(To honor the passing of Tom Petty, we are reposting this excerpt from a cover story in September 2014.)
Lockn’ co-headliner Tom Petty has been forging original rock with his band the Heartbreakers for more than 38 years. The Florida native recently talked about the influence of his friendship with George Harrison in an NPR interview: “It was like having an older brother that had a lot of experience in the music business, someone who I could go to with my troubles and questions,” he said.
Now a mentor in his own right, as he approaches his fifth decade as a frontman, Petty finds himself atop the throne of rock ‘n’ roll with a new TPHB album at the top of the charts.
Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood tells a great story. His vivid lyrics about the underbelly of the modern South often detail shady characters or rural economic plight — delivered through the force of the band’s distorted guitar attack. While enduring many personnel changes in his group’s 18 years, Hood and main songwriting foil Mike Cooley remain bonded constants — sounding as vital as ever on the spring-released album English Oceans.
Ten things I love about Tom Petty
by PATTERSON HOOD of Drive-By Truckers
Limiting it to 10 things is hard on Tom Petty, as I’ve loved The Heartbreakers and Tom since I first heard “Breakdown” in that terrible movie FM (he even had a cameo) in the eighth grade.
Here goes the first 10 things that come to mind in no particular order:
1. The Heartbreakers! I could list them all separately and that’d be fine, but collectively, including Tom, they are easily one of the top five greatest bands of all time. Taken on their own they are easily one of the top two or three greatest backing bands of all time. Individually they include one of my top two favorite living guitarists, a top five keyboardist (of all time), two of my favorite drummers (I love Steve Ferrone and I loved Stan Lynch). Loved both bass players too. Love Scott Thurston. A simply unbelievably incredible band.
2. No matter how big they became, they remained underrated.
3. Southern accents. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers always utilized their southernness without ever being bogged down by it or letting it use them.
4. “Southern Accents.” If he’d never written another song “Southern Accents” would be enough to make him one of the world’s finest songwriters. Fortunately for all of us he did write another song or two.
5. Stubbornness. Tom Petty can hold his own with anyone when it comes to sticking to his guns, no matter what. Part of his continued success is he always stuck to it and never backed down. Hell I think he wrote a song about that too.
6. He fought for what he thought was right. Always. Guess that sometimes fell under stubbornness, but deserved its own number. He fought for his independence in ’79 and they bankrupted him. He won anyway. He followed that up with “Refugee.” He fought against the raising of list price in ’81 and won. Then they raised them anyway. And burned his fucking house down. He wrote some great songs about that too. (Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough is one of his two great underrated albums). They told him that his first solo album wasn’t commercial enough. It had fucking “Free Fallin’” on it.
7. He wrote “Free Fallin.’” They were already telling him he was past his prime. That was 1989. If he’d never written another great song after that—he did. Hundreds more great songs, but “Free Fallin’” is truly one of the great songs of all time.
8. He’s made consistently good to great albums in five decades now. Who else has ever done that? Some have been more successful than others, but there has never been a bad one. Not even a truly mediocre one.
Echo, which he says he can’t even listen to, has some amazing songs and some of The Heartbreakers best playing on it. “Swinging” and “Billy the Kid” deserve to be considered all time TPHB classics. Everyone who was big in the ’70s, sucked in the ’80s. Tom Petty was bigger and better than ever. Everyone who was big in the ’80s sucked in the ’90s. Tom Petty was cooler than ever in the ’90s. This year he had a No. 1 album and is still a huge touring draw. Tom Petty rules!
9. There’s never been a bad Tom Petty show. I challenge anyone to show me otherwise. Sure, some are better than others. I’m sure he’s been sick and there’s been issues and blah blah blah, but has anyone ever actually seen a bad one? When we toured with them, Mike Campbell collapsed from the 100-plus degree heat, on stage, during the set. They literally carried him off (with the guitar still clutched in his hand). They came back on a little while later and finished the set. They were fantastic.
10. He fired The Replacements on stage in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there. The Replacements were my favorite band at the time (still one of my all time faves). They deserved it. TPHB then went out and played extra songs (‘Because We Care!”) and blew everyone out there away. It was an unbelievably amazing show. Then Tom Petty wrote a song about a burned out wasted pop star and used one of The Replacements lines in it (The “Rebel without a clue” line in “Into the Great Wide Open”). It was kind of an asshole move, but very rock ‘n’ roll and very appropriate considering that The Replacements used to cover “Breakdown” drunkenly during TPHB’s opening slot and considering that they had played that last show wearing Tom Petty’s wife’s dresses that they had stolen off of Tom Petty’s bus that afternoon.
I could go on, but won’t. I would also use No. 10 if I was making this list about The Replacements. Nothing is better than a great story.