a friend at the five-and-dime for a handful of cherry bombs. A self-taught musician, he was heavily influenced by rock and roll. At the age of fifteen he started his first band, the Continentals.
Around that time, he met Bernie Leadon, who later became one of the founding members of the Eagles. Leadon replaced Stephen Stills in the Continentals, which eventually changed its name to the Maundy Quintet. Felder and Leadon both attended Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Florida. In the 1967 Gainesville High School yearbook, the Maundy Quintet is pictured next to another Gainesville High student and his early band: Tom Petty and the Epics. Felder gave Petty guitar lessons at a local music shop for about 18 months, at which time Felder also learned how to play slide guitar from Duane Allman. The Maundy Quintet recorded and released a 45 rpm single on the Tampa-based Paris Tower label in 1967, which received airplay in north-central Florida.
After the Maundy Quintet broke up, Felder went to Manhattan, New York City with a band called Flow, which released a self-titled improvisational rock fusion album in 1970. The 1970 Flow album has the distinction of being among the very first issued on the newly independent CTI Records label, founded by noted jazz producer Creed Taylor. While in New York, Felder improved his mastery of improvisation on the guitar and learned various styles.
After Flow broke up, Felder moved to Boston, where he got a job in a recording studio. There, through his friendship with Leadon, he met the rest of the Eagles in 1972 while they were on their first tour. In 1973, Felder moved to Los Angeles where he was hired as guitar player for a tour by David Blue, replacing David Lindley who was touring with Crosby & Nash. He helped Blue put together a tour, during which they opened at a few Crosby and Nash shows in November 1973 and for Neil Young at the opening of the Roxy Theatre. Once again, Felder replaced Lindley, this time in Crosby & Nash's band when Lindley fell ill. He would also jam from time to time with the Eagles in their rehearsal space. In 1974 he featured on the Michael Dinner album The Great Pretender.
In early January 1974, Felder was called by the Eagles to add slide guitar to their song "Good Day in Hell" and some guitar licks to "Already Gone". The following day he was invited to join the band. The band started moving away from their initial country rock style in the direction of rock. On the band's fourth album, One of These Nights, Felder sang lead vocal on the song "Visions" (the only song to have him singing lead), which he co-wrote with Don Henley, and arranged the title track's distinctive guitar solo and bass line. After founding member Bernie Leadon quit in 1975 following the tour to support the album, Joe Walsh joined the band. Felder had previously jammed with fellow guitar player Walsh while Leadon was still a member of the Eagles, and together as dual guitar leads they would eventually become one of rock music's most memorable onstage partnerships. Felder also doubled on banjo, mandolin and pedal steel guitar on future tours, all of which were previously handled by Leadon.
The first album the Eagles released after the lineup change was Hotel California, which became a major international bestseller. Felder submitted "16 or 17 tracks" that resulted in the songs "Victim of Love" and the album's title track, "Hotel California". The latter would become the band's most successful recording. However, friction arose during the recording sessions when Felder insisted on singing the lead vocals on "Victim of Love" after claiming that he had been promised the lead vocal, but Henley has denied that any promises were made and despite a desire to write and sing more songs, Felder was outvoted by both Henley and Glenn Frey. According to Henley, Felder asking to sing "Victim of Love" is the equivalent of Henley asking to play lead guitar on "Hotel California" and they did let Felder have a turn at recording the lead vocals, but nobody was satisfied with the results, so band manager Irving Azoff took Felder out for a meal while Henley erased Felder's lead vocal and replaced it with his own lead vocals for the final release. According to Walsh, Felder never forgave them for the snub and Felder said it was initially a bitter pill to swallow because he believed that Henley had stolen the song from him, but he has since said that there is no way to argue with his lead vocal compared to that of Henley. He would never again sing any subsequent lead vocals for the rest of his tenure in the band.
After the release of Hotel California and the tour that followed, the Eagles found themselves under tremendous pressure to repeat this success and tensions were exacerbated by alcohol, cocaine and other mind-altering substances. Bassist Randy Meisner quit the band after the tour due to exhaustion and he was replaced by former Poco bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who had also replaced him in that band. Nevertheless, the fighting did not end with the addition of the mild-mannered Schmit, but rather it intensified during the recording of The Long Run, which took a staggering 18 months to complete, and Felder and Frey were especially hostile to each other; despite respecting each other's musical abilities, they did not get along personally and this led to animosity and minor physical fights. Viewing Henley and Frey as too controlling and arrogant, Felder sarcastically called them "the Gods" and believed that they did not treat him respectfully. In addition, he was also dissatisfied with not getting enough of his music onto the records and felt like nothing more than a glorified sideman, but this discontent would manifest not just in recording sessions, but also to the extent of ensuring he got as big a hotel suite as everyone else on tour.
According to Henley, Felder attempted to gain more control by co-opting Walsh so frequently that it was the pair up against himself and Frey when the band was dividing into factions and even Henley and Frey began to have their differences, thus causing the band to break up.
At a concert in Long Beach, California for Senator Alan Cranston on July 31st, 1980, known as the "Long Night at Wrong Beach", things hit breaking point when the animosity between Felder and Frey boiled over before the show began after Felder said, "You're welcome – I guess" to Cranston and his wife, thus offending Frey. He angrily confronted Felder and the pair began to threaten beatings throughout the show. Felder recalls Frey telling him during "Best of My Love," "I'm gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage." After the concert, Felder smashed, according to Frey, "his cheapest guitar". The Eagles disbanded shortly thereafter.
Following the 1980 breakup of the Eagles, Felder focused more on his family but also embarked on a solo career, concentrating on film composition and session work. He worked on the Bee Gees' 1981 album Living Eyes as a session guitarist. Through his association with Bee Gees' producer Albhy Galuten, Felder also made session appearances on albums by artists as diverse as Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Andy Gibb. During this time, he also contributed guitar work to Stevie Nicks' first two solo albums.
