Tom Petty left his heart in San Francisco
By Ben Fong-Torres
The San Francisco Chronicle — May 2, 2010
Last Sunday, I had a cover story in Parade magazine, with an interview with Tom Petty, who has an album coming out in June with the Heartbreakers (“Mojo”). During our visit, in his beach house in Malibu, the 59-year-old rocker waxed nostalgic about radio and San Francisco.
His first album came out in 1976 and included songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown,” but couldn’t catch a break – except in two cities. “I wouldn’t exist without FM rock,” said Petty. “They were totally behind me. KSAN really was the first place … SAN and WBCN in Boston. For a while, they were the only people playing our first album. They were open-minded. … I think those guys, Tom Donahue and people like that, were truly pioneers.”
When Petty ventured into the Bay Area, he found “a whole vibe of music, a lot of young bands,” he said. “It seemed a healthier scene than L.A.” Petty remembers playing alongside groups like the Greg Kihn Band. Now Kihn is a DJ on KUFX (“The Fox”) in San Jose, while Petty hosts the eclectic weekly radio show, “Buried Treasure,” on Sirius/XM (Thursdays, 5 to 6 p.m. on the “Deep Tracks” channel, with two repeat airings). He picks the music and records his DJ bits in a home studio at his beach house.
“I have an enormous library of music,” he said. “It’s all on the computer. During the week, I’ll come up with four or five things I’m listening to. So, I’m digging Wilson Pickett, and we’ll start there. ‘Let’s try to make little sets that groove together,’ and I go through and pick stuff out.” A producer then helps edit the show. “It’s a labor of love,” said Petty, whose show is in its fifth year. “The feedback I get is so rewarding; I get such nice mail, people remembering things or discovering things. A teenaged girl wrote me saying she’d never heard Chuck Berry. I couldn’t believe it. And sometimes I’ll play something new, and it’s proof that all these things can live together.” At least outside of commercial, terrestrial radio …