Tom Petty: Something Good Coming

JamBase 
Rewind

Original Article By: Dennis Cook - June 8, 2010

Today we kick off a new series of posts called JamBase Rewind in which we present some of the many wonderful features we've published over the last 13 years. For our first installment of JamBase Rewind we look back at an article Dennis Cook wrote about Tom Petty in 2010. Petty, who hits the road with The Heartbreakers on May 16 for a six-week tour, discussed his new-at-the-time album Mojo, his reunion with Mudcrutch and much more with Cook.

Tom Petty by Sam Jones
Gris-gris, jack ball, hoodoo bag – all different names for the same thing, a totem that signifies rejuvenation, root energy, life force. When one's mojo is workin' they hum from the inside out and their actions strike like a marksman's arrow, sharp and true. So, it's fitting that the latest long-player by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers is dubbed Mojo (arriving June 15 on Reprise/WEA). Despite 35 years and counting on the ramparts, this band sounds like they scored a swell new mojo hand, coming on as fired up and ready to wave rock's banner as they did back in 1976. Mojo feels engaged on every level, the unadulterated sound of a rock band making rock music.

"That's exactly what it was. We had a terrific time doing it. I don't think we could have had more fun," says Petty. "We recorded it live-in-the-studio. We did a few overdubs, not a lot, and the rule was to try and not do any. We like it and feel really good about it."

Mojo is the first Petty and the Heartbreakers studio release since 2002's The Last DJ and the first time recording together again after the 2008 self-titled Mudcrutch record, where Petty and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench reformed their pre-Heartbreakers band. That record was similarly cut with a live approach and influenced Mojo's general feel.

"I think the Mudcrutch record turned a lot of things around for me in terms of how I approach recording. That was such a pleasurable thing. It was a record that we made that I actually like to go back and listen to [laughs]. I don't normally do that; I'm usually fed up with it by the time I'm done with it. [Afterwards], I thought, 'Why would I do it any other way?' and let's see how it works on the Heartbreakers," explains Petty. "With the Heartbreakers, we hadn't made a record in so long I really wanted it to be really good."

The new record has a darker hue in places than some chapters in the Petty catalogue, with a thick, present sound and lyrics so sharp they draw blood. A bit of Mudcrutch's psychedelic bent also finds its way into the proceedings, particularly on standout "First Flash of Freedom."

"The takes were usually very early takes, and I wanted to leave room for improvisation. We didn't really demo this up. I just came in with my guitar, played them a song on it and took it from there," says Petty. "So, everyone had a lot to contribute. I guess 'organic' is an overused word but it is pretty organic because it was created right there on the studio floor. We didn't polish it up. We just took it as it wa

The new record has a darker hue in places than some chapters in the Petty catalogue, with a thick, present sound and lyrics so sharp they draw blood. A bit of Mudcrutch's psychedelic bent also finds its way into the proceedings, particularly on standout "First Flash of Freedom."

"The takes were usually very early takes, and I wanted to leave room for improvisation. We didn't really demo this up. I just came in with my guitar, played them a song on it and took it from there," says Petty. "So, everyone had a lot to contribute. I guess 'organic' is an overused word but it is pretty organic because it was created right there on the studio floor. We didn't polish it up. We just took it as it was. The groove was the important thing. I wanted everything to have a deep pocket, and I think we succeeded pretty much on that level."

In 2010, rock has largely lost its hips, ceded the dance floor to urban soul and mainstream pop and country, forgetting its early primary purpose of getting folks to sway and grind together to the beat. Thankfully, masters like Petty and his running partners haven't lost the script.

"Swing is the key word. The swing has kind of gone away, and it's become a little stiff to me. I really admire what Booker T & The MGs do, that sort of groove. JJ Cale has a great groove, too," offers Petty. "This is what the band has grown into [laughs]. This accurately reflects what we've turned into. We've got a lot deeper pocket than we used to. In the early '80s I don't think we would have or could have made this record."

Even Rock Stars Get The Blues

Petty & The Heartbreakers by Mary Ellen Matthews
There's a blues undercurrent to the album, from the title to opener "Jefferson Jericho Blues" to something more indefinable and haunted in the shadows. If anything, Mojo hews close to the blazing blues-rock of early Fleetwood Mac.

"I love Peter Green! He's one of my idols. I could listen to Peter Green all day. And that's very much what I had in mind on a lot of the [new] stuff. I wanted to get a sound that mixed up say the Chicago Chess stuff and John Mayall, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, early Jeff Beck Group. These were records I played to the engineer a lot before we began the project," says Petty. "I told him, 'I want the guitars right up loud, as loud as the vocals when [Mike] plays,' and I think we succeeded at that. Mike's just amazing. He really stepped up and did his part."

Campbell is right out front on Mojo. It's a refreshing change of pace and perhaps a chance for folks who haven't paid close attention the past 35 years to discover just how tremendous a guitarist Mike Campbell truly is. Often he's an extremely tasteful, subtle, respectful player, working into the muscular of the music rather than riding on top.

"I tried to kinda drum that out of him [laughs]. It was like, 'Okay, let's show 'em what you can do. Just rip and have some fun.' He never let us down," enthuses Petty. "I've known Mike and Ben for so long and they still amaze me. I couldn't dream of playing with anyone else."

Tench, Campbell and Petty have played together for close to four decades, and yet their chemistry and obvious camaraderie make each new chapter feel fresh and exciting for them, which in turn sparks off fan enthusiasm in a very tangible way. Nothing compares with the force of a shared endeavor that guys put their backs into, and these three do that again & again.

Vintage Mike Campbell by Dennis Callahan
"What else would I want? I've always been so satisfied with them and the position I'm in with them," Petty says. "When we came together we had very similar record collections, very similar tastes, and that's always been important to us, that our reference points are really clear. But I've always felt it was a little bit of luck that they walked into my life when they did. And I think we all respect each other and we're who each of us wants to play with."

The impression from the outside may sometimes be that this is Tom Petty's band but spend a little time talking with the man and it's clear he sees this as a full-blooded collaboration. And it always has been in his mind.

"We've never looked at it as me and a backup group. We've always treated the band as equals. Maybe I'm sort of the final stamp of approval, but I think everybody has an equal input. And it's not something we work on; it's very natural. We don't talk about it a lot, we just do it," says Petty. "I'm very grateful for whatever force of nature brought them to me."

"Mike has always understood [me]. If I have a song he'll play something better than I picture it. He'll always hand me something better than what I handed him. There's very little to say but, 'Oh yeah, that's great.' It's a great little group and I'm really glad I'm still in it."

Continue reading for more on the new album, new tour and Mudcrutch...


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