Music fans around the world are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the three-day rock and roll festival that helped define a generation. Woodstock introduced American audiences to Jimi Hendrix, perhaps still the ultimate guitar god, and Carlos Santana, who was just beginning his rise as a guitar legend.
Not far from the stage where Hendrix played Star Spangled Banner and entered a stratosphere occupied by only a few guitarist, a young man who grew on a gravel road in Gainesville, Fla., soaked it all in. By the time he and a friend camped out in a Travelall truck with one mattress, a cooler of drinks and snacks and a couple jugs of water near the Woodstock stage, Don Felder, not quite 22 years old, had already been in a few bands with high school friends Stephen Stills and Bernie Leadon. He also had given guitar lessons for wannabe musicians while working at a Gainesville music store. Among those students was a kid named Tom Petty.
Stills, Leadon, Petty. Then at Woodstock came Hendrix, Santana, Janis, the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, The Who, Country Joe, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, to name a few.
“It was so overwhelming for three days to have so many brilliant artists on the stage… one after another after another,’’ the former Eagles guitarist told me. “It not only exploded my head musically, but it was the largest explosion of rock music in modern time. I think it resonated all over the world and has impacted people all the way to today.’’
That impact is all over Felder’s new album, “American Rock and Roll,’’ featuring such rock icons as Slash, Joe Satriani, Mick Fleetwood, Sammy Hagar, Peter Frampton, Bob Weir and Richie Sambora. Weir, a co-founder of the Grateful Dead, helps bring the album full circle.
“I think that for most part, people who write, whether it’s for a screenplay, a book or music, they have to write about the life experiences they have lived,’’ Felder said.
Felder accomplishes that with American Rock and Roll – this third solo album that features 11 songs that run the gamut from high-energy rockers to ballads. The hard-charging title track, featuring an insane guitar solo from Slash, is an homage to those Woodstock performers (“Smoke and acid in our heads. Everybody tripping to the Grateful Dead’’), as well as a musical road map, that chronicles the past 50 years of Felder’s career in American rock and roll.
Felder, of course, will forever be best known as the man who co-wrote “Hotel California’’ while with The Eagles. A bit of “Hotel California’’ can be heard in “Little Latin Lover.’’ The ballad “Sun,’’ sounds as if it could come directly off an early Eagles album. In fact, that’s exactly where Felder thought it belonged when he played a version for bandmates Glenn Frey and Don Henley in 1974.
“They said, ‘That’s really nice,’ but they weren’t interested in doing ballads. They were looking more at R&B and rock and roll.’’
As musicians, song writers and performers, Frey and Henley were rarely wrong. But they missed on “Sun, which Felder originally wrote to celebrate the first of his first son.
“I re-wrote the lyrics (for “American Rock and Roll’’) so now it’s more of a spiritual piece,’’ said Felder, now the father of four and a grandfather.
Felder, who performed several songs from “American Rock and Roll’’ earlier this month at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame as a member of the Eagles in 1998, but chuckles at the “rock star’’ label.
“I think people have some misconceptions of a ‘rock star’’’ said Felder, who is four songs deep into a new album and planning a 2020 tour. “They expect someone to come on stage drunk or smoking a joint. That’s not me. I practice pilates and do yoga. I try to take care of myself and be respectful of the audience, so I can , I do this at the top of my game for years to come.’’
With “American Rock and Roll,’’ Felder proves he still has plenty of game remaining.