Listening to Don Felder casually describe his years as a fledgling teenage musician in the early 1960s, it becomes immediately apparent there really is something to that whole six degrees of separation thing.
Felder politely disagrees.
“I think there’s more like two or three degrees,” he says with a big laugh.
He’s probably right. Long before he joined the Eagles in 1974, Felder and a friend named Stephen from his neighborhood in Gainesville, Fla., began playing guitar together. They formed a band called the Continentals and then changed the name to the Maundy Quintet because they “thought it sounded more English,” and it was smack in the middle of the British invasion.
They landed gigs playing fraternity parties, “little ladies” dances and an occasional performance on one of the piers in nearby Daytona Beach.
Pretty soon, Felder and his buddy Stephen found themselves playing with or competing against bands that featured other kids growing up in Central Florida. Felder remembers guys such as Greg and Duane and a scrawny, blonde-headed boy with buck teeth named Tommy who kept pestering Felder for guitar lessons.
Last names? Felder still remembers them. Only they weren’t as iconic then as they are today. Stephen’s last name was Stills. Greg and Duane? They were the Allman brothers. And that kid who kept bugging Felder for lesson? He grew up to become Tom Petty who formed a little band called the Heartbreakers.
“We were just a bunch of kids playing in bands and challenging one another. Who was gonna be the best (band), who was gonna be the best guitar player, who was gonna win the battle of the bands,” Felder remembers during a phone call from his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“It was an interesting time growing up, that’s for sure,” Felder adds in a classic understatement, adding that the Allmans almost always won the battle of the bands contests.
Although it was Eagles leaders Glenn Frey and Don Henley who brought Felder into their three-year-old band in 1974, Felder says it was actually Duane Allman who deserves the initial credit. He taught Felder how to play slide guitar, and that was the skill Frey and Henley were looking for when they brought Felder into the fold.
“(Allman) was the first guy I’d seen play electric slide guitar, and we were sitting on the floor of his mom’s house and I said, ‘You have to show me how to do that,’” Felder says. “And he showed me the tuning and the basic set ups and moves and positions, so every time we were together over at his mom’s house I’d get my ‘Duane lesson.’”
Felder was also a longtime friend of fellow central Floridian Bernie Leadon, another founding member of the Eagles. Leadon also deserves some of the credit for Felder’s association with the best-selling group, because he talked Felder into moving from Boston to Los Angeles.
Once Felder made the cross-country move, he began hanging out with Leadon, Frey, Henley and the rest of the band. The band hired him to play slide guitar on one song during a recording session and then invited him to join the group.
When the band split up in 1981, Felder released a solo album, then became a soccer dad to his kids — even became a commissioner of the Malibu Little League — to make up for the 10 years he was barely at home because he was touring with the Eagles. To keep his hands in the music business, though, he did scores for films and television shows.
The Eagles reunited in 1994, but Felder was unceremoniously fired by Frey and Henley in 2001 for reasons that are still conflicting. But one thing that’s very clear, is that lawsuits ensued, a private settlement was reached, the Eagles went their way and Felder went his.
Felder has tried over the years to reach out to Henley and Frey just to shake hands and put the past behind them. He’s reminded them they shared something very special for a lot of years. But his former bandmates refuse to answer his emails.
“The only ones I ever hear from are their lawyers,” Felder says.
In 2008, he wrote a tell-all book “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)” and in 2012 released his second solo album “Road To Forever.”
Today, he tours with “an amazing band of guys” and performs an Eagles-heavy set — minus the heavy Eagles drama — that includes classics such as “Witchy Woman,” “Heartache Tonight,” “The Long Run,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Take It Easy” and “Hotel California,” which Felder co-wrote with Henley and Frey.
Felder will bring those songs, plus cuts from his solo album, to Caesars Atlantic City when he plays at Circus Maximus Theater 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. This won’t be his first time on the Boardwalk.
He’s performed here with the Eagles and with other bands such as Foreigner and Styx. He says Atlantic City reminds him of the beginning of his career working the clubs and piers of Daytona Beach, minus the palm trees.
“I love playing in Atlantic City, it’s such a great party town,” he says with unbridled enthusiasm. “When it’s rocking, no place works better than that for me.”
IF YOU GO:
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9
WHERE: Circus Maximus Theater, Caesars Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: $35, $45 and $55, available through Ticketmaster.com or 1-800-736-1420.
MORE INFO: DonFelder.com