Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Live Wires

By: Dennis Cook

As you dig into the story behind the jams, check out these sweet tracks from the Live Anthology now:

"Nightwatchman" from 6/30/81, The Forum, Los Angeles, CA
"Here Comes My Girl" from 3/6/80, Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Mary Jane's Last Dance" from 9/21/06, Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, FL

Tom Petty by Steve Wilson
"I'm Tom Petty and behind me are The Heartbreakers. We're going to have a good time tonight. I promise you that."

These words were spoken before more than 60,000 people in the early minutes of Petty and The Heartbreakers' jaw-dropping Bonnaroo performance in 2006, but they might well have been said at any time, on any stage in this band's 33-year journey. This is a rock & roll unit that delivers the goods time and time again in concert, and if one ever needed empirical proof of their enduring live potency it's right there on The Live Anthology (released November 23 on Warner Brothers), spread out over four thoughtfully chosen and sequenced discs that offer compelling glimpses into the group's history on stages from 1978-2006 (plus a DVD of their 1978 New Year's Eve show in Santa Monica, CA is included in the swanky Collector's Edition), where they have consistently fulfilled the promise of a good time.

"I want us to do that, and I also want us to have a good times ourselves. If we aren't then nobody else is gonna. But I'm selfish that way. I want to get up there and have a really good time," says Benmont Tench, keyboardist and co-founder of The Heartbreakers.

"[Live Anthology] was a daunting task. You're looking at 30 years of performing to find the definitive live versions of songs. Organizing and finding all the tapes was a year's work, and then finding the best takes was probably another year," says guitarist-songwriter-co-founder Mike Campbell, who selected the material on Anthology with Petty. "It was Tom's idea at the beginning to not go chronologically. We just wanted to find the best performances despite what year they might be. And we didn't want to overlook anything, so went over everything. Over time we narrowed it down. If there was a problem with the sound or the band wasn't really on fire we'd just move on to the next take. It became so overwhelming to listen to things that we got to a point where we'd mostly focus on the vocal. Usually if the vocal was in the game then the band was right there with him. That's how we play; we play off of Tom's singing."

One of the real pleasures of the newly released anthology is the bumper crop of primo cover tunes including Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," Thunderclap Newman's "Something In The Air," Booker T & The MG's' "Green Onions," Van Morrison's "Mystic Eyes," Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy," Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil," Dave Clark Five's "Any Way You Want It," J.J. Cale's "I'd Like To Love You Baby," The Byrds' "Ballad of Easy Rider," and the James Bond Goldfinger theme. To call the mix eclectic hardly seems adequate, and it speaks to their depths both as musicians and ardent fans of other's work.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers by Steve Wilson
"When I heard we were putting out a live record I was really afraid [laughs]. Because with live records, traditionally, you might get a cover or you might get an obscure song but basically it's going to be the hits played live. We don't change the arrangements a lot on the hits, sometimes, and I think we're much better as a live band than a recorded band but still," observes Tench, trailing off with a worried tone. "Then, I found out they were going through everything and Mike and Tom were getting excited about what they were hearing and wanted to do a comprehensive live set that covered the rhythm sections we've had - Howie [Epstein] (bass) and Stan [Lynch] (drums) (1982-1994), Howie and Ferrone (Steve Ferrone, drums) (1994-2002), Ron [Blair] (bass) and Stan (1975-1982), and Ron and Ferrone (2002-present). And I was excited that it had the crazy stuff like 'Any Way You Want It,' and especially that it had [boffo Petty rarities] 'Driving Down To Georgia' and 'Lost Without You' on it. What we have on Live Anthology is what the band sounds like to me. A recording is a brief experience; it's a brief period of time. The real band is the live shows and the jams and the rehearsals."

"Covers are always fun, and there's so many great songs out there. At rehearsal someone will have heard something and we'll play it just for fun, and if it sounds good we'll put it in the show," says Campbell. "We did find quite a few live gems, and we wanted to include that because I think it shows a depth to the band that maybe people haven't seen before. It's fun and it shows our influences and inspirations. It just adds more depth for the listener, I hope."

"We grew up all listening to the same radio, except for Steve Ferrone [who is British and a former member of the Average White Band that began playing with Petty during the Wildflower sessions in '94]. It's a total trip because there'll be songs that were hits on both sides of the Atlantic but another band will have had the hit in England. So, we'll start playing a song and he's playing it the way he heard it by some other band when he was a kid. But we all grew up with a love for the same kind of music," says Tench. "We all love country music - real country music, not this awful, awful, awful mockery they put out today. They should be ashamed, and what they call R&B today has NOTHING to do with R&B; it's disgraceful. But, we all grew up with a love for country, bluegrass, psychedelic music, three-minute pop songs, and by 'pop song' I don't mean candy type pop. The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Zombies and The Who's early singles were 'pop' as in 'popular' music but they rock! Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, we all loved that stuff. And what're you gonna do about Bo Diddley!?! There's everything right there."

The extremely reasonable price tag ($24.98 list) of Live Anthology - a four CD set with an extensive booklet of essays, song-by-song commentary by Petty, and a cool online Super Highway Tour companion site full of pics, band commentary and behind the scenes info – is indicative of a career-long dedication to holding down costs with their fans in mind while still offering a quality product.

"We've always kinda fought for keeping ticket prices down. It's our responsibility I think. I always put myself in their shoes. It costs a lot of money to go to a concert, and we certainly don't need to gouge the people that love us," says Campbell. "There's built-in inflation. Tours now are more expensive, so there's the balancing act of trying to get the production costs taken care of without sticking it to the punter. We do the best we can."

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