Last summer Tom Petty excited fans when he told Rolling Stone he was planning on performing his 1994 solo album Wildflowers live on tour in 2017 as the double-album as which it was originally conceived. Petty decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Heartbreakers with a massive tour at big venues instead. Sadly Tom Petty died before he had a chance to take Wildflowers on the road, but a new Rolling Stone cover story reveals he still had the tour in mind and had reached out a number of musicians to join in such as Norah Jones.
“I want to take the Heartbreakers and whoever else I need to reproduce every sound in a big way,” Petty originally told Rolling Stone in June 2016. “That album was really about sound in a big way. I would like to go out there and perform the entire album as it was originally conceived with all of the songs.” While Tom had been against full album performances, he insisted this was different. “I’ve changed my mind because nobody has ever done something like this where you’re previewing the second part of a never-released album,” Petty said. “How often does that happen? It’s old and new at the same time.”
Back in December Tom Petty told Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene the band’s 40th anniversary tour, which wound up concluding just before his death, would be the Heartbreakers’ last big tour. That said he still wanted to take the revised Wildflowers on the road. “The 40th anniversary kind of got in the way of that,” Petty told Greene. “I looked at the tour they booked and it was all big places. The Wildflowers tour will have to be in smaller places because it’s just a lot of quiet and a lot of it is acoustic. It would be wrong to focus on one album for that tour.”
David Fricke wrote the just-unveiled cover story on Petty and talked to Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and manager Tony Dimitriades about what was in the works for Wildflowers and more. “That would have been smaller-scale, away from the hits,” Campbell told Fricke. But “plans for that somehow evolved into ‘It’s the 40th year. Let’s do this tour first.'” Just as the 53-show 2017 tour concluded, Tom reached out to Tony about plans for touring Wildflowers. “He asked me to call some people,” Dimitriades noted, “and see if they would come on the road and perform it with him. One – and she said yes immediately – was Norah Jones.”
Another revelation in the article is that Tom Petty was suffering from a hairline fracture to his left hip. Tom went on with the tour and was aiming to deal with the painful situation at the end of the run. “I don’t know how it happened,” Dimitriades said. “I don’t think he even knew when it happened.” Fricke wrote, “At one point, Dimitriades told Petty, ‘You can’t tour like that.’ The singer responded, ‘Why not? I’ll do it in a chair if I have to.'”
The members of the Heartbreakers told Fricke the group was firing on all cylinders. “It was magical, it was spiritual,” Campbell said. “Everybody was so happy, especially Tom – full of glory and hope.” The guitarist added, “I’m just so sad, to think that I’m not going to play those songs again.” Keyboardist Benmont Tench felt similarly. “He was just kicking ass,” Tench told Fricke about Petty, “and we had found another level of playing as a band. There was a depth of soul coming through.” Benmont had high hopes for the future, “I figured I’d get a call in a month or two: ‘Tom wants to get together and jam some shit out.'”
Head here for the entire Rolling Stone cover story on the life and death of Tom Petty including Heartbreakers’ drummer Steve Ferrone’s story about the first time he played “Breakdown.” The closest we’ll come to a Wildflowers tour is Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ 1995 Dogs With Wings Tour, with shows often featuring most of the songs on the album. Dimitriades didn’t mention whether plans to release Petty’s fully-realized version of the album will move on.