The Eagles rarely had peaceful easy feelings within their ranks, but the most extreme schism widened during sessions for Hotel California in 1976. Felder expressed the desire to sing his composition “Victim of Love,” but his bandmates were less than pleased with his initial takes. “Don Felder, for all of his talents as a guitar player, was not a singer,” Frey said in the band’s authorized 2013 documentary, The History of the Eagles. Henley agreed, saying it “simply did not come up to band standards.” While Felder was at dinner with the group’s manager, Irving Azoff, the rest of the band wiped his vocals and rerecorded it with Henley. Felder never forgot the slight.
The Eagles struggled to follow up the record-breaking success of Hotel California, and sessions for what would become The Long Run dragged on for 18 months. During this time, Felder found himself increasingly at odds with Henley and Frey, sarcastically dubbing them “the Gods.” The resentment reached critical mass on July 31st 1980, the night the band played a benefit concert for California Senator Alan Cranston at Long Beach Arena. Felder, who preferred to steer clear of political causes, was frustrated about having to go along with Henley and Frey’s wishes. When the Senator thanked each musician individually at a pre-show meet-and-greet, Felder replied with a curt: “You’re welcome, Senator … I guess.”
Enraged, Frey laid into Felder as soon as the politician was out of sight, and the fight continued – on-mic – in the middle of the night’s performance. “We’re onstage, and Felder looks back at me and says, ‘Only three more songs till I kick your ass, pal.’ And I’m saying, ‘Great. I can’t wait,'” Frey later recalled. “We’re out there singing ‘Best of My Love,’ but inside both of us are thinking, ‘As soon as this is over, I’m gonna kill him.'”
That was how the Eagles’ story ended until 1994, when they reconvened for Hell Freezes Over, an album, tour and MTV special. The project’s success kicked off a long stream of well-regarded blockbuster tours, but the tenuous peace was disrupted when Felder made waves about the bottom line. Though the band had split their revenue equally back in its Seventies heyday, he now complained that Henley and Frey insisted on a higher percentage for themselves. Henley and Frey didn’t take kindly to having their motives questioned, and fired Felder from the Eagles on February 6th, 2001.
The dismissal set off an avalanche of messy legal proceedings, beginning with Felder filing suits for wrongful termination, breach of contract and fiduciary duty. The lawsuits were eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, but the wounds never healed. When Frey died in January 2016, Felder paid him a warm tribute in the Associated Press. “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.”