Obit Tom Petty

In this July 1 photo, Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performs during their “40th Anniversary Tour” in Philadelphia

Owen Sweeney

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tom Petty said in an interview days before his death that the just-concluded 40th anniversary tour with his band, the Heartbreakers, was the “big slap on the back we never got.”

The Los Angeles Times has released what it says is the final interview with the rocker. It was conducted on Sept. 27, five days before Petty died at the age of 66 after going into cardiac arrest.

Petty and the Heartbreakers wrapped up the six-month tour at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 25. He said in the interview he planned “to stop working for a time,” but the band had no plans to stop performing or recording. He mused that the only thing that would cause the band to fold would be if someone got sick or died.

He said working “keeps me young.”

Given the leather jacket and sneer Tom Petty wore on the cover of his 1976 debut, many people assumed he was one of those cheeky punks bent on tearing down the walls of rock ‘n’ roll.

He wasn’t. It’s not that Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, didn’t have their share of energy and attitude. But the kid from Gainesville, Florida, was a rock classicist to the core, and he built a body of work to stand with his heroes.

That debut contained songs that stood the test of time, the snaky “Breakdown” and “American Girl,” which so echoed the Byrds that it confused that band’s leader. “When did I record that?” Roger McGuinn recalled thinking when he first heard it.

The Heartbreakers stood with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band as one of the all-time great rock backup bands. Being able to stand onstage next to guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboard player Benmont Tench made Petty the envy of many bandleaders.

Still, two key periods of his career came without the Heartbreakers.

“Full Moon Fever,” Petty’s first solo album in 1989, stands as the apex of his career. Working with producer Jeff Lynne, Petty fashioned a cleaner sound and created the classics “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down” and, most indelibly, “Free Fallin’.”

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