Tom Petty On Cheap Speakers And George Harrison


Tom Petty – Photo Billboard

August 4, 2014

On a recent night in San Diego, was doing what he’s been doing for close to 40 years: leading his band The Heartbreakers on stage, playing the old hits and inaugurating new ones. He’s just started touring behind Hypnotic Eye, the band’s latest album in a prolific career — and if you ask Petty how it feels to still be kicking after all this time, you’ll get an uncharacteristically bashful response.

“It’s actually kind of embarrassing now; it’s such a love fest,” the 63-year-old rocker says. “I don’t think any of us pictured doing it at this level, at this age. “How could you?”

Musically, Hypnotic Eye is a throwback to early Heartbreakers albums; it’s driving rock with a bluesy vibe. But lyrically, Petty says, it’s very much about what’s going on in America today. Petty recently spoke with NPR’s Melissa Block about his long friendship with a late Beatle and why it pays to hear one’s own music on a bad car stereo. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read their conversation below.

Tell us about writing the songs for Hypnotic Eye and thinking about what tied them together. What do you think that is? What makes this feel like a collection of songs to you?

Tom Petty: It’s observational. I think it has a lot to do with American culture, without getting too strict about it or trying to be preachy. I don’t really take a side; I just invented characters that had their points of view.

Let me ask about one of the characters that I think you might be talking about, the speaker in the song “Power Drunk.” Who’s this guy?

Well, the guy singing that song is in some situation where he’s feeling, maybe, a little frightened. The line, “Pin on a badge and a man begins to change,” that’s pretty self-explanatory, really. There’s a lot of power-drunk people around these days.

Do you think about that? You said you don’t want it to be preachy; is that a line you’re pretty careful about not crossing?

I just tried to kind of explore this gap between the poor and people that get so wealthy that making more money really wouldn’t change an hour of the rest of their lives. And yet they’re obsessed with making more money, regardless of how that affects other people.

Maybe it’s a moral question of, “Do you want something so bad that you don’t need, even though it will hurt others?” ‘Cause we’re looking at a very different time in America right now. We’ve rubbed out the middle class, which was really the whole point of the thing for a long time — meaning America.

It’s interesting, because I wonder if you see yourself as part of that group of people who are on top? Who are securely in that 1 percent?

Yeah, I am. But I don’t do anything that hurts anyone. I come from a very humble background, but I guess I did live the American dream of getting into something I loved and working really hard at it, and there were financial rewards. I don’t think that’s ever been the guiding light of our band, but it’s nice.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: American Dream Plan B [Official Audio]



It’s really astounding, when you think about it, how long this band has been together. The original members go back to 1976 — so, coming up on 40 years.

Actually Mike, Benmont and I go back further than that, to 1970.

Mike is your guitar player Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench on keyboards. When you listen to Heartbreakers songs, you can tell from the very first notes what song they are. I wonder what that’s like for you, knowing that there’s this direct tie from the very beginning of a song to what millions of people know and remember about that song.

Well, it’s a tremendous thrill. I mean, if I think about it very long, it frightens me.

Really? Why?

‘Cause it’s kind of like, “Did I do that?” Music is a real magic: It affects human beings, it can heal, it can do wonderful things. I’ve had two people contact me in my life about coming out of comas to their family playing a song to them of mine, that they had liked before they were injured. They credited the song having something to do with that. I find that fascinating. A lot of people have told me, “This music got me through a really hard time,” and I can relate to that.

When I think about Tom Petty songs, I think they’re songs you want to play with the windows open and the top down, driving really fast. I wonder if, when you’re recording a new album, if you ever do that: if you take a rough recording and take it out for a drive, see how it sounds on the highway, outside the studio?

Yeah, I have done that. I think it was the Wildflowers record, we had a rental car; we wanted a kind of average sound system, not too expensive. So as we did each mix we would transfer it over — I think it was probably cassettes in those days — and take it out and listen to it in the car. There was a terrible moment when one of the crew returned the car and got a different one.

With the cassette still in it?

Well, not with the cassette in it, but we wanted that system. There was a real panic, so we had to send him back to find that same car.

But what’s the idea there?

Well, I’m trying to hear what it really sounds like. Studios have really good playbacks, good speakers and tuned rooms that are made for accuracy, soundwise. We tend to work most of the time with really inexpensive speakers that are probably worse than most people have.


Yeah, because if I can get it to sound good there, when I bring it up to the big speakers it’s pretty amazing.

How do you hear The Heartbreakers growing or evolving the longer you play with them? What’s changed?

There’s a lot of things. In Hypnotic Eye, one of the things that I was most pleased with, and that I really wanted to make happen, was what we didn’t play — the amount of space in the arrangements. The more air in the arrangement, the bigger the track sounds to me. We didn’t try to create walls of sound on this one; it was more like sonic textures.

I like to create lots of different guitar sounds, and I’m fascinated with how sounds go together. When you get something that works in a particular way, it’s kind of like mixing two colors together and getting a new one. Am I getting a little too esoteric?

[Laughs.] In the best way.

