Tom Petty is one of those artists that falls into a category of music in my life that has just always been there. This category also includes: Motown, Beatles, Stones, Doors, Who, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Eagles, etc... Although, with Petty, as is not the case with most of these groups, he is still around making music with (and without) the Heartbreakers, so I have memories of my own about songs when they actually came out. For example, I remember quite vividly (that being an appropriate word) the video to "Don't Come Around Here No More". I have always been such a huge fan of the books Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-glass, and Petty took a great deal of inspiration from it for the video, even going so far as to wear the Mad Hatter's hat himself. Petty's songs are mini stories and each time you listen to them you get something different out of them than before. There are precious few who can do this. Bruce, Dylan, Frey/Henley, Croce, Fogerty. It has become a lost art. Petty was a born storyteller, but being a southerner might have helped a bit.
Petty's grandfather was from Georgia and married a Cherokee woman named Sally. He moved from town to town forced from one job to the next, each worse than the last, due to his marriage. The two would become migrant workers in Florida for a while before finally getting their own plot of land near Reddick, in Marion County. Petty's father (he had a twin sister Pearl), Earl, had a very hard time accepting his heritage and skin color. He really only came alive when he was in the swamp hunting pigs and turkeys and fishing around snakes and gators. He would leave home the first chance he got, to fight during World War II, and settle in Gainesville, which has been described as an extension of Georgia with a University in the middle of it (the University of Florida). He was also determined to marry the fairest woman he could find. Katherine Avery fit the bill. The two met when he was a driver at Eli Witt's Candy and Tobacco. He would go on to be a salesman; he just wouldn't always have something to sell, or be terribly good at it.
According to Earl's world, the only thing Tom managed to do right was to be born blonde. He had no interest in sports, school, fishing, hunting, and when he was older he became interested in art, clothes and wore his hair long and never brought home girls. For a while his parents were worried he was gay. He was dating girls, but Tom kept his home life separate from his social life. This would be a common theme in his life. Tom never had an interest in school, especially high school. If he was interested he would get good grades, like in English class, because he loved the reading and putting sentences together. His mother, of course couldn't understand how he wasn't studying for his other classes, but the truth was, he never studied.
He was interested in the girls he saw at school. He remembers all of them, all the way back to kindergarten, but none of the teachers. One girl, Cindy, he fell very hard for in the seventh grade. She was chased after by all the boys but she did not return his feelings. The crash would be damaging. Petty would say that only now does he realize that he was an overly sensitive child. When it came to emotional pain, it would hurt so much, the pain would be physical. He learned to shut himself off from people to protect himself from being hurt. He would run into Cindy again after graduating High School, at a party and they would hang around for a while, until one night when she took him aside and just told him that it was never going to happen. He says that it was that night that the song "Even the Losers" came from.
Earl was filled with a great deal of anger over life and drank a lot. He would often take his anger out on Tom. Tom's much younger brother, Bruce, who was more dark-skinned, was everything Earl could want in a son. Despite the age difference, the two brothers have always remained close. Tom's mother did her best to protect her son and help him out when she could, until she began to get sick with epilepsy and later cancer.
Tom had an uncle he found out years later, worked in television, and when he was ten, Elvis came to Ocala to film a movie and his uncle arranged for him and the cousins to meet him. It changed his world. Later there would be others, such as the Beatles, to continue what Elvis began. In 1962 he got his first guitar, an almost unplayable Stella, not "much more than a shape to hold, and idea with a strap." It wouldn't just be from television or the radio, though, that Tom would be influenced. The University, while still in the Deep South, had a door that let in students from everywhere come, and town and university would mix. In Gainesville proper, it was a new world, where new music was all around and anyone could, and did, start a band, while a few miles down the road, it was redneck land, and the rules were totally different. He formed his first band, The Sundowners, at the age of fourteen and it was made up of some local kids. They had a gig before they had even practiced together and at that gig, they got another one. It started snowballing from there.
In 1964 Tom and Bernie Leadon and their parents would move into the house practically in Petty's backyard. Tom says that Petty is the only one he understood when he had dinner at their house. Everyone else's accents were too thick. Bernie would join the local group the Continentals, with Don Felder (whom he would later join up with in the Eagles after a stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers), replacing Stephen Stills. The Maundy Quntet would be the result. They would compete in band competitions often against the Allman Brothers who would come over from Georgia. Tom was two years younger than Petty, and though he was already playing elsewhere, the two would end up playing together (Tom would later play in Linda Ronstadt's back-up band for a while, which is fitting as that is where Glenn Frey and Don Henley got their start. Rock and roll is so incestuous). These bands, however, were all "cover bands". At this time, no one played their own music. It did not even occur to anyone to do so. They played the songs as close to the record as they could. It's what the fans wanted to hear, but it's not what would get them a career in music.
This was the late 1960s and the author does mention Petty graduating, how I don't know. Vietnam was going on and boys were being drafted. There was a salesman going around selling tuition to an "art school", he was selling it like it was an opportunity to learn to draw advertising art, or really, an opportunity to keep your kid out of the war. So, Petty went to Tampa to school (mainly because he had girlfriend who lived nearby), but never even saw the campus. His girlfriend, Jan, got him a job at her father's funeral home in St. Petersburg.
