Where Tom Petty’s Concerned, There’s No Backing Down!

Tom Petty – Live Anthology
Reprise Records

tom-petty-live-anthologyTo me, Tom Petty will always be the quintessential every-day guy who ended up making it big. But not because of his possession of exemplary songwriting talent but because of his irrepressible spirit and pure rock and roll heart, the true power of which may never be known but which will always be felt, which has always guided him throughout his career. Whether it was involving members of his old band Mudcrutch in his original record deal instead of simply going solo, riding out a record company buyout and the personal bankruptcy it caused to rally his band and create Damn The Torpedoes (ie – one of the best rock and roll albums ever), fighting his new record company to lower the list price on his album Hard Promises, punching a wall and breaking his hand just because he hated the producer’s mix of his album Southern Accents and on and on, Petty has consistently done whatever it took and made the right choices, not just for personal economic/monetary reasons but personally and for his fans. This is a man who lives and breathes rock and roll, but seems to love his fans even more and is a genuinely nice guy to boot. A life lived in the spotlight with very few scandals to speak of and nothing but admiration from your peers is a very rare thing indeed in the rock and roll business. If he didn’t bring the rock like a sonofabitch he would be this generation’s answer to Pat Boone for chrissakes. But he does, and people know it. Like AC/DC, Petty’s albums are not going to lead to the next big thing or make waves with any musical innovations but people who love true rock and roll know he is the real deal and bands looking to capture the spirit of what makes rock and roll great will no doubt be listening to and studying his albums until the end of time…at least.

Born in the city of Gainesville in Florida, Petty had a rather normal upbringing compared to most rockers. Though Petty recently revealed in an interview his abusive childhood at the hands of his father due to the younger Petty’s love of rock and roll and his supposed slacker ways, his childhood of semi-successful high school studies combined with playing bass guitar in several local garage bands was mostly without major incident. Eventually, Petty and several friends (including future Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench) formed the band Mudcrutch which soon became one of the more popular Florida rock bands of the early ’70’s, playing throughout the state and into Georgia. The band realized it accomplished as much as it could playing the circuit in Florida and Georgia and decided to relocate to California to look for a record deal. The band began sending demos to every label in existence and immediately began getting offers, but Mudcrutch soon splintered, with some of the members returning to Florida.

Petty stayed on in California, eventually playing with several other bands until he procured a solo deal from Leon Russell’s Shelter Records. While beginning work on his solo album, Petty fortuitously hooked back up with Campbell and Tench, who had remained in California. The pair brought with them bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch, as the four were working on forming a band and needed a vocalist. Suddenly, Petty had a full band and the newly christened Heartbreakers assumed Petty’s deal with Shelter as their own, keeping Petty’s name out front as it was originally his deal. It was a great move by Petty to get those guys too, as not only were they people who were his trusted friends but they have each individually been responsible for many hit songs outside the Heartbreakers either by producing them, playing on them or even writing the songs. Even drummer Stan Lynch has written a couple hits for The Eagles. In a relatively short order, the band’s self-titled debut was released, only to be tagged as part of the new wave movement currently making waves in Britain and the US.

While it is thought today because of the hit song American Girl that Petty’s first album sold well right off the bat, the album actually only took off after receiving rave reviews during a Heartbreakers tour overseas. When the great notices started trickling back, the label began pushing American Girl and the record took off. The band’s second album, You’re Gonna Get It fared less well due to lack of promotion, unfortunately something for which Shelter was notorious. See the career of Dwight Twilley for proof. Petty found himself at a crossroads. Shelter had been bought by MCA and the resultant corporate turmoil left Petty’s second album DOA and Petty himself felt restrained by the oppressive record deal he had signed and was hoping to renegotiate with MCA for a more workable deal. Instead, MCA fought back and Petty had to file for bankruptcy while everything was worked out. Eventually, both sides came out with a workable solution and Petty handed over the tapes after a lengthy court battle that involved the band’s roadie Bugs moving the tapes all over town so Petty could truthfully say in court he had no idea where they were. That album, Damn The Torpedoes, would eventually become one of the most influential albums in rock and roll. Surely it was a milestone for Petty and his Heartbreakers, as the album was immediately embraced by not only Top-40 but by album rock radio as well, who were eager to add something to their aging playlist.

