Former rock and roll star lives the quiet life on the beach, finds success as hit song writer
By Madelyn Troyanek
St. Augustine Record — Sunday, April 10, 2005
There was a snake in the kitchen and she scoured her home in Nashville for a tool to kill it.
She turned to her visitor, Stan Lynch, the former drummer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and asked him to grab a hoe from outside her backyard.
“There’s a hoe out back?” he asked songwriter Stephony Smith, beginning to chuckle.
“You’re old enough to remember back when a hoe was a hoe,” she told Lynch.
And a country song was born.
Lynch co-wrote the song “Back When” with Smith, and Tim McGraw agreed to sing it, after turning it down once before.
The song with its catchy lines, “When a hoe was a hoe, and a screw was a screw,” topped the Billboard charts in December and stayed in the top 10 for a few months.
Lynch wrote some of the verses in his St. Johns County beach house, where he’s lived since 2000.
“I saw (McGraw) singing it on the Today show and I realized I wrote the verses in my bedroom, and it was like it was beamed onto the TV,” he said.
“It’s a miracle, a freak of nature to write a song that goes No. 1.”
A drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for 20 years, Lynch was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, eight years after he left the band to pursue song writing.
Nearing his 50th birthday, Lynch thought he was in the twilight of his career. Instead, he yielded another success.
“Succeeding later in life is the cherry on top,” he said. “Now I don’t really want to be the best; I want to learn from the best.”
He hasn’t met McGraw, but Lynch would like to send him a telegram thanking him for making the song a hit.
Life as a rock ‘n’ roll star
He spent a decade transitioning from a rock ‘n’ roller to a laid-back, reflective writer.
“It’s different traveling with just a briefcase and a pad and No. 2 pencils,” he said.
Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks and John Mellencamp are some of the big names Lynch played with while in The Heartbreakers band. Their album sales brought in $35 million.
There were times he traveled to three cities in one day when touring with the band. It wasn’t until his father once went on the road with him and called Lynch’s life “odd” that he had a reality check.
“It seemed like I just left the world for 12 years,” he said. “I don’t think I unpacked for a decade. It was madness, but I didn’t even realize it.”
He grew up with the band members in Gainesville, but they were a few years older than he. At 18, he followed the guys out to Los Angeles, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was formed.
Twenty five years of fast-paced L.A. took its toll on Lynch and he left the band after it made a greatest hits album.
“As you grow up, you find maybe we didn’t have as much in common as I thought, and that’s OK,” he said of the other band members. “I had made my point as a drummer. I had worn out the drums.”
He never wrote songs for The Heartbreakers.
“It was all Tom Petty’s vision, but we did very well with that, so I have no complaints,” he explained.
Don Henley, of The Eagles, asked Lynch to write a song and help produce his solo album in 1985. He continued to write and produce for Henley, and has received Grammy nominations.
Lynch’s writing credits include songs with Ringo Starr, Eddie Money and The Mavericks.
First kiss, best friends
Living out his slower, less chaotic life, Lynch moved to St. Augustine and was reunited with his roots.
When he was a teenager in Gainesville, he often traveled to Crescent Beach for “forbidden” fun.
“First kiss, learned how to drive a car, had some beers, it all happened here at Crescent Beach,” he said. “I spent my Wonder bread years here.”
Many of these memories were made with Dudley Baringer, a St. Augustine physician, when his father dated Lynch’s mother. They often stayed in Baringer’s father’s rented beach house when they were 16.
“He had a band and I had a sailboat so we would sort of swapped out,” Baringer said. “I used to bring 14 of my closest friends to the house and we’d have bonfires on the beach and Stan would always be there.”
The two stayed close and Baringer’s children hang out with “Uncle Stan” during Christmases.
The beach house went up for sale and Baringer challenged Lynch in a phone call to buy it and renovate it.
Lynch accepted and the 1920s structure became his permanent residence five years ago.
A hectic lifestyle kept him from marrying or having children. “I would have been divorced three times by now, and I watched a bunch of my friends go through that,” he said. But his girlfriend of 10 years, Michelle Ganeles, lives with him. Ganeles is an artist and graphic designer. Don Henley set the two up on a blind date and they’ve been together since.
Lynch’s mother and sister also moved from California to St. Johns County, and his father has a house here.
Leaving L.A. behind
Coming from California, acclimating to St. Augustine’s “milk of human kindness” wasn’t easy for Lynch, he said.
“When I first came back, someone honked at me and I shot him a bird,” he said. “It broke my heart in 20 places because I realized it was my buddy. That part of St. Augustine is so dear.”
Losing his L.A. last name, where he tacked the band’s name onto his, was also a task.
“I introduced myself as Stan Lynch-from-Tom-Petty-and-the-Heartbreakers because I thought I had to impress people,” he said. “There’s some midgy man saying, ‘What do you got for me.'”
A tall and slender man with earthy looks, Lynch recalls his rocker days with the Heartbreakers and knows he’s lucky drugs didn’t seduce him into death. It’s a different story for some of his friends.
“In almost every classic rock song I hear on the radio when I’m in my car there’s someone I know that died from drugs,” he said. “I love the music, but God, I want to pull the car over and cry. These are people I had a drink with, shared laughs with, and it hurts, it really hurts.”
He keeps a list of the “debonair to the bone, gorgeous, glorious men” Lynch remembers, such as the late Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers, at his studio in Melrose, just outside of Gainesville. He occasionally brings the list out and rings a 1940s bell in their memory.
“I didn’t see the hole they were getting into,” Lynch said of friends he understood later were drug addicts. “I was young enough to believe people were like me and they didn’t do it.”
Coming home again
Drumsticks have been replaced with pens, as Lynch’s creative outlet is now writing. He gave away all of his drum sets.
But he enjoys teaching children the instrument at his high school friend’s music store in Gainesville a few times a week.
Lynch began playing the drums at 11 as a way to make a statement despite his shyness.
“It’s empowering. In your own way you are the leader of the band,” he said of drumming. “When (The Heartbreakers) played in big arenas, I could get a city of people to react to the pulse of the drums.”
Lynch enjoys breathing in the ocean air from his St. Johns County beachhouse when he’s not at the Gainesville music store or writing songs at his Melrose studio.
It bothers him St. Augustine grew up in his absence while he conquered the music world. He despises the large developments that are swallowing the county’s land, he said. Still, he won’t turn his back on the city that holds his childhood memories.
“It’s like a woman you love. She never looks bad to you,” he said. “I spent 25 years trying to get back here so I would one day be able to live like I did when I was a kid.”
St. Augustine’s trustworthy people who find happiness in life’s simplicities also help Lynch write his songs.
“There’s guys that have so much pride and so much kindness and that inspires you,” he said.
Reclining in a worn, wood chair with his feet resting on the railing of his back porch overlooking the ocean, Lynch feels he’s found paradise in St. Augustine and doesn’t plan to leave it, again.
“The idea of growing old in St. Johns County is very appealing to me,” he said. “This is my home.”