When he came home, his old band, the Epics, that he was in with Tom Leadon, was still limping along and he rejoined them on bass. Jim Lenahan, who had been in the Sundowners, would join up when the lead singer, Rodney Rucker would quit. He would be a part of Petty's life for the next forty-five years. This was when the Epics would become Mudcrunch. "Ricky [Rucker] was a huge guy, and he was real drunk that night," says Lenahan. "He needed a singer. He cornered me and was like, 'Hey, you just joined our band. You don't like it, I'll kick your ass.' I was like, 'Okay.' That's how I got into that band." They would have to get a new drummer as Underwood would be heading to Vietnam. When he left, Ricky decided to leave too, which left the band with only three members. By the way, in the various bands Tom Petty has been in, he has never been the lead singer. He has basically played bass and sang back-up vocals and maybe lead on some songs. This is about to change.
Petty had been writing songs privately, but never thought much about it until he got some advice from Don Felder to only play stuff he had written. The first person to listen to these songs would be Lenahan. The only problem was finding more band members. They put up notices and asked around, but had no luck. A drummer, Randall Marsh showed up with a rehearsal spot (a rented farmhouse). They heard his roommate running scales in the other room and asked him to come in and play. "So Mike Campbell comes out with the worst guitar I have ever seen in my life. It looked like it has been cut out of a door. He was super skinny, just looked unhealthy. He plugged into Leadon's amp. We asked if he could play 'Johnny B. Goode'. He ripped into that opening and our jaws dropped. By the end of the song, we said, 'You're in our band now.' He said, 'No, I'm in school.' But Petty had a powerful gift when it came to fixing problems like that. [Lenahan]" (Campbell's guitar was a gift from his dad when he was stationed in Okinawa, which is why no one he met ever recognized it as a guitar.) I blame the Allman Brothers for this. The band began to do long jam session songs, with little singing, leaving Lenahan with not much to do but shake a tambourine for twenty minutes. Things began to get argumentative and ridiculous, so Leadon would call a meeting and Lenahan would be out as a singer and Tom would be in.
Mudcrutch headlined an unofficial festival held out in the county some dubbed "The Hillbilly Festival". A group of bands would play until the police came and ran them off. It was very popular; thousands would drive there from several states. They played other festivals too, but they were still having to play at the bars you have to play at to make a few bucks, and it was at one of these that Leadon, after seeing his successful brother earlier that night, lost it, and quit the band.
Around this time, Benmont Tench, who came from rich family, but loved music, especially Mudcrutch and followed them through friends back home in Gainesville while he was in school, got to play a few times with them on organ/keyboard. When he graduated high school that year, instead of going to Tulane like he was supposed to, he would join the band. Also at this time, during a Halloween Festival, Tom Petty ran into Danny Roberts, who had played in a band that had opened up for Frank Zappa, the original Fleetwood Mac, The James Gang, and Black Sabbath, but the band fell apart, and the talented bass player was now without a band, so Tom asked him to join theirs.
By now, Tom Petty is practically living in his girlfriend, Jane Benyo's apartment, and is more determined then ever that they are going to get out of Gainesville. They put together a demo, which they all agree was not very good, but the author insists that it shows what they are to become and the talent growing inside each one, and the fact that Danny Roberts does not fit. They send the demo out to everybody and get a reply from Playboy records. Danny Roberts, Keith McAllister (a roadie), and Tom Petty would head to L.A., where they would find that the guy who contacted them no longer worked there and when they played them the demo, Playboy was not interested. They also found out you could walk into any record company and get someone to listen to you and get a meeting. You can't do that now, of course. At the end of three days, they had three labels interested in them: London Records (they did the Stones), Capital (they wanted them to cut another demo), and MGM (they only wanted a single and Petty only wanted to do albums).
By this time a year had passed for Lenahan, who had been laid off from Disney due to the oil embargo (less tourists) and was working at the Magic Market. Tom Petty walks in one night and tells him they have some offers and that he is their stage manager and they were leaving next week. "Stage manager? For a band with no shows booked? I was like everyone else. If Petty had room in that dream for me, I wasn't going to let reality stand in the way,". A week before they left, Petty would marry Jane, under protest. She was a nice person who was really behind him and his dream. On his wedding day, he would bolt before going to the church, but his mother called him and told him to do it "For her sake". He honored her wish. He had always felt there was some kind of collusion going on between Jane and his mother. Later when they got to L.A., he would find out that Jane was pregnant and that his mother probably knew.
As they were loading up the truck, a call came in from Denny Cordell at Shelter Records (he worked with Joe Cocker and Procal Harum) and he wants to sign them, but they've already agreed to sign with London Records. Cordell was teamed up with Leon Russell (played on Spector records, Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees records). He talked Petty into stopping at their Tulsa studio to talk. They ended up taking $3,000 for an advance and signed a contract that they had a lawyer look over at Cordell's insistence.
