Tom Petty

When TOM PETTY died one year ago this month, the sur­prise and sor­row was felt around the world. Here MIKE CAMP­BELL, the Heart­break­ers’ gui­tarist, re­mem­bers the life and times of his beloved friend and band­mate. Mean­while, Heart­break­ers piano man BEN­MONT T

UNCUT - - News - Photo by lynn gold­smith

Heart­break­ers gui­tarist Mike Camp­bell re­calls the life and times of his beloved friend and band­mate

THe last time I saw Tom he looked like an an­gel. I got the call at four in the morn­ing; you al­ways worry when the phone rings in the mid­dle of the night. My wife picked up, then said to me, ‘Tom’s in the hos­pi­tal.’ I said, ‘Tom who?’ It didn’t even oc­cur to me that it could be him; it must be some other Tom. That’s how shocked I was. I knew he had a lit­tle pain in his hip, but he hardly ever com­plained about it on tour. We were look­ing for­ward. We talked a lot about what we

were go­ing to do af­ter the tour. We had a lot of plans.

“In the hos­pi­tal, ly­ing in the bed, I talked to him a lit­tle bit. He couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate but maybe he heard me, I don’t know. It’s hard to put into words, but I had an op­por­tu­nity on the plane a cou­ple of times to­wards the end of the last tour to con­nect, to say all the things I re­ally wanted to say to him. We were able to touch base, to iden­tify our bond and our friend­ship in a very pow­er­ful way. I feel for­tu­nate to have had those mo­ments with him, not know­ing what was go­ing to un­fold.

“There was some­thing special about the last show we did, a week be­fore he passed, at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl. It was our home­com­ing. It had been a long tour, ev­ery­thing had been sold out, we were at the top of our game. There was one par­tic­u­lar mo­ment that stays with me. Near the end I looked over at Tom and his face was beam­ing; just so much hap­pi­ness. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘This guy loves what he’s doing, and he wouldn’t want to be any­where else than where he is right now, play­ing with the band in front of these peo­ple.’ His love of the craft and of the band and the mu­sic was con­ta­gious, and I felt it in that mo­ment very strongly.

“I’m not a ret­ro­spec­tive per­son, but since he passed away I’ve been forced to look back. I was very hands-on with the Amer­i­can Trea­sure boxset. It was bit­ter­sweet. As kids, we shared a dream to­gether. I have a vivid mem­ory of the first time we met. I was liv­ing in Gainesville, where Tom had a band called Mud­crutch. They were kind of a coun­try-rock band, and Tom was the bass player. I had a lit­tle blues jam band and our drum­mer, Ran­dall Marsh, au­di­tioned for Mud­crutch. When they came out to this farm on the edge of town to au­di­tion Ran­dall, it turned out their gui­tar player had just left, so Ran­dall brought me out, too. They took one look at me and wanted to leave. I had short hair and cut-off jeans and I weighed 110lb. I had this cheap Ja­panese gui­tar which was all I could af­ford. I could see this look in Tom’s eye: ‘This ain’t gonna work!’ Then I ripped into a Chuck Berry song and all their faces changed. It was like, ‘OK, you’re in the band!’ That’s how it went. We’ve been play­ing to­gether ever since.

“WHeN we moved to Los An­ge­les, we were fish out of wa­ter. We were over­whelmed by the cul­ture shock at the be­gin­ning, but we stuck it out, even when Mud­crutch fell apart in the stu­dio. Some other guys from Gainesville, Stan Lynch and Ron Blair, hap­pened to be out there. They be­came the rhythm sec­tion, and we be­came the Heart­break­ers. Ron played bass and Tom be­came the singer. He switched over to gui­tar be­cause he was writ­ing songs on gui­tar. His song­writ­ing im­proved tremen­dously around that time. He came up with

‘Amer­i­can Girl’, ‘Fooled Again’, ‘Strangers In The Night’, all this great stuff. “When we cut ‘Amer­i­can Girl’, we were still strug­gling, mak­ing 100 bucks a week, but I just knew that song had some­thing about it. It all came to­gether. It had that chim­ing, dron­ing sound, Byrdsy chords, a nice tough beat, and those pow­er­ful words. It was adrenalin from the first note. I still get a fuck­ing thrill ev­ery time I hear it, and the words hold up: ‘If she had to die tryin’, she had one lit­tle prom­ise she was gonna keep…’ Tom’s ge­nius was he could write so much in just a few words. He was bril­liant at that, it came nat­u­rally to him. He didn’t have to write a book to get his point across, he could put to­gether three or four words in the right jux­ta­po­si­tion that could mean any­thing to any­body.

