Petty, Heartbreakers ‘Fresh’ for SPAC show
By Michael Hochanadel
Schenectady Gazette — Saturday, June 15, 1985
“The drummer is the heartbeat,” said Stan Lynch is a recent phone interview talking of his role as drummer in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“We’ve got a singer (Petty) who writes great songs and has this star quality about him. I make a common denominator of rhythm, the beat. I set up the audience, I make sure they get it.”
The SPAC audience has a chance to “get it” Sunday, when Petty and the Heartbreakers return for their first visit since 1981.
These days, “it” is music from Petty’s “Southern Accents” album (MCA), songs about the band’s Florida homeland.
“We’ve been together 10 years, and all grew up together,” said Lynch. Two groups — Mudcrutch, with Petty playing bass and Lynch drumming, and Road Turkey — once divided all the gigs around Gainesville. They combined behind Petty when he found his voice as a songwriter in the mid-1970s.
The rock and roller-coaster quickly whirled them through a relentless cycle, “the standard rush of album, tour; album, tour,” as Lynch recalled, spiced with Petty’s bankruptcy and other explosive changes on the business front, and a growing reputation as classic-style rockers on record and on tour.
The hurry-up cycle was broken — along with Petty’s hand — during sessions for “Southern Accents” when Petty “backhanded a wall,” according to Lynch. The group was rushing to complete the album by the end of the year, and Petty’s injury stopped the roller-coaster.
“I know he didn’t mean to do it,” said Lynch, “and I sure felt bad for him; but it took the pressure off us. We were in such a big hurry; now we could say to ourselves “we’re just not gonna hurry.”
On “Southern Accents,” Petty was “trying to recall feelings about the south he’d had as a boy, and what they meant to him as a man,” explained Lynch. “We’d finally had a chance to just be there, to travel around and experience it as civilians, instead of touring musicans.”
Petty built a studio in his Los Angeles basement and the group worked there “under any kinds of conditions,” laughed Lynch. Jimmy Iovine, David Stewart (Eurythmics) and Robbie Robertson (The Band) “came in after most of the stuff was recorded,” to produce overdubs and rework arrangements, with Stewart also co-writing two songs.
With time to branch out musically, and feeling that “we’d gotten a little tired of our sound, a little stale,” the Heartbreakers added horns and a 26-piece orchestra. These experiments made “Southern Accents” the most varied of Petty’s albums, with several funk tracks, especially “It Ain’t Nothing to Me,” showing Stewart’s influence, and a slow Tulsa glide, “Spike,” recalling J.J. Cale. There are brassy horn honks and ethereal strings.
“Since we had so many horns on the album, we wanted some on tour,” and the group hired Rod Stewart’s section of trombonist Mick Lane, saxman Jimmy Zalvala and trumpter Lee Thornburg.
The band with horns rehearsed in Los Angeles for two weeks before hitting the road the first week of June. Lynch quickly found he liked best the new songs in the show. “It’s a challenge to me, keeps me on my toes. I really like ‘Don’t Come Around Here Mo More,'” current single from “Southern Accents.”
The roller-coaster is rolling again, but Lynch sounds relaxed: “Beating on the drums is a great release for me. When I play well, I sleep well, believe me; I’ve done a good day’s work.”
He admires ’til Tuesday, opening act on the tour. “They’re real musicians, now showy or flash; real cool onstage, but they’re making a musical statement and deserve respect.”
At SPAC in 1981 the New Zealand group Split Enz opened for Petty and the Heartbreakers, who have consistently chosen interesting openers for their tours.
For all the rehearsal and preparation, and despite grueling schedules and playing a standard set list night after night, Lynch is never bored onstage. “You never know what’s going to happen in a rock show,” he said.
“That’s why rock and roll is so exciting; you’re never quite sure.”