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Why Don Felder was fired from the Eagles

Updated on August 26, 2008

He wrote the music for Hotel California and was the Eagles' lead guitarist for years. Why did he get fired?

Maybe you're aware that Don Felder was one of the lead guitarists with the Eagles, although oftentimes even rather big fans of the band aren't familiar with his name. He first appears on the album One of These Nights, and he wrote most of the music for the band's biggest claim to fame -- the song Hotel California. Felder last appeared on the 1994 album Hell Freezes Over. In 2001 he was fired from the band, and we'll probably never know all the details, but it does seem to have centered around one thing -- money.

early band history

Upon joining the band in 1974, Felder was made a financially-equal partner, which put him on the same footing as the original four members -- Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. When Bernie Leadon left in late 1975 and Joe Walsh joined, Walsh, with a strong solo career, apparently had little interest in becoming a full equal partner and wanted to retain his freedom and independence. Henley and Frey, who by now had pretty much taken over the reins of control, seemed to think this was a fine idea, and when Randy Meisner quit, they offered the same sort of deal to replacement Timothy B. Schmit.

Hell Freezes Over

The band broke up in 1980 after their album The Long Run, and Henley and Frey began looking to re-group in 1994 for Hell Freezes Over. Felder apparently was pressured into accepting a lesser role, both in the partnership and financially, and was told to take it or leave it. Realizing he might lose his position in the band at that point or that the duo might abandon the idea of a reunion altogether, he agreed to the new terms.

Hotel California - acoustic version from Hell Freezes Over

the lawsuit

The band toured on and off for years after Hell Freezes Over, and stated they were working on a new album. In 2001, Felder was terminated from the band. He sued for damages, then was countersued by Henley, Frey, and manager Irving Azoff. Felder said that since he originally was hired on as a full partner, he could not be terminated or voted out. Henley and Frey's counterargument was that there was a stipulation in the partnership that any member could be fired for any number of reasons, and the one they pointed to as reason for this termination was "disruption of band activities."

From Felder's point of view, the disruption appeared to be that he had begun questioning the band's finances, complaining that profits were being hidden, and that he deserved more of a share of the take. From the other side, rumors began to surface that Felder was refusing to tour and not showing up for rehearsals, as well as causing problems in the studio.

In his lawsuit, Felder claimed that he had been denied access to the business records relating to the Eagles, which he was entitled to as a partner in Eagles, Ltd. and the other companies that followed. Felder also claims that in early February 2001, he fired his attorney Barry Tyerman on orders from Henley, Frey, and Azoff in order to avoid being terminated from the group. Nevertheless, he was told on February 6 that his employment would be terminated, which became official on April 10. He was replaced by Nashville session veteran Steuart Smith, who continues to work with the Eagles to this day.

Felder's original and amended complaint against Henley, Frey, Azoff and the various companies they created sought damages for "not less than $50 million" for breach of contract, "not less than $50 million" for wrongful termination, and "in excess of $50 million" for breach of fiduciary duty. He also asked for punitive damages "in an amount sufficient to punish" Henley and Frey, as well as Eagles, Ltd. Felder further stated he was owed money from the assorted Eagles business dealings, and a fair market price for his shares in the Eagles-related companies, in addition to attorney's fees and court costs.

The suit went on to say that "the greed of Henley and Frey became more insatiable with each new project." Before Felder's termination, they formed another company to handle the business dealings related to the Eagles boxed set Selected Works: 1972-1999, and this new company excluded Felder, Walsh, and Schmit from an ownership stake. When Felder once again complained, he was sent a letter by Azoff that said he was out of the Eagles.

Felder achieves a settlement

Why did Don Felder wait so long to complain about the inequities of the situation, when he'd gone ahead and signed the agreements previously? One possible factor is by 2001 he was getting divorced, and knew he was going to have to come up with a lot of money for the settlement. This seems to be about the time that he started raising a fuss about the money issues with Eagles Inc.

The lawsuit with the group was finally resolved in Felder's favor with an out-of-court settlement in May of 2007. The amount of the settlement was undisclosed, but is assumed to be substantial.

In the meantime, Felder wrote a book about his experiences with the Eagles, titled Heaven & Hell (in which he refers to Frey and Henley as "The Gods" - and as might be expected, Frey, Henley and filed a lawsuit against Felder to keep the book from ever seeing the light of day -- and nearly succeeded. Heaven and Hell was to be published by Hyperion Books in 2006, but they backed out. The book eventually was published in the United Kingdom in November 2007, and in 2008 in the USA by Wiley.

The Eagles & Don Felder move on

When there are opposing views in a business - and this mega-successful band is certainly a business -- you can either compromise or part company. Neither seemed to be ready to try to find a compromise, although in Felder's book he says that after the termination, he asked to be re-instated and let all be forgotten. But apparently, "The Gods" had had enough of Don Felder.

These days, the Eagles are in the midst of a worldwide concert tour to promote their most recent album, the long-awaited The Long Road Out of Eden.

Don Felder is currently on a book tour, and he also is an avid golfer, is very active in charity work, and you can still catch him playing music solo once in a blue moon.

The last shows he did with the Eagles were the Millennium concerts in 1999.

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