“We started to write a lit­tle bit to­gether. He was so pro­lific, I was lucky to get one in now and then. In the early days it was sim­ple. I never wrote words. I was kind of in­tim­i­dated, be­cause his lyrics were so im­pres­sive to me. I would write a chord se­quence and a rhythm, and if I was lucky he would hear some­thing and be in­spired by it. He’d come back the next day and have writ­ten this great song to my mu­sic. That was how we wrote ‘Refugee’, ‘Here Comes My Girl’, ‘Woman In Love’, ‘Rock­ing Around With You’, ‘Stop Drag­gin’ My Heart Around’. All those early songs. It’s thrilling to have that re­la­tion­ship with some­body. It’s a deep con­nec­tion, to sit and write a song with some­one, to share your mu­sic and have them add to it and make it bet­ter. The next thing you know you’re on stage to­gether play­ing it, and 20,000 peo­ple are sing­ing the words back at you. It’s a pow­er­ful thing. It’s prob­a­bly what I miss the most. “The high point early on was when Damn The

Tor­pe­does hit through the main­stream. We were a great live band, but in the stu­dio some­times we would get in­se­cure, and we had to do the tracks over and over again un­til we got one take that was good. Our pro­ducer Jimmy Iovine suf­fered through that with

“He could write so much in just a few words” MikE CaMp­BEll

“The guy who wrote those songs, that’s who Tom is” mike camp­bell

us. When Jimmy heard ‘Refugee’ and ‘Here Comes My Girl’ he said, ‘That’s all I need to hear. I don’t care what the rest of the record is. If we get those songs right, we’ll be OK.’ ‘Refugee’ is so time­less. Those lyrics are as real to­day as when he wrote them.

“Things had changed by then. When we started in Florida it was all for one and one for all. We didn’t make much money, so we split ev­ery­thing equally. When we got out west, it be­came ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one that Tom was the leader of the band, and he was also mak­ing a lot of man­age­ment de­ci­sions. He was on the phone, mak­ing deals, writ­ing the songs, sing­ing the songs, di­rect­ing the band. So we came to an un­der­stand­ing that we should split the pie dif­fer­ently, be­cause this guy is doing 10 times as much work as we are. At first there was a bit of grum­bling, but then we thought, ‘No, this is work­ing.’ We let it go and we never brought it up again. Tom was very grace­ful about it. We all loved the band so much, we never let our per­sonal egos get in the way of ru­in­ing that. That’s why we stayed to­gether so long. It wasn’t about the money; it was about the mu­sic. Also, we loved each other.

“TOM was a great leader in ev­ery sense of the word. He was def­i­nitely in con­trol; we were fol­low­ing his lead ev­ery step of the way. For­tu­nately, he was al­most al­ways right! Ev­ery band needs some­body like that, with that drive, yet it was also a democ­racy in lots of ways. He would bring in a new song and be very free: ‘Just play what you feel.’ What we ar­gued about most was when he felt that the feel wasn’t right. He’d say, ‘It’s not grooving the way I want it to groove. OK, ev­ery­body stop play­ing, and let’s just lis­ten to me and my gui­tar. Lis­ten again, real close, be­cause there’s a rhythm that we’re miss­ing. There’s a sway that I re­ally want.’

“Some­times there would be ten­sion, but that kind of ten­sion can be very cre­ative. We didn’t shout much. We never got into fist­fights or said, ‘Fuck you!’ It was all very con­struc­tive crit­i­cism. Tom would fight to the death to get it right, but he was a joy to work with. His in­stincts were so strong, we knew if we did our best to fol­low his lead it was go­ing to be good. We be­lieved in him, and he be­lieved in us, too. He be­lieved we could get him there.

