Florida might be a place of wonders, but it also is a rock haven. You see, this isn’t your typical Florida news. When Duane Allman picked his guitar and started to play slide guitar like no one ever had, as Don Felder puts it, it became apparent that the sunshine state would leave its mark on the rock scene.
A small town named Gainesville had plenty of young musicians who wanted to prove themselves nationally, and some would get the chance to become cult figures. However, it wasn’t always easy for these young musicians to receive recognition, and before paving the way to success, they had to do anything to make a living.
So, when Don Felder started to work in a local music store and teach guitar and other instruments, he had one goal; to make it to the rock scene. However, he wasn’t the only one with these goals as one day, a blonde kid walked into the store and asked Felder to teach him the guitar; well, it was none other than Tom Petty.
Felder discussed his guitar playing with Gibson in 2011 when the matter came to his roots as a Florida native. Don had the chance to meet and become friends with many musicians, from Duane Allman to Stephen Stills, but one particular name stood out: Tom Petty, who the guitarist claimed to have given guitar lessons.
“Yes, I did,” said Felder as he answered if he had taught Petty the guitar. “I was working in that music store in Gainesville, and like I said, the only way I had to make money was after school; I would teach guitar in this music store. One day this kind of scrawny, scraggly blond-haired kid came in and wanted guitar lessons. I started teaching him a guitar, and we became friends, and I went over to his house a couple of times.”
He continued, “He had actually set up a microphone in one of the rooms in his house, and he was playing bass in this little band. He wanted to learn guitar so he could play guitar instead of just bass in the band. So I went over to his house and was hanging around, and he would play songs. Then I tried to help this band called the Rucker Brothers, which Tommy played bass in, and they had two guitar players named Rodney and Ricky Rucker.”
Felder also explained how he had helped establish the band’s sound. “It was a little bit of a train wreck because the two guitar players didn’t know how one should take a step back while the other takes the floor, and one would play rhythm, and one would play lead. They were just both kind of trashing away, so I organized and arranged some of their songs a little bit, so they made a little more sense that way.”
The rocker would later watch Petty’s former band play. He recalled, “I went to a few of their shows and just kind of hung around. It was a very small town, and between Tommy and his band, the Rucker Brothers, and later Stephen Stills and I had a band. Then Stephen left, and Bernie Leadon arrived four or five months after his departure. Bernie kind of stepped into Stephen’s spot playing guitar and singing.”
“The Allman Brothers were there during the school year and on weekends playing fraternity parties,” Don Felder added. “During the summer, the only place to work was over on Daytona Beach, so all the bands from Gainesville would go over and work off the strip on Daytona Beach or a dance club or off of the pier. So everybody knew everybody.”
The rock community of Gainesville supported one another, which helped them play gigs together. So, maybe it’s no surprise that Petty walked into a music store where Don Felder taught guitar and helped the singer shape his sound. However, we might also make a note that Tom, later on, claimed that Felder didn’t teach him guitar but taught him the piano. Still, Don seems to have influenced Petty’s music.