They then went out to L.A. and everything slowed down as Cordell taught Tom about music so he could teach him how to write and how a band is supposed to sound. They finally cut a song called "Dept Street" which had a bit of a reggae sound, since Cordell was into that at the time, but it sounded rather odd. He also wrote the song "Don't Do Me Like That", but didn't really like it, so with Cordell's permission, he let him take it to the J. Geils Band, who, thankfully, turned it down. It would sit around for there a while before anyone would think of it again. Danny at this time was doing things at odds with the band, perhaps because, as the other vocalist in the band, he didn't like Petty being the one singing most of the songs and Petty's songs being liked over his by Cordell. Cordell has some problems with the drummer, Randall Marsh, so Danny called home and talked to Stan Lynch about joining the band. He talked this over with McAllister, the roadie, before he did the band. Danny ends up quitting and going home to Florida. There is a lot of rancor and disagreement between the band and Danny over the details, even to this day.
Tom still didn't want to be the lead singer yet, and who would play the bass? That would not matter now. Cordell sat Petty down and had a talk with him and told him the band was fired, but they wanted to keep him on contract. The album was taking too much time and too much money. He convinced Cordell to keep Mike on the payroll, but he was forced to tell everyone else what had happened. He sent Jane and their new daughter Adria back to Florida to stay with family, since he had no idea where his career was going. Petty would spend some odd time hanging out with Leon, while everyone assumed he would have a solo career. That was not, however, what he wanted. Petty wanted to lead a band and be in a band.
By Christmas 1975, Petty would sit down with the guys who would be the original members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Cordell's idea): Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair (bass), and Stan Lynch (drums). He lets them know that this is it. If they want out now is the time. For a long while, this would be the group. Another person would join the group. Alan "Bugs" Weindel was someone Stan knew that he convinced Petty to hire on as a roadie. It was probably the greatest thing he did for the band. Bugs was happy just to work backstage, be a roadie and be there for Petty in any way he needed him to be, and he is still doing it today.
Tom would now see the wisdom of hiring a manager and fate placed Tony Dimitriades into his path. Tony started out as a London lawyer, but came to America to manage Yes until they broke up. He helped get Petty and the band out on tour to support the first album. They would be doing some Al Kooper shows and opening up for KISS at some shows. At the KISS arena shows they learned what it was like to be the opening band that no one is really interested in listening to and how there is no room on stage for your gear. At the Al Kooper shows ten people might show up. Their album was getting no play on the radio except in Boston and San Francisco. There is a famous bootleg copy of the show they did in Boston that the radio station there recorded at that time that is still floating around.
Tony knew someone in England who got them to open up for Nils Lofgren, but the record company would not pay for it, so they came up with the money themselves. Their self-titled album included the hits "Breakdown" and "American Girl", but in the UK, the song "Anything That's Rock n' Roll" was released as a single and was climbing the charts. When they got off the plane there were journalists and photographers to meet them. It was completely surreal. Halfway through the tour they were asked to headline their own tour. The record company, ABC, sent someone over with a check. Tom ripped it up. Hendrix had to go to England first before America would notice him. Of, course, part of the problem was the album cover. It was a picture of the band, and for some odd reason, Tom chose to wear a black leather jacket with two straps of bullets wrapped around him. People like to put things in boxes and label them and they labeled them punk rockers because of the cover of the album, and lots of people who would have bought it, didn't.
Luckily, Jon Scott, who had worked for MCA, had once been sent on a drive to the South and given a bunch of cassette samplers to listen to. One of these contained a song by Mudcrutch and Scott would get it played on radio stations in Tennessee and Louisiana. Now he was at ABC and it was eight months after the release of the Heartbreakers' album, which in the business meant it was dead to the record company. ABC gave Scott six weeks and no money to do what he wanted. He went to a DJ he knew in L.A. and got him to really listen to it and to come and hear them play at the Whiskey. The DJ was convinced. Then Scott set about turning around the famous L.A. Times critic, Robert Hilburn and succeeded there as well. One and a half years after release, "Breakdown" entered the top forty. They didn't have time to celebrate, because they were already in the studio working on the next album, You're Gonna Get It!, which contained the hits "I Need to Know" and "Listen to Her Heart", where he got in trouble for a " reference to cocaine. The label wanted it changed to "champagne". "That's not expensive enough," Petty told them. The executives were thinking about radio. Petty was thinking about a song." Cordell would bring on Max and Noah Shark to do the album and have little to do with it and his relationship with Petty started to become more distant. Petty would say he wanted this album to be different than the first, which it is. Its a step up in the right direction. It just didn't satisfy what he knew the band could be.
Elliot Roberts was now a partner with Tony and he sat down with Tom and explained to him that the money could not be split evenly anymore. It would cause major problems down the road. Everyone was not doing equal work and it was Tom's band. He was the one doing most of the work. When the band found out it hit them hard, but this was what they wanted to do, so they got over it. Except Stan. He still complains to this day about it being all about the money to Petty and how he ripped them off. The second thing Tony was working on was getting them out of their Shelter contract, where he had lost his publishing rights among other things.