“Tom would not be pushed around. He was a very pow­er­ful per­son­al­ity. With Hard Prom­ises, the record com­pany wanted to raise the ticket price on al­bums, and our record was go­ing to be the first one out with the new high price. Tom sim­ply said no. ‘I’m not go­ing to be the one jack­ing the peo­ple around for more money. That’s not what we’re about.’ So we re­fused to record. We went out on what we called the Bank­ruptcy Tour, and we didn’t record un­til we sorted out the busi­ness. They even­tu­ally put the record out at the price we wanted. That was Tom. The rea­son he main­tained his in­tegrity all those years is that he stood up for what he thought was right. Al­ways.

“The Heart­break­ers tour in 1986 with Bob Dylan came along at the point af­ter South­ern Ac­cents where we were kind of bored with each other. It re­vi­talised us, made us in­ter­ested again. Bob said that talk­ing to the band was like talk­ing to one guy. The whole band was a sin­gle per­sona. As a group, we were of one mind. He liked that. It was great for Tom, be­cause we would do a short Heart­break­ers set, and then Tom would as­sume the role of gui­tar player and har­mony singer in the band with Bob. He was able to step back and be in the band with­out hav­ing to front it. I think that was re­ally good for him. It gave him a new per­spec­tive and it gave us new blood. We came off that tour and made Let

Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), which is a very raw, live record.

“When it came to Tom mak­ing Full Moon Fever as a solo al­bum, it was very or­ganic. He didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I want to be a solo artist.’ Tom bumped into Jeff Lynne, and they wrote ‘Free Fallin’’. Tom said, ‘Let’s go over to Mike’s house, he has a stu­dio.’ Jeff is a fuck­ing ge­nius, and by the end of the af­ter­noon we had a fin­ished record. Tom and I were look­ing at each other, like, ‘Wow, that was fun! Let’s do an­other one.’ Four days went by and we had four fin­ished tracks. We ex­plained to the Heart­break­ers that this had be­come a lit­tle side pro­ject, but we weren’t break­ing up the band. I’m sure the guys felt a lit­tle left out, but they got over it. That’s how it hap­pened. No big deal. “We fin­ished Full Moon Fever in three weeks, and when we turned it in, the record com­pany re­fused it. They didn’t hear any hits. What the fuck? We thought this was pretty good! Tom said, ‘OK, if they want a hit, let’s go and do a Byrds song.’ So he cov­ered ‘Feel A Whole Lot Bet­ter’. That was Tom be­ing kind of pas­sive-ag­gres­sive. In the in­terim, the whole A&R depart­ment re­volved, and a new group of peo­ple came in. We played them the same record and they jumped up and down and said, ‘There’s four hits on here!’ Go fig­ure. “Roy Or­bi­son and Ge­orge Har­ri­son were on that record. Jeff pro­duced. We all knew Bob. So, it evolved into the Trav­el­ing Wil­burys. It was very com­fort­able for Tom; I don’t be­lieve he ever felt in­tim­i­dated. The cool thing about the other Wil­burys, and Johnny Cash, and Del Shan­non, and all these other amaz­ing peo­ple he was for­tu­nate enough to work with, is that it was just about mak­ing mu­sic. You only think, ‘Man, there’s a Bea­tle in my house,’ for a lit­tle while. That ve­neer wears off pretty quick. Then it’s just an­other guy that you’re work­ing with. Mu­si­cians have a cer­tain un­spo­ken affin­ity to one an­other… They un­der­stood each other, and they were hav­ing fun. It was a beau­ti­ful pro­ject, and it was healthy for Tom to be part of a group and not feel the pres­sure that all the songs and vo­cals were on him. I think that pres­sure some­times got to him. If it failed, it was all on him, ul­ti­mately. With the Wil­burys, he didn’t have that. “Of course, af­ter all that he came back to the Heart­break­ers with fire! ‘I’m tired of be­ing part of a com­mit­tee, I want to be in charge again.’ When I hear

the band on the first cou­ple of records, there is youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance and just to­tal ex­cite­ment. Later on, we had the con­fi­dence to ex­plore and add nu­ance. It got a lit­tle more adult, a bit more fi­nessed, but ba­si­cally we kept doing the same thing. He felt the band made him more who he wanted to be than be­ing a solo artist could. That was his choice. He chose the band all the way down the line. It was a brother­hood.

