Tom Petty pictured with a stash of his records, including Eddie Cochran’s 1975 posthumously released The Very Best of. A live version of Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” appears on the deluxe edition of Damn The Torpedoes.
Tom Petty: The Hair
"I got my ass kicked a lot because of my hair—threatened all the time. I remember driving on the interstate, pulling into truck stops. Our band would walk in, and the whole room would laugh. Some of them plain-ass wouldn’t serve you: ‘You gotta leave.’"
"One time, our van broke down. We pushed it into a gas station, and they made us push it off, just because we looked the way we did."
"The shit I went through — there were probably four or five guys in all of Gainesville with long hair in 1964. I got booted out of school so many times, told to get a haircut before I came back — all that furor if your hair came down over your ears a bit or was kind of thick in the back." — Tom Petty, as told to Rolling Stone in 2009.
Just like his music, there’s something very inclusive and charming about Thomas Earl Petty’s sun-kissed golden locks. You really can’t talk about Tom without mentioning the hair that has ‘mass appeal’ written all over it. Being both a native Floridian and adopted Californian, Petty (depending on the period) settled remarkably effortlessly into the backwoods hillbilly, acid-dropping hippie, clean cut no-nonsense American, and stoned-out-of-his-gourd surfer looks. There were a few missteps along the way (see: futuristic cowboy and mad hatter), but there were also sublime moments of true hall-of-fame hair glory (this feathery 1980s blow dried do probably made Stevie Nicks very proud).
Mudcrutch - “On The Street” (Demo)
"I remember I wrote this very pretty melody," says Benmont Tench, keys and organ man. “It sounded like a mid-tempo Todd Rundgren ballad off of Runt. I was very into Todd. Tom went, ‘That’s cool, let’s do that’ and then proceeded to play it twice as fast.”
When the Gainseville-raised Petty made his first trip out to Los Angeles to get signed, he brought a demo tape with him by his then band, Mudcrutch. It included “On The Street.” Benmont—a cornerstone of both Mudcrutch and The Heartbreakers—wrote the track and it was cut live without any overdubs in his parents’ living room to a 2-track machine.
I’m scraping out all my Tom Petty knowledge this week for the fantastic One Week One Band.
On March 9th in 1977, The New York Times used the phrase “pop punk” for one of the first times in an article—not about The Ramones or Elvis Costello—but Tom Petty. John Rockwell wrote: “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers…are a classic instance of that increasingly common phenomenon, the 1970’s pop-punk-rock band with a strong feeling for the diverse sounds of the 60’s.” Rockwell continues: “Bands of this historically conscious sort often appeal more to critics than to the public. In Mr. Petty’s case, one hopes he can break out into national success: it would be nice to hear somebody this clever at the top of the charts.”
Now, Tom Petty was never technically a punk. He and The Heartbreakers played alongside various punk-influenced bands like Blondie and The Runaways early on. But Petty never liked the term. In 1978, Cameron Crowe quoted Petty in Rolling Stone: “Call me a punk and I’ll cut you.” In an interview for FFanzeen magazine in 1977 after a show at CBGBs in New York, Petty recounted teaching Roger McGuinn of The Byrds his song “American Girl.” When McGuinn labeled him a punk, Petty recalled replying: “Who the fuck are you callin’ a punk? I ain’t no punk.”
It’s absurd in hindsight to think of Tom Petty being forced to defend himself against being boxed into a genre like punk, especially when you consider the acidic tone of his responses. Nowadays, Petty is as safe as they get: a bonafide legend and fixture on every American city’s classic rock radio station, where the same three or four tracks—”American Girl,” “Breakdown,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and “Free Fallin’”—are incessantly played over and over again into oblivion. “American Girl” may have never charted in the US (it reached 40 in the UK), but most of us have nevertheless heard it enough times to last this lifetime. So do me a favor: throw those tracks out the window. You won’t need them this week.
I grew up on Tom Petty. My first CD was Into The Great Wide Open and I learned the guitar to its title-track. Petty was my first outdoor concert at Nissan Pavillion in Virginia in 1999 when I was 14. In college when I got into vinyl, the first piece of wax I purchased was a copy of Hard Promises I stumbled onto for $4 in a DC thrift store. Petty’s music is often simple and easily accessible, which is why it can appeal to kids and massive audiences, but it’s also clever, filled with structural nuance, and timeless. He’s somehow managed to build one of the most successful careers in rock ‘n’ roll history out of strumming the same 6 or 7 chords.
Petty may have never been a punk per say, but throughout his career he often acted like one, leaning into his music and business practices with a confident and consistently antagonistic force. Whether it was famously punching a whole in the wall while recording, taking out his switchblade during a meeting with ABC, filing for bankruptcy to get out of a shitty record deal, or threatening MCA when they wanted to charge fans an extra dollar for Hard Promises, Petty never shied away from protecting his artistic control and freedom. An Elvis-obsessed outsider growing up in Gainesville, Florida, Petty came to California with tunnel-vision: he was going to play music for a living, and he was going to do it his way.
This week we’re diving into the deep cuts, the side players, the side projects and collaborations, and Petty’s very best songs.
Shark Week join Paperhaus and Young Rapids Friday night for a showcase of some of DC’s best and brightest at the RnR Hotel. Show starts at 9PM. $10. RSVP here.
NATURAL CHILD - BLIND OWL SPEAKS [LIVE]
Hello summertime: DC’s Teen Mom get remixed by synth-pop neighbors Brett and it’s all ice cold lemonade.
Friends: sink your teeth into the first track off Shark Week’s July 30th-due AA-side Santurce 7”. “Go West,” which premiered on Spin last week, is all fire, brimstone, and disease-curing shots of Spaghetti Western guitar riffage.