Jimmy Iovine came on for the third album, Damn the Torpedoes. He had just come away from working with Bruce Springsteen. Petty thought he was bringing him on as an engineer, but Iovine worked his way into the producers chair and hired an engineer and made them pay for it. This would have to one of the craziest ways to make an album ever. While Petty was in court trying to get out of his contract by declaring bankruptcy (well, he really didn't have any money), the band was making the album that would put them on the map-and when they finished for the day, Bugs would take the recordings and hide them somewhere (to this day no one knows where) and bring them back when they needed them. This book really shows you how to make an album (in so many different ways), which is rather cool. One of the things that seems to be repeated is that drummers and producers, generally have trouble getting along. Cordell hated Mudcrutch's drummer and Iovine hated Lynch. The drummer is the backbone of the band and the drum beat is the backbone of a song. It holds it down (along with the bass). If it isn't right, it throws the whole thing off. Iovine and Petty wanted an album heavy on percussion and in Iovine's opinion, Lynch was not delivering. "Mike Campbell recalls walking out the door, leaving the project for a few days. "On Refugee", he says, "I had a mental breakdown. I just couldn't take it anymore. It was my song, a cowrite with Tom, and we kept playing it over and over and over, changing the thing, changing the sounds. It sounded like Nazis marching. There was no groove. We got into this hole of misery cutting that song. And I said, 'I need to get out of this room for a few days. This is not healthy.' It's the only time I've walked out of a session." Petty would win in court and the album which contained the classics, "Don't Do Me Like That" (which was rescued), "Here Comes My Girl", "Refugee", and "Even the Losers" would be released by MCA. During the tour for the album, when they stopped in Gainesville, Petty saw his very sick mother for the last time. He was still on the road when she died. His brother told him that if he came it would turn the thing into a zoo, as the whole town was expecting to see him. He couldn't do that to his mother's funeral, so he didn't go. Grieving would have to wait too.
This was a band of introverts, with the exception of Lynch, and they let no one into their inner circle. But Stevie Nicks was determined and had finally found a way to work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, something she had been trying to do ever since she heard their
first album (Petty had kept blocking any offers, so she became friends with his wife Jane, whom she would base her song "Edge of Seventeen" on, as she had misheard her when she said they had met at the age of seventeen). Petty and Nicks would become lifelong friends. He wrote her a song, "Insider", but then told her she couldn't have it. They had already done the song with Nicks and Petty singing together and there was a lot of chemistry between them when they sing--chemistry that lots of people would mistake for something that wasn't really happening. Iovine suggested he give her "Stop Dragging My Heart Around", a song the Heartbreakers had already laid down. Petty turned the idea down at first, but in the end, gave it to her. Hard Promises came out with expectations of songs like "The Waiting" and "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me) and "Nightwtachman" being hits. None of them were. The hit was "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" and it was on Stevie Nicks album.
Petty had been juggling balls in the air for a long time now: the band, writing, being a husband, a father. He couldn't keep them all in the air all the time. His marriage was not doing well and hadn't been for a while. Jane was drinking and doing coke to escape the loneliness, emptiness, and depression she was feeling. She had friends, but no one seemed to understand. Stevie was always there to listen--and bring coke. Tom did what lots of people idiotically do in these situations: have another child to fix the marriage. In January 1982, Annakim (I do wonder if someone got high and saw a Star Wars movie and thought Anakin would make a great name for a kid, but altered it because it was a girl. Of course it could be a family name.) Annakim would never know the good years of her parents marriage, like Adria did, who was there, literally from the beginning.
It was also at this time that Petty made the decision that Ron Blair, the bass player had to go. Truth be told, he was sort of gone already. Blair was a man who was drifting. He took it rather well. He knew what was going on. He went back to Florida and opened a surf shop. He even called Tom up and thanked him for giving him that time in the band. Howie Epstein would come on to play bass and he added a backing voice to the band. Lynch and Petty had a remarkable harmony together that they didn't even have to think about. Now the band had a new sound.
Their next album, Long After Dark, was kind of thrown together, but it shows where Petty was mentally and emotionally. "We Stand a Chance", You Got Lucky", and "The Same Old You" came off that album and they all seem to talk about his marriage and life and the hopelessness of it all. This album would also be another battle over the drummer with other drummers coming in and then leaving and Lynch coming back. They had spent the last eight years making records and touring straight. After this last tour, they all sort of fell apart. Mike went into the hospital for exhaustion, Benmont entered rehab to begin fighting his drug and alcohol addiction that he would finally kick in 1988, and Tom had surgery on his hand after he punched a wall in a fit of rage. The grief over his mother's death had finally caught up to Tom, among other things.
