Born on September 21st, 1947, it’s happy birthday to Don Felder.
Don’s autobiography, The Eagles Heaven and Hell, pretty much lays out the story of how the band Flow came to record for CTI; how Flow were one of the bands on the forefront of Jazz rock and came to release on of the first albums on the independent CTI label. Creed Taylor pursued jazz rock through the early 70’s, with efforts such as Allan Holdsworth’s Velvet Darkness and jazz rock would evolve into Jazz Fusion.
Felder was born and grew up in Gainsville, Florida. From his early teens, he was involved in the local garage band scene, and had been teaching guitar. It was also where he met his first love, Susan Pickersgill, for whom ultimately he would leave Flow and CTI behind. Felder himself admits
I’d rarely been out of Florida – Only a few childhood car trips to Oklahoma and Washington and to a couple of gigs in New York – but now I travelled to Boston [to see Susan] whenever I could catching a bus or hitching a ride with Bill [Susan’s brother] whenever he was going home. Once, I even scraped together enough money to fly there. It was my first time in an airplane, a DC-3 tail dragger, and it seemed like a miracle to be flying over America instead of driving. Susan and I had a great time in Massachusetts, picking up where we’d left off, until I had to fly home again. This time, the parting seemed even harder.The Eagles Heaven and Hell – Don Felder, Chapter-54, Page 51-52
With that as a backdrop, and Felder’s friend Barry Scurran, who had just returned from New York addicted to Jazz, which he played endlessly, Felder started studying jazz, especially Sonny Rollins and Django Reihardt. One day, Felder was listening to Mel Bay, while Barry read a copy of Village Voice out loud that he’d received in the mail.
Oh, my God, Miles Davis is playing at the Village Gate tomorrow nightThe Eagles Heaven and Hell – Don Felder, Chapter-54, Page 56
Felder admitted to having heard of Davis, but never heard him play. With that they loaded up Barrys VW and drove sixteen hours to Manhattan. They stayed at a motel, showered, jumped in a cab and arrived at the Village Gate and watched Miles Davis, a seventeen year old, Tony Williams on drums, Herbie Hancock on piano, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, and Ron Carter on bass. Felder described the gig as
one of the most formative experiences of my lifeThe Eagles Heaven and Hell – Don Felder, Chapter-54, Page 56
Through the local fraternity circuit and friends, Felder was approached to join a young band called Flow. Felder says that Flow were what his father would have called a “hippie band”, they specialized in free-form jazz-rock. The band had some key friends, the road managers for the band The Young Rascals. At that time, the Rascals had a hit with Good Lovin’ and had appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
After the gig, Taylor offered Flow a contract for $5,000. The photograph in the gallery is unique for many reasons, from Cash Box magazine, May 16th 1970, it features Flow, and Creed Taylor, looking somewhat uncomfortable, along with CTI Director of Sales and Marketing, Vic Chirumbolo(seated holding the Flow album). It’s one of the few publicity photographs I’ve found that Creed is actually in with the band. Having been unable to find a niche between the Young Rascals and jazz, as it existed in 1970, Felder was growing home sick in upstate New York, and reached out to Susan’s mother, to contact Susan again.
Come late 1968, Flow were set for their debut performance in New York, through the Rascals tour managers Mike and John. The gig was set for the Fillmore East. They’d invited record company executives, including Creed Taylor, who Felder described as “the man” and “middle aged, wore a sued jacket with patches on the sleeves and exuded clam.” (At the time, Creed would have been 39).
Felder went to see Susan a few weeks later on Cape Cod; After more trips back and forth between upstate New York and Boston, Felder called Creed Taylor
“Hey, Creed, It’s Don Felder, of Flow. I just want to tell you that I’ve decided to quit the band. It’s not really working for me, and I need to leave.”
Creed didn’t seem at all surprised and he understood. “where are you headed?” Creed asked.The Eagles Heaven and Hell – Don Felder, Chapter-54, Page 68
“Boston. My girlfriend works at Harvard.”
“Great Taylor replied, I know some people in Boston. In fact, I’m on the board at the Berklee College of Music. If you want, I’ll call them and see if I can get you in.”
It was late 1970, the Flow album was out, Woodstock had happened, Hendrix and Joplin, whom Felder had seen at Woodstock, had died of drug related causes, the Beatles had broken up; Felder needed to move on. After moving to a small apartment in Boston, Felder met Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac who had also just arrived in Boston, and offered Green slept in Felder’s couch for a few days.
Felder and Susan were married on April 23, 1971. Glenn Fry of the Eagles called Don Felder, in January 1974 to join the band that he’d previously jammed backstage with. The rest is history.
I’ll cover more about the band Flow and the album Flow in a future post. In the short term, if you are interested in the music business, and/or Don Felder and the Eagles, the following Bloomberg Business podcast is a good listen.
Happy Birthday Don Felder, unlikely Jazz fusion guitarist.