It was 1977 and I had just started to seriously work as a rock journalist. It was a bit of a strange time in the rock world. It was the year “Saturday Night Fever” and disco exploded, changing the culture forever. The music scene was basically owned by the Bee Gees, Abba, Thelma Houston, KC & the Sunshine Band and Donna Summer. I was doing interviews, concert reviews and record reviews and I remember being inundated by literally hundreds of disco tinged albums to review from Casablanca records, which was one of the kings of the disco world. Casablanca also gave us KISS, but that’s a story for another day. Having never been a disco convert, I felt disconnected by much of what was out there. There was Neil Young and Lou Reed, but much of the commercial pop music scene seemed like a wasteland.
Then a seismic shift occurred. ABC records sent me a copy of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album to review. Yep, it was the days of vinyl. I put it on and remember being transfixed and sitting through it twice. It was rock & roll. There were echoes of the Stones and the Byrds, but this was new. It was Petty.
Although originally from Florida, Petty and the Heartbreakers actually took shape in Santa Monica California. Their eponymous debut album didn’t fare all that well in the U.S., but did well in England. Other albums followed and Petty emerged as one of the giants of rock. Along with the Heartbreakers there was the Traveling Wilburys which featured Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. Impossible to match that type of line up.
So flashback to the ‘70s In 1978, I was assigned to review a concert at the Santa Monica Civic. The bill featured Mink DeVille, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty was the headliner. It was a confusing time in the rock journalism world, punk and new wave were blossoming and writers had a tendency to describe Petty as punk early on. He often said the Stones were his punk band, so maybe that wasn’t so far off the mark. Everything was perfect about that show, the venue and the opening acts, but the Heartbreakers owned it. To close the show, Petty did a version of “Runaway” with Del Shannon which I’ll always remember.
A few days later I was at his record label interviewing someone else, who it was I can’t recall, and as I was leaving, the A & R person called me over. “I want to introduce you to Tom Petty,” she said.
He had a huge, open smile. There was none of the rock star posing, smugness or arrogance that I’d encountered before. We talked for a few minutes. I told him I’d just seen his concert and was writing a review.
“Hope you liked it,” he said. Write something good.” He then paused and added, “But only if you mean it.”
It’s strange to feel music has lost him. He was a soundtrack to a good deal of my life back then.
Perhaps he said it best in “Walls”
And some things are over,
Some things go on
Part of me you carry,
And part of me is gone
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