Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Conversations with Tom Petty

 Most things that I worry about / Never Happen Anyway
- from Crawling Back To You

The book Conversations with Tom Petty was published in 2005, but I was compelled to read it after seeing his recent performance at the Garden. Every musician should have a Conversations with .... book. It's a nice piece of history and a look into the writing mind of an immensely talented musician/songwriter.   The title says it all. This book is solely a Q and A .  The author Paul Zollo, spoke with Tom on different occasions over a long period of time.

I could listen to musicians talk for hours about collaborations, recording and touring.  Tom covers all of this.  His most amusing stories seem to involve Dave Stewart  (who is now writing and working with Stevie Nicks).  Apparently somewhat of a character, he hooks up with Tom because Tom recommended him as a songwriter to a producer. Neither had previously met each other.  Dave takes a liking to Encino, CA and buys a house up the street from Tom.  He installs a studio. They write Don't Come Around Here No More. Dave envisions the video:  he will sit atop a mushroom playing a sitar.  That video is now legend. Another collaborator he cherishes is Jeff Lynne as producer and writer. 

Tom truly enjoys being in the presence of other musicians.  He has nothing but praise and admiration for fellow Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.  As he says, they can play anything.  After seeing them last month, I believe it.  He's worked with George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks and the list goes on.   One of his heroes, Carl Wilson, also happens to be one of of mine.  Growing up, Petty really liked his guitar playing and of course that magic voice. 

I finally got insight into something that stuck me as unusual.  Tom Petty songs are not covered very often.  He's probably one of the best songwriters of the past 30 years and yet hardly anyone records his songs.  In Tom's words, people that play his songs "don't get the voicings of the chords right. And the voicings are what it's all about."  His songs, as straight forward as they seem, might not be that easy to perform. 

Unlike a lot of performers, Tom said he writes best when he's happy. He wants to know how you can write a good song when you're miserable. The last thing he wants to do is write when he's down.  Since the interviews in the book took place over time, there is some repetition of stories. I think an edit would have helped the book flow better. It does not take away from the book.   If you want to explore the work of Tom Petty, read this.

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