Many different things came together to give Petty the idea to do a concept album that would be called Southern Accents and I dearly wish I could listen to the album he set out to make, but became misguided and messed up. The first song to come was "Rebels". Then the centerpiece, "Southern Accents": "There's a Southern accent where I come from/The young 'uns call it country the Yankees call it 'dumb'/I got my own way of talking, but everything is done/with a Southern accent where I come from." Petty was producing the album himself and it was killing him. Petty gets a call from Iovine who is working on Nicks new album and wants to know if he has a song for her. He doesn't, but he recommends that guy from the Eurythmics (Dave Stewart), whom he believed could write a good song. The three of them call him over to help, and needing a break he goes over. Tom left that night with a track in his pocket of the song "Don't Come Around Here No More". It was different than anything he had done before, but it still fit on his album. Mike would find out about Petty's continued visits over to the studio to work with Stewart and got himself invited along. From then on, he made sure to be there with Petty wherever he went. It was always worth his while. The band felt that Tom had cheated on them, and worse, with someone who played with a drum machine. The two wrote more songs, they just weren't as good. They ended up on the album: "Make it Better (Forget About Me)" and "It Ain't Nothing to Me". The songs "Trailer", "The Apartment Song", a cover of Nick Lowe's "Cracking Up", Conway Twitty's "The Image of Me", and the unrecorded "Sheets", a scary song about race relations in the South, were all cut. "So what if the album sounded like an identity crisis played out across two sides of a long player--why shouldn't it?" A lot of cocaine lying around was also a contributing factor.
Mike was a machine when it came to making music. He carried around a small recorder around the house and would lay down demos and fill a tape up and give it to Petty to see what he could do with it. He gave him many tapes. Around the time of Southern Accents, Mike brought Petty a song. He and Iovine listened to it and suggested a change for the chorus, but Tom was busy with the album and this song wasn't hitting him quickly enough so he passed on it. Jimmy gives Mike a call later telling him Don Henley was looking for a song, so Mike sends him this one. Don quickly turned it into "Boys of Summer". When Mike brought it by for Tom to hear was the day Tom broke his hand by hitting a wall and had to have the bone structure re-created. When asked in the press about his hand, he was quite honest and told them he hit a wall. Later when Mike and Tom were at Mike's house by his car, he turned on the radio and "Boys of Summer" was ending and the DJ was saying how it was the best song ever. It got rather tense for a moment, then Tom told Mike that he did a really good job on the song, which Mike was really happy to hear, but more important, he was happy Tom didn't break his other hand.
After the release of the disappointing album Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) and the tours with Bob Dylon, Tom Petty met George Harrison through Jeff Lynne (of the Band and a hell of a producer). He and George became immediate friends. It was as though they had always been friends. There have been a lot of influential people in Petty's life, but George would be the one to get the closest for the longest period of time. Mike and Stan had also had a major falling out on the road. Tom was tired. He was over at Lynne's house showing him a song he was working on, "Yer So Bad", and soon Tom started playing around on a keyboard. Lynne said the words "Free falling" and Petty took off after it. "It was so light, so removed from struggle. I hadn't felt that way in some time. It was like I hadn't taken a deep breath in I don't know how long." Tom called Mike and he and Lynne went to Mike's house to use his broken down studio (which consisted of a spare bedroom and a dirty garage). Lynne showed them a new way to make an album that was quick and simple and a lot less aggravating. In the end, the three of them created Full Moon Fever and they did it without the Heartbreakers, who were not happy about this. But even crazier, was the fact that the record company turned the album down. This was the album that had many hits on it, but the most important one would be "Free Falling", which would turn out to be Petty's top-selling song and biggest hit of his life. [note: I have to say that at this point I do not remember ever liking this song, but I must have when it came out. It became overplayed on the radio and MTV, not just that year, but every year after it, until now. I haven't seen the whole video in at least ten to twenty years, but if I close my eyes, I can see it, start to finish. When the song comes on the radio, I change it. Its the one Tom Petty song I cannot listen to. Someday, maybe I can again.] He was at dinner with George and Warner Brothers Record President, Mo Ostin one night at this time, and really liked Ostin and the relationship he had with George. He couldn't get out of his contract with MCA yet, as he owed them albums, but he "unofficially" signed a contract with Ostin that night that would be hidden in a vault for two years. The guy who turned down Full Moon Fever would end up being fired for another reason and MCA would look at it again and decided to put it out.
"At the 1990 Grammy awards, Full Moon Fever was nominated for album of the year,up against the debut of Petty's "other band" the Traveling Wilburys [Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison]. Of the three records nominated, one was Don Henley's End of the Innocence, an album with songs cowritten by both Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch. On the music side of life, abundance surrounded Petty and his band."
When they did the Full Moon Fever tour, they brought on Scott Thurston for extra help. He could play guitar, keyboard, bass, harmonica--pretty much anything. He had played with Ike and Tina, Iggy, and the Motels. What he didn't know about playing rock 'n roll, wasn't worth knowing. Petty borrowed him from Jackson Browne (eventually, seeing the tortured Thurston trying to work for both of them and not able to, and willing to just quit rather than choose between them, Jackson told him to go with Petty). Thurston would prove to be a good friend for Petty to have on the road. As Jackson Browne says "He was my closest friend at the hardest time in my life. ..There's probably twenty of us out there, thinking we're his best friends. You'd be surprised how many."