The followup, Hard Promises, also scored a bunch of singles in the wake of Petty’s battle over the list price with MCA. Petty’s next batch of albums (Long After Dark, Southern Accents, Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough) were very solid efforts, if not up to the the exemplary standards of Damn The Torpedoes. It took Petty’s newly-burgeoning friendship with Geroge Harrison to bring his career to the next level. Befriending the ex-Beatle led to an association with the leader of then-defunct band ELO, Jeff Lynne, which would shape Petty and his band’s music and career trajectory for many years. Through the Harrison-Lynne connection, Petty was brought into projects by Lynne, George Harrison, and also Roy Orbison’s final album. Together with those alliances, Petty was also friends with Bob Dylan as Petty and the Heartbreakers served as Dylan’s backup band on Dylan’s album Knocked Out Loaded and the subsequent tour. If you look at these names, you will guess what came next: The Traveling Wilbury’s supergroup and their two hit albums. Simultaneously, Petty and his band (well, most of them. Drummer Stan Lynch was left out of the proceedings) were working on Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever with Lynne and some of the other Wilbury’s. Full Moon Fever became Petty’s best selling album to date, scoring a huge hit single in Running Down a Dream. Next came Into The Great Wide Open, again with Lynne at the helm. Though it sold rather well, it did not match up to Petty’s solo recording and was looked at as something of a disappointment. Part of it was due to Lynne’s seeming ubiquitous presence on the charts for the past four to five years. His sound was becoming overexposed (as was Petty – having been a part of over ten major projects in roughly five years) and with the grunge movement beginning in Seattle, people were finding the Lynne sound a little old hat. It would be the last time Petty worked with Lynne on an album project until his most recent studio CD Highway Companion, about fifteen years later.

Wildflowers followed after Lynne’s departure from Petty’s circle. It was another Petty solo album and another best-selling set that rivalled only Full Moon Fever for sales numbers. For the rest of the ’90’s and up to the present day, Petty has become a little more experimental in his choice of projects yet his songwriting has retianed it’s same basic feel. The Soundtrack to She’s The One was next, followed by Echo, The Last DJ and last year’s Highway Companion featuring Jeff Lynne’s return as Petty’s producer and co-writer. While none of these albums was on a sales par with Petty’s best selling discs, each one shows Petty stretching not only his musical vocabulary but also the boundaries of his own work. As it stands right now, Petty’s time as a best-seller has probably past due to age and familiarty, moreso than quality, which in Petty’s case has always remained high. Petty and his band have now entered into the territory of Legendary status. And that’s not to throw the term around lightly, but it’s true. When your career is over as a hitmaker but you’re still doing your best work, you become a Legend. Like Johnny Cash. Like Frank Sinatra. Like Little Richard. Like Elvis Presley.Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have ascended into that strata and anyone who’s followed his career knows it’s true. The great thing about it is Petty and his band are still relatively young, love to ROCK, and, Petty especially, still carry around their righteous anger like a badge of honor. Shit, he’s the man who wrote I Won’t Back Down – do you think he could turn tail or relax with something like that to live down? Not that he would anyway, but he’s sort of boxed himself into a corner a little bit, hasn’t he?

This set is comprised of four CDs worth of live cuts culled from various points in Petty’s career, with most of the performances occuring in Petty’s birth state of Florida but with plenty of cuts included from elsewhere starting from 1980 and up until the present day. There is a more expansive and (much more) expensive version of the set available from Best Buy but since I am against certain stores having certain versions of albums, I am going to ignore that set (though I have seen it and it does contain a decent amount of extra items including additional live material) as I feel most Petty fans will no doubt go with the four CD set which, while not having too many extras, is musically substantial and very affordable considering there are four CDs in the package as well as a great booklet with rare photos. Not much to say about the music here other than it is typical Petty and the Heartbreakers, with guitars blazing and Petty’s unmistakable nasal whine leading the barrage of rock. While The Rolling Stones have garnered the moniker The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band, Petty and his band could take it from them on any given night. Most interesting are the covers, which range from a smoking version of Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man to an intense run-through of Booker T and MG’s’ Green Onions. If you didn’t know Petty and his band had soul, well, now you know!

If you love Tom Petty, hell – if you love Rock and Roll – you will love this package. From the first song to the last, this 4 CD set just smokes and is filled with the sort of energetic performances rock and roll fans may have thought were gone forever. Yes, the older performances are more frenetic and rocking but, for the most part, Petty remains unchanged as his years have seemingly not diminished his love for rock and roll and, while not angrier, seems more confident and at ease with himself and his skills as an artist. Tom Petty, if nothing else, has always been a true believer in the spirit of rock and roll, as corny as it sounds. I mean, how else do you put it? Not known for being a gadfly, partier or someone who wants to be seen around the right parties or clubs as a rocker more than he wants to actually be doing it, Petty is someone I’ve always felt was doing it for the right reasons and was always always self-aware as to his place in the rock and roll pantheon. His only headlines have been about his music, not drug problem-oriented or of the relationship-circus variety. For that alone, he deserves some sort of anti-drama award. This set will make a fine addition to my collection of Petty discs – at least, if I can stop listening to it long enough to get it on the shelf!

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Where Tom Petty’s Concerned, There’s No Backing Down! : Rock God Gear

Comments are closed.