Chris Bell. Alex Chilton on background harmony. I dig the extra ‘verb on the vocals on the ‘country version.’ Such a friggin’ beautiful cut.
"Stop That Girl." Fabulous tune released in 1981 by Vic Godard & The Subway Sect.
Dwight Tilley Band - “Looking For The Magic”
The Dwight Tilley Band were label mates with Tom Petty on Leon Russel’s Shelter Records imprint, and early reviews often point to the two groups’ similarities, though Tilley and company unfortunately never connected with mass audiences the same way The Heartbreakers did.
The bands did some collaborating early on: Dwight Tilley and Phil Seymour provide backing vocals throughout The Heartbreakers self-titled debut, and in the video above you can see Petty on bass for Tilley’s fantastic echo-washed pop oddity, “Looking For The Magic.”
After three albums, you should shoot your producer. — Jimmy Iovine
"Keeping Me Alive" is an unbelievably straightforward song, but it’s also incredibly poignant. Take this line: "Sometimes we ride around. She plays the radio up loud. If I was sad, well I’m happy now.” You can laugh at the simplicity of the words on paper, but sung out loud the song cuts right to the heart of what keeps us sane in this bat-shit crazy world: love and music. The best remedy around, Petty advises, is to crank that dial.
After working Petty and The Heartbreakers to the bone on the perfect Damn The Torpedoes and very solid follow-up Hard Promises, Jimmy Iovine was near the end of his rope on Long After Dark. He didn’t want the acoustic “Keeping Me Alive” on the record, and so it was shelved. In hindsight, everyone in the band believes it would’ve made a much stronger record. And they were right: “Keeping Me Alive” should’ve been a hit.
Lee Hazlewood - These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (1966)
The version with Lee’s explainations during the song
Did you know there’s a Tumblr for collecting every cover of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’?
The Heartbreakers: Benmont Tench
That’s keys and organ player Benmont Tench above in the blazer on tour in 1983 with Stevie Nicks. Tench first met Tom Petty at a record store when he was just 11 years old. He not only played in pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, but in 1964, he was a part of one of Petty’s first childhood groups, the Sundowners. He’s a cornerstone and one of the most important pieces of The Heartbreakers. But Tench has also played with a staggeringly long list of artists outside the band he helped found: there are 13 pages of instrumental credits for Tench on the discography database Discogs, which includes names like Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, U2, Fiona Apple, and Ryan Adams. It’s not just the boldfaced folks either. Tench is a big part of the young burgeoning scene of musicians in the Los Angeles area, sitting in on improvisatory jams in Laurel Canyon, at Mollusk Surf Shop in Venice, and the Largo nightclub. He’s a member of Works Progress Administration, a supergroup of sorts that features players like Sean and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek and Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Recently, he played on Dawes’ Nothing Is Wrong record and the Haim sisters’ “Falling” single. It’s not a stretch to say he’s one of the best organ players in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, if not simply the singular best.
Let’s end with hearing a Tench original. “You Little Thief” was recorded and released in 1986 by Feargal Sharkey, formerly the lead singer of fantastic pop-punk pioneers The Undertones. Sharkey had just released a “A Good Heart,” a single written by Maria McKee about her breakup with Tench. “You Little Thief” was Tench’s direct and quite poisonous response, which he comically also sent to Sharkey, who not only recorded it immediately, but then placed it side-by-side with “A Good Heart” on his debut album. Love hurts, and if you’re a songwriter, the hurt apparently can be quite public.
Bob Dylan & Tom Petty
Can we find a band that’s cool? — Dylan to his manager
In 1986, really for the first time since The Band, Dylan had a band to tour and play with—and it was The Heartbreakers. Petty and company opened for Dylan every night and then stayed on stage to become his backing band for the worldwide True Confessions tour and the 1987 Temples in Flames tour. Along with establishing friendships, the tour resulted in the first two collaborations between Dylan and Petty: the co-written songs "Jammin’ Me," released on Petty’s album Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), and “Got My Mind Made Up,” put out on Dylan’s Knocked Out Loaded.
It’s a very spontaneous sort of music. Arrangements can change very quickly. Maybe a song comes up that you never reheasred before. And you just do it. — Tom Petty on touring with Dylan
You had to improvise, because he might decide to play it in a different time signature or a different key. — Benmont Tench
When I look back it was some of the most crazy and enjoyable times I’ve ever had playing live. — Mike Campbell
Tom Petty: The Voice
Tom Petty has a shitty voice. It’s nasally. He shifts periodically in and out of a Southern drawl. Like Bob Dylan though and almost everyone after, it never mattered. Petty worshipped Elvis as a kid, and like The King, he didn’t just sing out—he hustled and worked every ounce of mojo he had out of it. Over his career, Petty stretched his limited pipes out to the brink (he lost his voice on tour in 1980 and had his tonsils removed) and then back again.
The Classic Albums documentary series (which is streaming on Netflix) did a segment on Damn The Torpedoes and spent a good chunk of time on “Don’t Do Me Like That.” There are a few clips on Youtube, including this one, where if you head to the 8-minute mark, you can hear Petty’s vocal harmonies isolated in the studio. Without the instrumentals, it ain’t pretty. But you can hear Petty churning out beads of sweat to make it work. He’s not even close to a decent rhythm and blues singer, but on “Don’t Do Me Like That,” he throws it all out there to deliver a fierce imitation—what Torpedoes producer Jimmy Iovine calls “a real sort of Wilson Pickett kind of vocal”—that hits you square in the gut. “Tom sang the shit out of it,” recalls Iovine. And he’s right. The shuffle, groove, and hook are irresistible.
All of Petty’s songs live and die by their chorus. Everything is built around that hook-laden delivery and its ensuing repetition. What’s particularly impressive is, since the choruses are always based around Tom’s lyrics and vocal melodies, he’s turned his voice—a technically inferior instrument—into his greatest asset and the most recognizable ingredient to his music. As much as I’ve dragged Tom’s voice down into the mud, I also absolutely love it. For a stadium-caliber rock ‘n’ roll legend, it has an incredibly quirky tone and character that sounds as if it was forced out the roof of your mouth, swallowed, and then spit out again. But it’s that simultaneously distinctive and anyone-could-sing-this quality to it that keeps anthemic numbers like “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’” grounded. If a contemporary pop country singer took a swing at either of those, the result would be a plate piled high with cheese.
"I’ve never heard him do a bad vocal," Iovine remarks earlier in the video. Iovine produced a handful of Bruce Springsteen’s best records along with Damn The Torpedoes, arguably Petty’s best, so I take Iovine at his word. Petty was not only driven and committed, the guy was unbelievably consistent. From 1976 through to 1999, he released 12 records with and without The Heartbreakers and another two with The Traveling Wilburys (not to mention the records he produced). There’s a few lesser records in that mix, but not one single flop. Even a weaker record like Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) contains flat-out remarkable tracks: the gorgeous acoustic-decorated “It’ll All Work Out” and the rollicking Rolling Stones-esque crowd pleaser “Jammin’ Me,” co-written with Dylan.
Petty’s trajectory is straight out of the American dream playbook. He came from nowhere and nothing, worked his ass off recording a demo, drove west until he hit the Pacific, and at the age of 23 had a record contract in his hands—all accomplished with one seriously nasal twang.