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Popularity finally catches up to Petty and Heartbreakers
By Jason Petty
The Yellow Jacket — December 1, 1995
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers finished up their Wildflowers tour early this fall after playing before numerous sellout crowds. It shows that his popularity has finally caught up to him and many believe that it was long overdue.
Petty and his band hail from Gainesville, Florida but officially formed in Los Angeles, California in the mid-1970’s. In 1976 the band kicked the stagnant music scene in the face with their self-titled debut album. The brand of rock they introduced was stripped down, it combines jumpy blues rythyms and ringing guitars, over which Petty got in the listeners faces with his blunt and direct vocal style. It took listeners in the United States a whole year to catch up with the album. The single “Breakdown” was released for the radio and became a top-40 hit after word got back to the states that Petty was igniting flames in Europe.
Much success was soon to follow but there were several detours along the way. Petty broke his hand in frustration at his inability to finish the album Southern Accents. There was a dispute with his former record company when he fought against the companies wish to raise the price of his Hard Promises album because of his “superstar” status. Petty won. A dispute with a tire company saw Petty force them to remove a Petty-soundalike song from a TV commercial. And in 1987 someone burned Petty’s house down. The guilty parties were never found and Petty rebuilt the house.
In 1989, Tom Petty released his debut solo album, Full Moon Fever. The album was produced by Jeff Lynne who was in the group The Traveling Wilbury’s along with Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. Along with long time friend and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell the Full Moon Fever album was on the Billboard Top Ten Album Chart for 34 weeks and went triple platinum. The album also produced some of Petty’s most recognizable hits such as “Free Fallin'” and “I Won’t Back Down.”
The group had continued success in 1991 with their album Into the Great Wide Open. This album also achieved platinum status as Lynne, Petty and Campbell teamed up again to produce the album. This record too produced some landmark Petty songs such as “Learning To Fly” and “Into The Great Wide Open,” which was an attempt to show the bleak side of show business. Also in 1991 the video Take the Highway, which was footage from an L.A. show, was released.
The Greatest Hits album released in 1993 featured some of Petty’s solo work along with some songs with the Heartbreakers. This album covers material that spans three decades. It compiles songs from nine different albums. It has 16 previously released tracks along with two new songs, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Something In The Air.” Since being released in 1993, the album has sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone.
At the 1994 MTV Music Awards, Petty won Best Male Video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and for his long time contributions to the field of music video he was also given a Video Vanguard Award. Petty also was given a Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Rock Performance By a Duo Or Group With Vocal for his work with The Traveling Wilburys. Petty has received eight nominations since 1981 when he won the award for his single “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Petty’s newest album Wildflowers is still impacting the national album charts. He and his band finished up their world tour this fall. This was one of the most anticipated tours in recent years and as always, Petty did not disappoint. The tour covered 47 cities across the U.S., including Dallas and Houston, Texas. This tour also marked the bands first with highly touted drummer Steve Ferrone. Ferrone plays on most of the Wildflowers album. In a recent article in the Britain’s Mojo Magazine, music editor Bill Flanagan said of the album: “This is probably the purest collection of work Petty has ever done, with a great emphasis on lovely folk and country blues melodies that sound a hundred years old. On repeated listening, and it’s hard not to start the album over as soon as it finishes, it begins to sound like the strongest collection of songs Petty has ever come up with.” On Friday, January 20, Petty and VH1 Television made music history when Petty became the first artist to have his tickets sold by television before being on sale to the general public. Viewers set in with an astounding 500,000 phone calls in the first 15 minutes.
Although Petty’s success has been something he has had to deal with for over 30 years he has remained married to his wife of 21 years, Jane, who was his high school sweetheart. Their oldest daughter Adria, 20, studies film in New York while their youngest daughter, Kim, 12, lives at home.