Tom had two more album to give MCA. One would be the Jeff Lynne produced Into the Great Wide Open, which is a good album, but seems less when it sits next to Full Moon Fever. And the band spent the whole time bitching about Lynne behind his back. Petty refused to give MCA another album. After much arguing, he finally agreed on a Greatest Hits Album with one extra song added, that ironically, would become its own greatest hit: "Mary Jane's Last Dance". With that over, he moved on to Warner Brothers.
Rick Rubin, one of the best producers in the business, had been eager to work with Petty and now was his chance. But did Petty want to do a solo album or a Heartbreakers album. In the end it came down to Stan Lynch. Where Petty wanted to go with this album, he knew Stan could not musically follow him. This would be the most personal story Petty would have to tell, yet. And it was important to get it right. Steve Ferrone began life as a tap dancer, which some say, make the best drummers. "When Tom was in front of Stan," says Bugs Weidel, "there was always this thing in his mind of 'Are we speeding up? Are we slowing down? Are things in control? Should we reign it it?' That was always kind of in the back of his mind. With Ferrone, it's like there's a rhythm machine back there. None of that is even an issue. For the first time in Tom's life it was like, 'Drummer? There's a drummer?'" Tom Petty calls Wildflowers the divorce album. With songs like: "Time to Move On", "Hard on Me", "Only a Broken Heart", "To Find a Friend", "Don't Fade on Me", "You Wreck Me", and of course, "You Don't Know How it Feels". When he played it for the family, they all knew, but he didn't say anything at that time. He wasn't ready to deal with that family just yet. He had to deal with his other family.
"Stan Lynch could be the band member most ready to go out there and kill it, or the most divisive, or the most enthusiastic supporter of what Tom Petty was trying to pull off, or the most bitter. The problem for Petty came in figuring out when Lynch was going to be which of these things. And what Lynch was saying to whom...'He was really good onstage,' says Petty. 'He could read me really well and make a show really exciting.'" Petty's deep desire to have a band and keep it intact had caused him to keep Stan on longer than he should have. He did go and ask Stan to do the tour for Wildflowers, but Stan never gave him a straight answer. When they were in Florida doing a two night benefit show, they played awfully, because of Stan, who hated the music. At the end of the second night, Petty overhears Stan talking to members of Crazy Horse and he hears Stan telling them that this isn't his "main gig" and then finds out that Stan has been auditioning for other bands for the past year. At that moment Petty was through with him.
After the tour, Tom left Jane for good (he had left once before in the 80s, but came back). He began seeing a therapist and started delving into his childhood's traumatic past, which was a good thing, but perhaps, not the right time to do it. The combination of the old wound splitting open and the end of his marriage, caused him to spiral into a deep and dark depression. He had moved into a small house and was living alone. Adria was at college and Annakim ended up becoming her responsibility, because she had two parents who could not take care of her fourteen-year-old sister. She was angry at her father at first, until she realized what was going on with him. Petty had spent his whole life keeping people out. When you end up at the bottom of that dark pit, alone, even if you have all the many friends he did, he lacked the ability to reach out to them, even George, who could not understand, because he had no idea what had really been going on in their marriage in the first place. Stevie tried making visits, as did others. Eventually, Tom reached for an escape from the pain that hurts so much its physical. The pain that is always there, night and day. He reached for heroin and escaped in that. No one knew this for a very long time. He was good at hiding it. This is also something he has not really talked about before now. Its such a rock n' roll cliche: becoming addicted to heroin. But those cliches are about rockers who are partying and start taking stuff like that to have fun. This is not that cliche. This is about someone needing an escape. I understand this, because I have been to that pit more than once. I have never taken an illegal drug in my life (yes, that might be weird, but they're illegal, and some part of me was always scared that I might not come back if I did). There are so many ways to escape and I found several. One of them was writing bad poetry and short stories. But Tom had been using that escape for years, in a way, and now, it was no longer available to him. Some of the ones I used were also stupid and dangerous. But you are not thinking very clearly then. I'm amazed that he didn't try to commit suicide (or at least, there is no mention of it, and from what I read, I don't think it occurred to him). It never occurred to me, but I always thought I was the stupidest depressed person ever, though grateful I never thought about it. The author goes into detail about what Tom went through, as does Tom, his friends, and his family. I could spend paragraphs trying to explain what this is like, but really, the only way to truly know, is to be in that pit yourself. Which I dearly hope you never are.
Jane was not doing any better. What no one realized for a while, was that Jane had a mental disease. The book does not go into a lot of detail about this. Adria mentions hallucinations once and there are mentions of depression. It could be schizophrenia, as it seemed to happen around her early twenties, but these two symptoms also fit manic depression. Whatever she had, she was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs for years. "My mother was a really soulful, gregarious, fun person,' says Adria Petty, 'and she loved him so much and had so much pride in his success. At the same time, she was very insecure, very resentful, very unclear about her place in the world. She also suffered from mental illness. And being married to someone who is mentally ill for a long time is really painful and isn't the kind of thing you can do a sound bite on. It's not neatly tied up with a bow. My mom could be a mean person. She'd been really verbally abusive and cruel to my dad, had disregard for all three of us, way before they were even on the verge of divorce...I just hated watching what she did to him." If Petty had been a different person, he would have divorced her a very, very, long time ago. He was trying so hard to keep his family together. There is no mention of what happens to Jane.
