November 14, 2017
The sad and shocking news last month about Tom Petty's sudden and unexpected passing is one more in a string of deaths of old-time rock and rollers. Like most people, I had no idea he was ailing, and I came to appreciate his contributions to rock music much more after he passed from the scene. As the leader and creative force behind his group the Heartbreakers, Petty carried the rock tradition forward at a time (late 1970s through the 1980s) when hostile forces such as disco music or copy-cat big hair heavy metal bands threatened to sink it.
Petty died on October 1 after suffering a heart attack while at his home in Malibu. He had just done a concert at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25, and his 67th birthday was just three weeks away. Unbeknownst to most people, for several months he had been suffering from complications from a hairline fracture in his left hip, and was in considerable pain.
Petty grew up on the outskirts of Gainesville, Florida, and was playing in rock bands throughout his teen years. He met guitarist Mike Campbell, and they formed the group Mudcrutch, which released a single in 1974. A third member (keyboardist Benmont Tench) soon joined, and those three guys were the core of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers when it was formed two years later, and an album with that same title was released. In 1979, the album Damn the Torpedos was released, and the song "Refugee" became a huge hit. (That's when I first noticed Petty.)
During the early 1980s, Petty was on top of the world of rock, cranking out mega-hit after mega-hit. Among my favorites were "A Woman In Love," "I Won't Back Down," "Here Comes My Girl," and "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," a duet with Stevie Nicks which he and Mike Campbell co-wrote. (For some reason, "A Woman In Love" is not included on his greatest hits CD.) His jangly-sounding Rickenbacker guitar recalled the Byrds, while his snarling but direct voice was almost unique among rock musicians. He sang earnestly and plaintively of hard work and true love, in a way that few rock musicians do. His sincere and unpretentious approach to singing and song-crafting was more typical of country musicians. As Jim Sullivan at wbur.org put it, "Petty drew from a reservoir of struggle, failure even, and ended up with declaratory celebrations."
As the Heartbreakers gradually became stale in the late 1980s, Petty reached out in a new direction. He got together with early rock crooner Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne (of the Electric Light Orchestra) to form the Traveling Wilburys. (A friend named Carlos gave me that album way back when, and I still have it.) In the 1990s, Petty's creativity and celebrity status both faded as he fell into heroin addiction. He finally kicked that habit with intensive medical treatment, including a blood transfusion.
I was always a fan of Tom Petty, but his passing has driven home just what an original and gifted musician he was. He was kind of scrawny, and didn't really look like a typical macho or brooding rock star. He was just an ordinary guy, but one who was filled with an extraordinarily strong sense of who he was. The November 2 Rolling Stone article by David Fricke drew attention to the mixture of light and dark themes embodied in his music. It was filled with warm words of praise for Petty from Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, and Bob Dylan, among other rock legends.
In his song "Into the Great Wide Open," there is a line about his "A & R man," so I Googled that phrase out of curiousity. According to musiccareers.net, it means "Artists and Repertoire," the person in charge of recruiting talent and promoting their work.
Since my last music blog post (September 27), I participated at three more open mic events at Queen City Brewing in Staunton. On October 6, I paid tribute to Tom Petty by playing five of his songs, most of which I had just learned in the few days since his sudden death. I had played "Refugee" there before, and I had learned "A Woman In Love" many years ago. My harmonica added a lot to both songs, and I got some warm applause.
Last week (October 18), the weather was unseasonably warm, but the music was inside nevertheless. I continued playing Tom Petty songs:
After repeated invitations to play at the Thursday night open mic event at Barrenridge Vineyards (hosted by Bill Harlow), I finally made it there the following night. (It was my third time playing there, the last being September 21.) It was the first time I had played inside there; the outside air was still very pleasant. I played:
* For "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," I was accompanied by Lisa Humphries Newhall, who did the female vocal parts. It sounded a lot better than when I do it solo. ** On "Hotel California" I had an equipment malfunction (the harmonica holder slipped), which threw me completely off track during the final part of the song with the lead guitars. I played "We Can Work It Out" in the key of E rather than the original D, which is better for my limited vocal range. (When I played it before, I could barely reach some of the low notes.)
Back at Queen City Brewing on October 25, there was a much bigger lineup of musicians than usual, with Danny Parker, Kimball Swanson, Dianne Byrer, me, Melissa Hudson, John Dull, Pasquale (Patrick) Dimeo, and percussionist Craig Austin. The crowd was good-sized as well. With a nearly-full slate, we each only got to do a single "encore" song. I played:
I mentioned that "You Won't See Me" was in part a tribute to Fritz Horisk, who plays that one exceptionally well. Afterwards, he showed me how he does a particular part of that song. The latter two songs I had played in recent months, and they sounded pretty good.
After skipping a week (due to World Series Game 7!), I returned to Queen City Brewing last Wednesday night (November 8), but this time it was just Fritz, Craig Austin (percussion), me, and a new guy. The empty lines in the sign-up sheet meant that we each got to do nine songs! The weather was cold and rainy, reducing the crowd size as well. I started off by playing a song about the recent election day, just as I had done a year before. The songs after that were relatively "normal":
* For "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," I was accompanied once again by Lisa Humphries Newhall. (We also did that one at Barrenridge on October 19.) Not used to performing in a duet, I had trouble singing in the right key.
I'm pretty sure I set a record for the most number of songs I played on one occasion by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils: five!
I'll be playing yet another show at Bedlam Brewing this coming Friday evening, and in preparation for that, I have been practicing some old songs I haven't done in a while. Songs by Tom Petty (of course) and Pink Floyd will be featured, along with other songs I've done there before as well as a few new ones.