I probably sound like a pretentious ass here, but that’s kind of the way I see it. I just look at it like, between the speakers, when you come in there’s a blank canvas, and when you go out there’s actually something on it. And as simple as that sounds, it’s a tremendous rush to this day to me, to just make something happen.

You spent quite a bit of time with the late , and sang with him in the Traveling Wilburys. What do you think was his biggest influence on you?

We became very good friends, really, for decades. I don’t like to bring it up that much, because are so special that people might see it as boasting or something. But he actually became my friend, past being a Beatle to me. 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.

Traveling Wilburys – End Of The Line



I think [spirituality], probably, was the greatest gift he gave me. He gave me a way of understanding a higher power without it being stupid, or having tons of rules and books to read. But the best thing I can say to people that are curious about that is George was probably everything that you thought he was, and then some more. Very funny man; he could just kill me with his humor. He was a great guy and I miss him terribly.

I know you’ve talked a lot about first seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 — I guess you’d have been 13 — and that was basically what made you think, “Music, band, that’s what I want to do.” So to go from that to being that close with him and that intimate with him must have been quite something.

Strangely enough, we got along very well right away. He was the kind of person that, when he came across a good thing or the potential for a friend, he really was aggressive about it. And he had a way of knocking out anything that was extracurricular, or in the way of what was really going on. He could get you comfortable with him very quickly. I was always asking Beatle questions, and probably annoyed him. But, you know, he liked The Beatles, too. He liked talking about it and remembering it.

Do you have one George Harrison memory that really stands out?

I have thousands, you know. Thousands and thousands. We’d be here all day talking about George.

How do you gear up and get ready to go out on tour?

That’s easy, because just absolute fear takes over. I am in a state of shock.

Is it still thrilling in any way, or does it feel so familiar that that thrill is gone?

No, I get a thrill. My adrenaline gets so high from a concert that after it, I usually just pace until sunrise. I can’t come down from it.


Yeah, you kind of spend the whole day gearing up for it, and the night getting over it. You just want to be as wonderful as everyone thinks you are, and you know you’re not. So something takes place where you reach down and pull from so deep inside your soul that this music happens, and you all reach the place you wanted to reach together, you and the audience. Getting over that takes all night.

So a lot of pacing?

I pace, yeah. People deal with it in different ways, but I tend to walk around a lot.





Listen: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ new song “American Dream Plan B”

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Tom Petty previously said that his upcoming 13th studio album with The Heartbreakers, entitled Hypnotic Eye, will be “a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end.” Judging by the album’s first track, “American Dream Plan B”, Petty and Co. are set to make good on that promise.

Heavy guitar stomps over a straightforward beat, weighty but resilient like the song’s namesake. On the verses, Petty applies a slight snarl to his nasal delivery, with subtle hints of that accent he used on “Breakdown”. The legend sings from the perspective of a younger person facing more modern American challenges, someone who knows “My success is anybody’s guess/but like a fool I’m betting on happiness.”



Hypnotic Eye is due out July 29th through Reprise Records. Consult the Hypnotic Eye album art above, and find the tracklist below.

Hypnotic Eye Tracklist:
01. American Dream Plan B
02. Fault Lines
03. Red River
04. Full Grown Boy
05. All You Can Carry
06. Power Drunk
07. Forgotten Man
08. Son of My Youth
09. U Get Me High
10. Burnt Out Town
11. Shadow People

Petty and the Heartbreakers will support the record with an extensive U.S. tour that includes stops at Outside Lands and Lockn’ Festival. Check out the updated itinerary below.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2014 Tour Dates:
08/03 – San Diego, CA @ Viejas Arena
08/05 – Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena
08/07 – Eugene, OR @ Matthew Knight Center
08/09 – San Francisco, CA @ Outside Lands Music Festival
08/12 – Portland, OR @ Moda Center
08/14 – Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena
08/15 – George, WA @ The Gorge
08/17 – Edmonton, AB @ Rexall Place
08/19 – Calgary, AB @ Scotiabank Saddledome
08/21 – Winnipeg, MB @ MTS Centre
08/23 – Chicago, IL @ United Center
08/24 – Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
08/26 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
08/28 – Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
08/30 – Boston, MA @ Fenway Park
09/06 – Arrington, VA @ Lockn’ Festival
09/07 – Darien Center, NY @ Darien Lake PAC
09/10 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
09/13 – Hartford, CT @ XL Center
09/15 – Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
09/18 – Raleigh, NC @ PNC Arena
09/20 – West Palm Beach, FL @ Cruzan Ampitheater
09/21 – Tampa, FL @ Tampa Bay Times Forum
09/23 – Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
09/25 – Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
09/26 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center
09/28 – Tulsa, OK @ BOK Center
09/30 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Ampitheatre
10/01 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Ampitheatre
10/07 – Anaheim, CA @ Honda Center
10/10 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum

Tom Petty & His Heartbreakers Rock NYC’s Beacon Theater

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Live Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Beacon Theater NYC

20 May 2013

Petty’s voice is still a wonder. At 62, he sings as smoothly and sleekly as ever, but he also packs enough punch to bring the anguish of “Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” home.