Petty saw Dana York at a show in the early 90s in Texas and had a dream about her that night. The next night at another snow, he met her and her husband, also a musician, and the couple would run into the band at various things over the years. In 1996, neither one of them was married and they ran into each other at a Johnny Cash show and he got her number. His whole life was falling apart around him and he was falling in love with a wonderful woman. He kept all of the darkness he was going through from her. Stevie was there to warn him to take it really slow, because he was not totally out of the mess of his old life and "don't sleep with her!" That's also when she found out about the heroin and it shocked her to the core. Dana would come out to visit a couple of weekends a month, but she also had a three-year-old son, Dylan to think about.
Rick Rubin, Mike Campbell, and Tom Petty went into the studios to write the album Echo. That's when they found out about the heroin. Rick ended up going to the store and buying a magnetic poetry set and sticking it on a music stand for Tom to move letters around to form words and put together lyrics. It broke Mike's heart to see him this way. The album got recorded and they haven't listened to the album since. The miracle is just how good an album it really is. Dana has tried to get Tom to listen to it, but he won't. Tom Petty had been writing songs his whole life, all the time, obsessively. Just because the man running the machine was asleep at the wheel didn't mean the machine couldn't keep functioning just the same. Just because he didn't knock it out of the ballpark doesn't mean it didn't get to first base, or even score a double.
Before going on tour, Tom came clean with Dana, who understood perfectly, having had a father who suffered from addiction for similar reasons and she got him help. Dana saved him. Period. But she did more than that, she helped him see that some aspects of his behavior had to change. Especially his flashes of anger. On the tour to support the album Echo, they played not one song off that album. Also, Dana went along. "More than once, people who worked with the band thanked her for what she'd done. "It confused me,' she says. 'They'd tell me, 'Tommy's so happy. He's so different.' I just thought,'Really? What was he like before? Did he never talk to anyone?" But Petty wasn't the only one who had a heroin problem. Howie Epstein, the bass player had been using for years and it was killing him. When he went into rehab for the last time, they told him it was best for him if he quit the band. It wasn't long after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 that he passed. Mike Campbell had kept in touch with Blair over the years and it was a pretty easy call to make to bring him back into the band.
"One journalist started a Hypnotic Eye [album] interview by asking Petty, 'Did you know you didn't have to make the album this good?' He'd done enough by that time that he could rest on reputation, if he wasn't still busy trying to top himself. Like Mojo, it was nominated for a Grammy. And it entered at number one on the album charts. His first number one record, after decades of getting close. Even now, with Petty in his mid-sixties, his fans knew that the next Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record might be the best of the lot. That's always been the deal. That's the brand."
While reading this book and writing this review, I've pulled out my Tom Petty CDs and I have gotten hold of other CDs to listen to as well. Sadly, I have not seen them live (and they better tour again soon, the way things have been going lately, I'd like to see them before something tragic happens). I did find a live double album (not the Double Platinum album, though I am now itching to get my fingers on it) and it continues to amaze me, as I listen to it over and over, how truly incredible they are as a live band. They are what rock n' roll is about. Tom Petty is one of the last of his kind. The music industry has changed, in my opinion, for the worse. But I'm "old" so, I suppose that is what I should think. I haven't given up on new music, though. I'm still searching. Waiting. And as Tom would say, the waiting is the hardest part.
Historian David Halbertiam has suggested that there was a perverse effect to shows like Father Knows Best: young people had to watch those perfect families, only to show up at the dining room table and be greeted by lunatics. “Kids growing up in homes filled with anger and tension often felt the failure was theirs,” he writes. Of course, what kid had the presence of mind, or the information, to see it for what it was? Who knew that Ozzie Nelson was in truth a workaholic with little off camera time for his children, another absent father among the many? That wasn’t how it looked on television.
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 21)
It would take a movement, and many years, to remove those books [Dick and Jane] from American schools. The year 1957 saw a little advance with the publication of The Cat in the Hat. Of the many fragmented clues that give some sense of the conflicted nature of American life at midcentury, The Cat in the Hat, in its own strange way, is as revealing as anything. There’s as much truth in the book as you’ll find among images drawn from the era, certainly more than one finds in the idealized pictures of American life generated by Rockwell or Disney…It’s the rock and roll of children’s literature…The Cat in the Hat begins with loss, particularly the loss of the mother. And it’s that maternal absence into which the cat arrives. All hell breaks loose, the domestic scene thrown out of control for most of the book. The fish, a kind of stand-in for parental rule, if all but powerless in his bowl, insists to the children that they do the right thing. But the fact is, it’s not clear if anyone, whether the kids or the cat, actually knows what the right thing is. No one knew just when the mother would be back or in what way that even mattered. The only given, the only thing that everyone knew for sure, is that the father is, quite simply, gone. Not worth a mention. At a moment when it was needed, and to whomever was paying attention, Dr. Seuss gave away some of
middle America’s secrets.