“He was com­mit­ted to be­ing great. We’d work on stuff some­times that sounded pretty good, and he’d say, ‘Let’s throw that one out, I can do bet­ter.’ He saw through bull­shit in­stantly; he knew what was good and what wasn’t. He knew what was phoney and he knew what was real. He had that in spades. I’d look at him some­times and think, ‘This guy is on his game. He knows who he is, and he knows how to get it across.’ He was a great songwriter, good rhythm-gui­tar player, great bass player. Great record maker. He was all those things. Per­haps his defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic as a player was his con­fi­dence. Plus, he was re­ally fuck­ing smart.

“As time went on he would find less and less new mu­sic to get in­spired by. We would check out new things. We liked Nir­vana, we thought that was a great thing for the mu­sic busi­ness, but a lot of the time Tom went back to the stuff that he re­ally loved, from the ’50s and ’60s.

“I was sur­prised in 2007 when he said, ‘Let’s do a Mud­crutch record.’ Just be­fore that he had been com­plain­ing that he never had any free time! Re­unit­ing Mud­crutch ob­vi­ously wasn’t about the money. He got Ran­dall and Tom Leadon, brought them in, and one thing led to an­other. I thought that was very kind and gen­er­ous of him, to bring them into the spot­light and give them some­thing big­ger to do with their mu­sic than what they had been doing.

“Tom was a great friend. If any one of us needed him, he was there. We didn’t so­cialise a lot off the tour, es­pe­cially as we got older, be­cause we’d need a break and we had other in­ter­ests. A month or two might go by and I wouldn’t even speak to him, then he’d get on the phone and we’d talk for two hours. Even though he was a leader, in a lot of ways, I was a big brother for him. Some­times I could tell that he’d be a lit­tle lost on some­thing; I’d sit down and talk to him and give him per­spec­tive. He al­ways seemed to ap­pre­ci­ate that. When he was hav­ing trou­ble with his mar­riage, or his kids, we’d talk about it. We were just con­nected. We loved each other, and I con­sid­ered him my best friend.

“The last Heart­break­ers tour was phe­nom­e­nal. We played as well as we’d ever played. We were never go­ing through the mo­tions. Tom loved the band. He was al­ways re­ally proud of the group, and on a good night he be­lieved we were one of the best bands in the world.

“I can’t even con­ceive of play­ing those songs with­out Tom. It would just be too painful right now. He was a pow­er­ful force. You just don’t re­place him. At his memo­rial I gave a lit­tle speech. The main thing I said is that my in­ten­tion from this point for­ward is to hon­our his in­tegrity and his legacy. I won’t do any­thing that would com­pro­mise that.

“I’m still griev­ing. I’ll prob­a­bly be griev­ing for a long time, but I feel blessed that we had our time, and we wrote a lot of great songs which I think are go­ing to hold up long af­ter I’m gone. Ev­ery­thing is in the songs. The guy who wrote those songs, that’s who Tom is, that’s what he was like. He had a deep love of hu­man­ity. He had a deep be­lief in hope and the power of rock’n’roll, and he was com­pas­sion­ate to­wards peo­ple in pain. And some­times he was a stinker! I don’t want to paint a rosyred pic­ture of a per­fect per­son. We all have our flaws, but deep down he had a good heart. I’m very grate­ful and proud of what we did to­gether. I miss my friend, but we have to go on.” As told to Graeme Thom­son

Mud­crutch – (l–r) Tom petty, Mike Camp­bell, Ran­dall Marsh and Tom leadon – in la, De­cem­ber 1974 Find­ing fo­cus with the Heart­break­ers, June 4, 1977

“it re­vi­talised us”: petty on stage with bob Dylan in mans­field, mas­sachusetts, July 8, 1968

“phe­nom­e­nal”: petty and the Heart­break­ers’ last tour, Del mar, ca, Sept 17, 2017

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