Giveaways January 2015

January 15
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Interview: Don Felder - Airborne Again

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Interview: Don Felder - Airborne Again

You play a lot of slide on this album, not only on “Fall from the Grace of Love,” as you mentioned, but “Money,” “Someday,” and the melodic solo in “Heal Me.” Do you play in open tunings, in standard tuning, or a mix of both?
Both. And which tuning I use really depends on the song. I know several different tunings, but for electric slide guitar, I typically play in standard tuning, either at regular pitch or tuned down a half-step to Eb, or open-E tuning [E–B–E–G#–B–E], again at standard pitch or down a half-step. When I tune down, I’ll use heavier strings, like a set of .011s. I probably have a half-dozen guitars that are set up just for slide, where the action is a little higher and the guitar has a slightly higher nut so the slide doesn’t rattle on the frets.

I like to play slide—in fact that was what brought me into the Eagles. They wanted somebody to play slide guitar on “Good Day in Hell,” so the producer hired me for the session. I went in and played it live with the rhythm section. The next day they called me back and asked me to join the band. Slide has always been more of my forte than just playing regular flatpick guitar. I enjoy playing slide and it’s not something you hear a whole lot on the radio these days.

What draws you to slide?

It has a reminiscent quality about it, you know? Also, with a slide you can move into a note from above or below in creative ways. You can bend a note a minor third—a major third at the most—but it’s tough to go beyond that, whereas with a slide, it’s a very fluid approach. It’s like watercolors, when you let the colors just flow together. You can smear the sound, as opposed to drawing a hard line with a fret.

Is it true you learned slide from Duane Allman?

I like to say I stole most everything I know about slide guitar from Duane. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. [Laughs.]

We all grew up in Gainesville, Florida—Duane and Gregg, me, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills—and we all had little bands there together. Stills and I were in a band called The Continentals when we were 15, Duane and Gregg had a band called the Allman Joys, and Petty had a band called the Rucker Brothers—this was before Mudcrutch. We all played these teen dances and fraternity parties, and during the summer we’d go over to the Daytona Beach area where they had a bunch of dance clubs on the pier, as well as bars where you could lie about your age and they’d let you play.

So during the summer, we’d all work around Daytona Beach. In our senior year and shortly thereafter, Duane and Gregg, and me and [original Eagles lead guitarist] Bernie Leadon wound up being really close friends. We’d finish our gigs at 1:00 a.m. or so and then go to a greasy little deli or cafe and eat scrambled eggs, tell stories, and just goof around and hang out together.

Duane’s mother lived in Daytona and one night we went over to her house and he was sitting on the floor playing slide guitar. I said, “You’ve got to show me how to do that!” So he showed me a tuning and some basics. He had such an amazing blues feel, but also such dexterity. Most people play kind of Neanderthal slide, but he had unbelievable precision. Every time I heard him play in a club or in a battle of the bands against my band—which his group always won, by the way—I was always so impressed with what a great slide player he was. So like I said, I stole everything I could from him, although if you listen to me playing slide guitar and you listen to Duane, we don’t sound like the same guy.

Presumably that’s intentional?

It was deliberate. Any time I heard players I really liked, I tried to learn how they were doing it, not exactly what they’re doing. I’ve done that with all the guitarists I’ve studied from the time I first started playing. There was B.B. King, then Chet Atkins, then Hendrix. I didn’t want to emulate them. What I wanted to know was the fingering and vibrato. I’m self-taught and just learned by ear, so I got really good at being able to hear somebody do something once or twice and replicate it.

Did you also adopt Allman’s Coricidin bottle as a slide?

No, I use a metal slide—sometimes chrome, sometimes brass. I don’t know why, but I’m just more attracted to the tone of a metal slide versus a glass slide. On this album I used a chrome Dunlop slide on most everything.

Are there other slide players who inspire you?

A few years ago I was up in Calgary doing an interview at a radio station, and the lady who was interviewing me said, “When we’re done, I’ve got to let you hear my brother play slide guitar.” So after the interview she put on this CD and it was just monstrous—the most unbelievable clean technique I’ve ever heard anybody use on slide. His name is Kirk Lorange, and he lives in Australia. He sat in with me about four years ago and I was so impressed with his playing. He has videos on YouTube—you really have to check him out.

Let’s talk about some specific parts and solos on the new album. In “Girls in Black,” for example, it sounds like you’re playing a Les Paul. What was the guitar and amp?

The guitar was the original ’59 Les Paul I used in the Eagles on “Hotel California” and “One of These Nights.” I played it through a Lil’ Elvis, a 12-watt combo made by 65amps. I go to their shop to play with those guys and they work on my old tweed Deluxes. One day they had this prototype amp set up, and they said, “You’ve got to hear this.” So I plugged in and after a few minutes said, “This is a great sounding amp, I want it.” And they said, “Okay, we’ll make you one.” And I said, “No, I want this one.” [Laughs.] That’s what you’re hearing—a Lil’ Elvis prototype that came right off the workbench. The inputs and outputs are labeled in black felt marker.

Is that a flanger in your solo on “Wash Away”?

[Laughs uproariously.] That’s so funny! Actually, that’s a solo I wrote and put together in my home studio. When I was working on “Wash Away,” Tommy Shaw came over to help me write some lyrics, and he brought a guitar and a tiny Roland amp called a Micro Cube. While I was writing the solo for “Wash Away,” I took my vocal mic—a Blue Bottle large diaphragm mic—and just pushed it down in front of the Micro Cube. I played the solo on a ’95 Music Man Luke because it has a nice joy bar. This was a thumbnail, so I took a couple of passes, put some harmonies on it, and said, “Okay, when we get to the studio we’ll do this again for real.” But later when I played it back to the guys in the studio, they said, “That’s a great tone. How did you get it?” So we kept the solo.

It’s funny. Sometimes you get better results in the studio from a smaller amp, as opposed to trying to capture a big stack. Like when the Eagles recorded “Victim of Love,” I played a Strat through one little pedal into a tweed Champ with an 8" speaker—that was it. It sounds like a big Marshall stack because we put a mic right up on it.

How did you create those violin-like parts in “I Believe in You”?

I used an EBow and my old black Gretsch Tennessean through an old Vox AC30 that I just love. That Gretsch used to be orange, but I had it repainted black in the middle or late ’70s. I love the tone of that guitar, and onstage with the Eagles I used it on “Wasted Time” and “Desperado.” I find an EBow sounds more cello- or string-like when you play a hollowbody, instead of a solidbody. You get more resonance from the pickups.

It sounds like you put a lot of thought and effort into getting guitar sounds on this album.
I paid a lot of attention to this on Road to Forever because I wanted to be able to clearly hear each part. In the studio and onstage with the Eagles, there were some songs where we had three guitars playing simultaneously. When you have that many guitarists playing together, you need to clearly segregate each tonality or otherwise it just turns into this big wall of mud. So you learn to vary the guitars—whether it’s a Tele or a Strat or a Gretsch or a Les Paul—and use different size amps to give each voice its own character.

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