Ear of Newt: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers get the Classic Albums treatment
By Steve Newton
Georgia Straight — August 10, 2010
When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played Vancouver in June they only played one song off their breakthrough Damn the Torpedoes album, which was quite a surprise (and disappointment). After viewing the new Eagle Vision Blu-Ray, Classic Albums: Damn the Torpedoes, and hearing Petty and his cohorts enthusiastically analyze each of that 1979 blockbuster’s nine tracks, you’ll also wonder what the hell they were thinking when they compiled their current setlist.
“That was the record where life was never gonna be the same again,” says Petty, before he and his bandmates—lead guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, and drummer Stan Lynch—are joined by producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus in a track-by-track appraisal of what made the Heartbreakers’ third disc so wonderful.
“Everything about the album was difficult,” recalls Tench. “Writing, recording, mixing, mastering—we fought for it, ’cause you want it to be better than great.”
One of the things I remember most about Damn the Torpedoes—apart from killer tunes like “Refugee”, “Even the Losers”, “Shadow of a Doubt”, and “Don’t Do Me Like That”—was the disc’s incredibly potent drum sound. Lynch really had it going on there. “All I knew was that [Iovine] had produced [Patti Smith’s] ‘Because the Night’,” he says in the video, “and it had the greatest drum sound I ever heard in my life. So I was really excited. I thought, ‘Man, this guy is comin’ in with some great stuff.'”
Campbell tells a cool story about how he managed to score a priceless Rickenbacker for just 150 bucks—the same 12-string that Petty covets on the cover of Damn the Torpedoes. And Roll ing Stone contributor David Wild compliments Campbell’s economical approach to playing. “Mike is the quietest guitar god since George Harrison,” says the critic. “No one’s as good as George Harrison, with all due respect, but I think it’s significant that Tom’s closest relationships with guitar players are with George Harrison [via the Traveling Wilburys] and Mike Campbell, two men who serve the song, and never overplay.”
Ever notice that percussive sound percolating along on “Refugee”? Well, that’s courtesy of a shaker wielded by drum legend Jim Keltner, as Petty explains in one insightful sequence. While he’s seated at the recording console between Iovine and Campbell, Petty adjusts a lever to bring up the volume of the shaker track on that smash hit. “Jim Keltner was in the hallway with the shaker,” he recalls. “He was standin’ outside the door playin’ this, and I came out and Jim said: ‘This is what that track needs.’ So Jim Keltner came in… and put this shaker on, which, believe it or not, if you put the drums on [adjusts the sound] it’s okay, but it’s not really got the mojo, you know. So, Jim Keltner, we owe him a lot.”
Speaking of mojo, that’s also the name of Petty’s latest album, and it comes highly recommended as well. Toss it on the turntable right after Torpedoes for a full-circle double-dose of one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll combos ever.