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 22-3)
Every culture has its southerners.
There’s nothing more rewarding than a fresh set of problems.
But I think he poisoned the well a little bit with Stan, starting with Damn the Torpedoes. Jimmy and Shelly put Stan through the fucking ringer. He’s not a session drummer. He’s not supposed to be. He’s a band drummer. Of course, I’m not in charge, and that’s probably a good thing. But Jimmy [Iovine] came from the East Coast, from working with East Coast drummers, like Max Weinberg. Now he’s on the West Coast, working with a southern drummer who listened to English drummers who listened to black drummers.
--Benmont Tench on troubles between producer Iovine and drummer Stan Lynch while making Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker albums (Warren Zane’s Petty: The Biography p 144)
More depressed than other regions, the South couldn’t have moved on if it wanted to. The past was right there, in the rotting barns and peeling billboards. Apart from truck stops and strip malls, it looked to him like the South couldn’t afford to be the future, so it remained the past. And it was his past. Backward, beautiful, fucked up, often forgotten, sometimes violent. People who knew music seemed to be aware that most American song traditions came from down there, but they often didn’t know mush more about the South than that. It was a place with an incomprehensible character,
’s dirty secret. America
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 181)
“I saw Prince doing what looked like an attempt at psychedlia,” Petty says, “And I loved it. It inspired me.” The recording in his pocket sounded like movement. It wasn’t clear what it all meant, where it fit. Petty had certainly let a stranger into the Heartbreakers’ midst. This wasn’t the Del Shannon collaboration. It wasn’t even having Duck Dunn come in t play bass. This was Petty slipping out in the night to create something great without any of the Heartbreakers involved or, really, even knowing. This was infidelity. And the drum machine on the track only made it worse. Petty was out sleeping with a tramp. And it felt good to him.
--Warren Zanes on Petty’s collaboration with Dave Stewart in the making of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Petty: The Biography p 186)
“That record [Into the Great Wide Open],” Petty says, “gave us some of our most evergreen songs. It’s our biggest album in
Europe. But suddenly we were in a business where you could feel bad about selling only a few million records and recording some songs that live forever.”
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 234)
“The human condition is the same for everyone,” says Olvia Harrison. “But once you’re isolated, it’s even worse. When those big life events happen, you can’t see your way out of them. When you’re in the world, you have outreach. When you’re in a bubble, how do you see outside of that? How do people get in? And then you feel like you really don’t want people to see what your troubles are, you’re so private at that point. It’s really easy to not get help.”
-Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 254-5)
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.
“There are records that make their way through the sheer force of the music,” Petty says. “Good recordings seem to find their way into the world. Gram Parsons never had a hit record. But his stuff came through, people found it. Ann Peebles, one of my all-time favorites, was teaching in a preschool or something when I first heard one of her records. Now I play her music all the time on my radio show. What these people created got to me—and not through anyone’s marketing plan. I have to go on this. I have to let this mean something to me. Things happen with good records. Maybe not right when they come out, maybe not for millions of listeners. But good records seem to get to the people who need them the most. I guess I have to believe that the best marketing tool is still a good song. And that it’s probably better that I put my time into writing one of those than learning how to do social media properly.”
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 303)
I was trying to explain Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to my sons. They’ve known the music all their lives. Petty’s stuff was playing when they came out. But they listen with no reference to history, like it’s all from one big album called Tom Petty. “Even the Losers,” “King’s Highway,” Wildflowers,” Nightwatchman,” “Walls,” “Forgotten Man,” “The Wild One, Forever.” These are some they love. They’re ten and twelve. I was eleven when I first heard “Breakdown”. Imagine, I said, having someone make a record that goes straight into that place where the important records go, and then he keeps making them. Every few years, a new one, following you through your life. He’s there when you get your first girlfriend. He’s there when you form your first band. He’s there when you go back to school, when you get married, when you have kids, when you get divorced. My sons weren’t sure what I was getting at. It doesn’t matter anyway, because it won’t be an option for them. They don’t have a Tom Petty. They’re borrowing mine. Petty’s life and career cover an era that is, in some ways, over. Whatever comes next is going to be so different that comparisons won’t make sense. The long careers, and the handful of artists who have had them, will be a story that gets told. Petty came out of the golden age of bands, I say to my sons. I remind them that there’s still something to carry forward, no matter how much the world changed since 1976. If they want it. But at that point I’m just saying what parents say, without considering whether I actually believe it. But I hope some voice will come out of the American wilderness and take hold of them. And show them things.
--Warren Zanes (Petty: The Biography p 307-8)
Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Petty-Biography-Warren-Zanes/dp/0805099689?ie=UTF8&keywords=petty%20a%20biography&qid=1463141634&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1