How Don Henley And Glenn Frey Turned A ‘Mexican Reggae’ Into ‘Hotel California,’ Former Eagles Guitarist Recalls

The Eagles’ former lead guitarist Don Felder recently opened up about the band’s monumental hit track, ‘Hotel California’ during an interview with Louder Sound. According to Felder, the timeless rock anthem was based on one of his demo songs that sound like a Mexican reggae, as the drummer and co-lead vocalist Don Henley referred to it.

‘Hotel California’ is the title track from the Eagles’ eponymous fifth studio album and was released as a single on February 22, 1977. The monumental track was written by lead guitarists Don Felder, Don Henley, and frontman Glenn Frey. The song is widely considered the most famous recording released by the band and its guitar coda is often regarded as one of the best guitar solos of all time.

The track’s immense success is undeniable as it was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978 mainly thanks to its guitar solo as well as its capturing lyrics that have been given various interpretations by fans and critics. The meaning behind the brilliant lyrics of the track was described by the band members as their interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.

During a recent interview, Don Felder, one of the lyricists for ‘Hotel California,’ opened up about the background of the iconic track and revealed that he wrote numerous demo songs for the record based on an approach that was recommended by his former bandmate Bernie Leadon. His method was to write songs that were similar to ‘musical beds’ for both Don and Glenn so that the two would build the track upon those bases.

Initially, ‘Hotel California’ was just another track for the album and former lead guitarist of the Eagles didn’t see the track as the best song out of others. However, Don Henley loved the track and likened it to a ‘Mexican reggae.‘ Eventually, Glenn Frey who wrote most of the band’s material wrote the one-of-a-kind lyrics for the track and the guitar solo was based on Felder’s solo.

During the interview with Louder Sound, Don Felder revealed:

“When I first joined the band, my high school bandmate Bernie Leadon told me, ‘If you want to write songs with Don and Glenn, just make musical beds for them, don’t try to give them full songs with lyrics, because that’s their job.’ So ahead of making what turned out to be the Hotel California album, I wrote 15 or 16 demo songs, based on that approach.

Two of them ended up on the record, one of which was ‘Victim Of Love,’ and the other which became the title track. Truthfully, at the time, ‘Hotel California‘ was just another song on the cassette. I didn’t necessarily think it was the best song, but Don called me up after a few days living with the music and said, ‘I really like that one that sounds like Mexican reggae,’ and I knew which one he meant.”

He continued:

“So we started kicking around ideas for it. Glenn came up with the original concept of ‘Hotel California,’ and then Henley sat down and wrote those fantastic lyrics. His lyrics are like little photographs, which, much like reading a book rather than watching a movie, allows you to draw pictures in your mind. ‘On a dark desert highway,’ that’s five words, but it already puts a picture in your head: ‘Cold wind in my hair,’ you can feel it, you can see it.

The guitar solo was straight from my demo. Joe Walsh and I had played together on ‘You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind,’ before he joined the Eagles, and so I wanted to write something that would incorporate how he and I played together. It was just a guide solo, but by the time we got to make the Hotel California record, Don Henley had been living with that music for over a year, and he wanted the solo done note-for-note, so the solo on the song is identical to what was on the demo.”

You can listen to the live version of ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles below.