Among his musical film credits in the 1980s are two songs on the soundtrack to the 1981 animated cult film Heavy Metal entitled "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)" (with former bandmates Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit contributing backing vocals) and "All of You" – with Jefferson Starship's Mickey Thomas as backing vocalist, as well as the title track "Wild Life" from the 1985 motion picture adaptation of Neil Simon's The Sluggers Wife. He also penned the song "She's Got A Part of Me" from the soundtrack to the 1985 romantic comedy Secret Admirer.
Felder's television credits include FTV, a musical comedy show which he hosted from 1985–1986, and Galaxy High, the 1986 CBS cartoon series for which he scored and performed all of the music, including the series' catchy theme song.
In 1983, Felder released his first solo album entitled Airborne. The album's single "Never Surrender," co-written with Kenny Loggins, was a minor hit, having also appeared on the soundtrack to the popular motion picture teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Nearly three decades later, on October 9, 2012, his second solo album Road to Forever was released, with "Fall from the Grace of Love" as the lead single, a song that featured the harmony vocals of Crosby & Nash.
Felder is known for his performances using the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson EDS-1275 electric guitars. This prompted the Gibson Guitar Corporation to name two re-issues after him in 2010, the "Don Felder Hotel California 1959 Les Paul" and the "Don Felder Hotel California EDS-1275". Felder himself is an avid guitar collector, having amassed close to 300 models since childhood.
Sparked by the success of the tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, the Eagles (including Felder) regrouped 14 years later for a concert aired on MTV, which resulted in a new album Hell Freezes Over in 1994. For the live MTV performance, the band's signature song "Hotel California" was rearranged into an acoustic version and Felder kicked off the set by performing it with a new, flamenco-style intro.
Felder performed (with all current and former band members) the hits "Take It Easy" and "Hotel California" at the band's 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Manhattan, New York City. He continued as a member of the Eagles until 2001.
On February 6, 2001, Felder was fired from the Eagles. He responded by filing two lawsuits alleging wrongful termination, breach of implied-in-fact contract, and breach of fiduciary duty, reportedly seeking $50 million in damages. Felder alleged that from the 1994 Hell Freezes Over tour onward, Henley and Frey had "insisted that they each receive a higher percentage of the band's profits," whereas the money had previously been split in five equal portions. Felder also accused them of coercing him into signing an agreement under which Henley and Frey would receive three times more of the Selected Works: 1972–1999 proceeds than would Felder. This box set, released in November 2000, has sold approximately 267,000 copies and earned over $16 million.
Henley and Frey then countersued Felder for breach of contract, alleging that Felder had written and attempted to sell the rights to a "tell-all" book. Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles (1974–2001) was published in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2007. The American edition was published by John Wiley & Sons on April 28, 2008, with Felder embarking on a publicity campaign.
On January 23, 2002, the Los Angeles County Court consolidated the two complaints and on May 8, 2007, the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Despite the settlement, Felder has since filed subsequent lawsuits against the Eagles.
Felder's autobiography Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles (1974–2001) was published in early 2008. The book allowed Felder to tell his life story, describe his relationships with Glenn Frey and Don Henley, and to relate his own version of his termination from the band in 2001. In an interview done on April 27, 2008 with Jim Farber of the New York Daily News, Felder is quoted as saying that he "wasn't out to hang people's heads for the whole community to see, that wasn't the point of the book. The point was to tell my story."
In a 2008 interview with Howard Stern, Felder affirmed that he remains friends with fellow former members of the Eagles Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. When asked if he still had any contact with Frey or Henley, Felder stated that the only replies he gets are from their respective attorneys.
When the Eagles did their History of the Eagles Tour to coincide with their two-part documentary, it was criticized by Felder for being incomplete. He did not participate in the associated tour.
Since 2005 Felder has been touring with his own band, the Don Felder Band. In 2014, they toured with rock bands Styx and Foreigner. In 2017 Felder toured the US with Styx and REO Speedwagon.
In 2016, the day after Frey's death, Felder told the Associated Press that he felt an "unbelievable sorrow" when he learned about Frey's death. "I had always hoped somewhere along the line, he and I would have dinner together, talking about old times and letting it go with a handshake and a hug."
Studio albumsOn the Border (1974)
One of These Nights (1975)
Hotel California (1976)
The Long Run (1979)
Live albumsEagles Live (1980)
Hell Freezes Over (1994)
Compilation albumsTheir Greatest Hits (1971–1975) (1976)
Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)
Selected Works: 1972–1999 (2000)
The Very Best Of (2003)
Road to Forever (2012)
Heavy Metal: Music from the Motion Picture (1981)
Track 6: "Heavy Metal (Takin' A Ride)" (#43 on the Billboard Hot 100)
Track 14: "All of You"
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Music From the Motion Picture (1982)
Track 10: "Never Surrender" (written by Don Felder and Kenny Loggins)
The Slugger's Wife Soundtrack (1985)
Track 10: "Wild Life"
Secret Admirer Soundtrack (1985)
Track 4: "She's Got A Part of Me"
Nice Dreams Soundtrack (1985)
Track 4: "A Walk in the Garden"
"Visions" from One of These Nights (Don Felder & Don Henley)
"Too Many Hands" from One of These Nights (Felder & Randy Meisner)
"Victim of Love" from Hotel California (Felder, Henley, Glenn Frey, and J. D. Souther)
"Hotel California" from Hotel California (Felder, Henley, and Frey)
"The Disco Strangler" from The Long Run (Felder, Henley and Frey)
"Those Shoes" from The Long Run (Felder, Henley and Frey)
"Visions" from One of These Nights