Imagine Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers drop a new LP, and it’s just killer. Not just “killer” in that Echo or Mojo way, as in a killer document of a killer band doing what it was hatched to do. I mean in that Wildflowers or Full Moon Fever way, that damn near universal way, the songs so urgent with defiant life they could haul you up out of a coma. Imagine Tom Petty puts out a new record so vital and affecting that it would be adored by anyone who has ever before liked a Tom Petty song, even just “Free Fallin.'”

Now ask yourself, “How would anyone ever hear it?”

There’s nothing new about rock and rollers touring on long after they’ve outlived their hitmaking potential. What is new is the bewildering fact that still-significant artists like Petty or Springsteen have somehow outlived their own radio formats. You can still hear “Wildflowers” on Classic Rock, on those playlists that the wooly mammoths grooved to as the tar bubbled up around them, but if there were a new song that sounded like “Wildflowers” the only stations on terrestrial radio that might possibly play it would have to label it country. In fact, country already has a “Wildflowers”: Brad Paisley’s “Ticks,” which cops to ripping off Petty right there in the chorus.

Petty made sure nobody mistook anything in the first of his four Beacon Theatre shows (we’ll be back tonight, too) for Nashville. He opened with a good hour of album tracks as swampy and fucked-up as the Northern Florida he hails from, searching, bruised-up rockers like “Love Is a Long Road,” “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” and “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It).” Maybe he figures if radio won’t play him now, he may as well play the ones it wouldn’t even play back in the day. What would you do if in 15 years you somehow went from top-of-the-world rock star to Wynton Marsalis-like practitioner of an un-commercial art?

Deep cuts that cut deep, last night’s long run of dirges laid bare the early Heartbreakers’ true place in rock history: the exact middle ground between the ’70s studio-slick southern rock and the desperate blurt of the punk to come. “I don’t like it!” Petty yowled, on record and at the Beacon, the words hocked up out of his chest. Folks hoping for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” might have shouted the same.

And all that was before lead guitar hero Mike Campbell uncorked the soaring hurt of his lead line on “Good Enough,” off 2010’s cock-rocking Mojo, the swampiest of all this swamp rock, a strangled White Album-style blues as soaked though with humid misery as the cottonballs of a St. Louis grandmother used to wedge into the holes in her screen door each summer. Like much of that first hour, this was superb if you like this kind of thing.

Three songs in Petty half apologized for all the heartache, and he even offered up an ace “Won’t Back Down” as a sop to the Greatest Hits crowd. But make no mistake: There was no oversized novelty Mad Hatter headgear coming. During a soupy space jam deep into “Mr. Tweeter and the Monkey Man”– yes, the Traveling Wilburys slog he co-wrote with Bob Dylan — there was plenty of time to wonder at the impossible number of fucks that Petty does not give. You know all that dark matter scientists can’t find even though it makes up most of the mass of the universe? It’s nothing but those fucks.

Petty’s in fine voice — he still sounds like a cartoon sheep imitating a southern Bob Dylan — but even finer iconoclasm. The mood lightened, at last, 11songs in with a tempered, unplugged “Rebels,” a new arrangement touched with Sunday morning, followed by low-key string-band charmers “To Find a Friend” and “Angel Dream.” (Plus a hymn-like cover of Little Feat’s “Willin,'” honeyed up by Scott Thurston’s back-up vocals.)

Those were grand but topped by “Melinda,” a better Dylan song than the one he wrote with Dylan. Powered along by Campbell’s electric mandolin, this spare, rollicking, haunted original (only available on Petty’s excellent The Live Anthology) could pass for a cover of some long-gone folk song — a cover that builds into Bad Plus-style piano/drums not-quite-jazz ensemble-jamming mayhem from Benmont Tench and Steve Ferrone.

Hits “Refugee,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “American Girl” seemed to win back crowd members who had drifted; the Heartbreakers bashed out the latter two songs with speed and fire enough to convince us that they still find something new in them, that the music is something these guys still make together rather than something they just perform night after night.

Gnomic, cheerful Petty didn’t say much. His run of Beacon Shows won’t be for everyone, but they are for him, and his band, and for anyone eager to be reminded that the genial stoner of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” is still that same scrappy, indomitable Gainseville kid, the one with a screaming guitar and a world to defy.

Music video by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers performing Mary Jane’s Last Dance. (C) 1993 Geffen Records. Watch official video below.

© 2006 WMG
You Don’t Know How It Feels – Watch Video Version below.

Runnin’ Down A Dream is a 2007 documentary film about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The 4-hour documentary chronicles the history of the band, from its inception as Mudcrutch, right up to the 30th-anniversary concert in Petty’s home town of Gainesville, Florida, on September 21, 2006, at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, University of Florida. The film features interviews with George Harrison, Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, Dave Grohl, Jeff Lynne, Rick Rubin, Johnny Depp, Jackson Browne and more. Petty’s solo career is also touched on, as is his time with The Traveling Wilburys.

Tom Petty’s Career on Film: Watch the Trailer for “Runnin’ Down a Dream” below.