Skip to main content

Joe Walsh on Hotel California's iconic leads: "The solos were not planned – they were spontaneous"

Don Felder (left) and Joe Walsh perform with the Eagles in 1977
(Image credit: Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Earlier this year, Eagles guitar maestro Joe Walsh teamed up with PRS to create a new signature Limited Edition McCarty 594 Singlecut electric guitar.

Though that guitar served as the primary catalyst for Walsh joining Paul Reed Smith for a recent episode of the master luthier's Long Distance YouTube series, the two ended up discussing a number of other topics, including the legendary solos to the Eagles' 1976 mega-hit, Hotel California.

Now, if you've spent more than, say, 15 minutes listening to classic rock radio in your life, Hotel California needs no introduction. The song is approaching a billion streams on Spotify, and its climactic dual guitar break – courtesy of Walsh and Don Felder – was ranked by Guitar World readers as the 5th greatest guitar solo of all time earlier this year.

As memorable as those solos are though, they were not, as it turns out, composed beforehand. 

When asked by Smith, "How much of the solos in Hotel California were thought of ahead of time and how much of it was in the moment, playing melodic, when the tape machine was running?" Walsh revealed that the process of their creation was a fairly spontaneous one.

"Well, Don Felder and I sat down and we worked all the descending lines," Walsh said. "After the basic track was done and Don [Henley] had sung it, it was our turn.

"We agreed on who was gonna play when at the end at the big solo, and we tried to complement each other and build it up to the very last part. 

"So the solos were not planned, they were spontaneous playing off of each other," he continued. "We were really good at that, and the rest of the song was kind of planned out, we put those descending lines on because that was the first set of overdubs."

Smith went on to share an anecdote about how he – after seeing Felder perform live recently – went backstage to personally compliment Felder on his playing, to which Walsh added, "He's brilliant. Before I joined the Eagles, there's a body of lead guitar that speaks for itself. He's brilliant, he was a joy to play with."

The PRS founder went on to ask Walsh about how he approaches soloing in a live setting in general, and whether he tries to capture "the feel and the energy of what happened in the studio" onstage. Walsh said:

"I think so. I like to do that but I like to leave spaces so it's different every night. I like to improvise. In Rocky Mountain Way, I leave everybody to, 'Play whatever you want, just make sure I like it,' that's my instructions.

"Those songs, that was a long time ago, and we tried to play it like the record first, and probably later, a couple of years later, we took more and more liberties."

Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at guitarworld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.