In 1985, Night Flight chatted with American rock icon Tom Petty about songwriting & other topics

By on October 4, 2017

As if the national news couldn’t be any more unbearably heartbreaking this week, we here at Night Flight HQ were very saddened to hear that Tom Petty suffered a heart attack at his Malibu home late Sunday evening, October 1, 2017; he died later the next day, just a few weeks before his 67th birthday.

In the Spring of 1985, Tom Petty meet with rock journalist Lisa Robinson backstage at one of his shows for a candid in-depth interview, which we’re sharing over on our Night Flight Plus streaming channel.

Have a look.

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During his Night Flight video profile — which first aired on April 30, 1985, while Petty was still promoting his latest album on the Southern Accents Tour (Petty later told Rolling Stone it was his “concept record about the South”) — he talked openly about his songwriting process, his favorite music decade (the Sixties, naturally), what it was like making music videos, and other topics of interest.

Petty’s music videos — including his Alice in Wonderland-themed “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” a Top Twenty single produced & co-written by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics — were frequently aired on “Night Flight.”

Here’s an excerpt from Night Flight contributor Chris Morris‘s Tom Petty obit earlier this week in Variety:

He was born October 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida. A poor student, he caught the rock ‘n’ roll bug after he was introduced by his uncle to Elvis Presley, who was shooting the picture Follow That Dream on location in nearby Ocala.

Like many other boyish rock aspirants, he began working on music in earnest after witnessing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964.

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Playing guitar and bass, he cut his teeth in cover bands like the Epics and the Sundowners. In his late teens, he became a top local attraction on the fertile Gainesville music scene (which produced members of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Eagles and new wave act the Motels) as front man and songwriter for Mudcrutch, an outfit that also included guitarist Campbell and keyboard prodigy Benmont Tench.

In the wake of a poorly capitalized exploratory trip to Los Angeles in search of a record contract, Mudcrutch was contacted by Denny Cordell, an English producer-executive whose Shelter Records had issued hit releases by Cordell’s partner, musician Leon Russell.

The band cut an unsuccessful single for Shelter, but fell apart with the firing of original drummer Randall Marsh.

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However, Petty, Campbell and Tench reconvened with the addition of two other Gainesville musicians, bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. It was this five-piece group that assembled in Los Angeles to record the newly dubbed Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut album in 1976.

Neither that album nor its 1978 successor, You’re Gonna Get It!, were major successes, peaking at #55 and #23 respectively. But the sets spawned such tuneful early live staples as “American Girl,” “Breakdown” (the group’s biggest early hit, peaking at #40), “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart.”

The act became a surprisingly popular attraction in England amid the punk rock fervor of the day; at a show a the Whisky a Go Go in the newly-adopted hometown of L.A., they were introduced by British DJ John Peel, an enthusiastic early supporter.

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After Shelter was acquired by major MCA in 1979, Petty bridled and sought to void his band’s contract with a bankruptcy declaration.

Ultimately, the group was rewarded with a better deal and a slot at a newly formed MCA imprint, Backstreet Records.

Backstreet issued Damn the Torpedoes in the wake of the new pact. Produced by engineer-producer Jimmy Iovine, who had worked on such straight-ahead rock hits as Bruce Springsteen’s album Born to Run and the Springsteen-Patti Smith smash “Because the Night,” the album was lofted to #2 by the signature hit singles “Don’t Do Me Like That” (#10) and “Refugee” (#15).

The million-selling Hard Promises (#5, 1981) and the same year’s #3 single “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” on which the Heartbreakers, produced by Petty and Iovine, backed avowed Petty fan Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, soon followed.

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In the ’80s, Petty flourished as a solo artist, and had three Top Ten albums, beginning with 1989’s Full Moon Fever.

He was also a member of the Traveling Wilburys, whose membership also included George Harrison, Jeff Lynne of ELO, Bob Dylan — who Petty and his band toured with in the late ’80s — and (on the debut release) Roy Orbison.

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Petty also reformed his 1960s band Mudcrutch, recording two Top Ten albums — 2008’s Mudcrutch, (#8), and 2016’s Mudcrutch 2 (#10) — and touring.

In 2002, Petty & the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The 4-hour 2007 documentary film Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — directed by Peter Bogdanovich — was an epic look at the band’s storied history.

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Tom Petty and his wife Dana at the world premiere of the documentary film Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, in Burbank, CA, on October 2, 2007

Petty also appeared in a couple of small film roles, sometimes playing himself, in FM (1978), Made in Heaven (1987), and he was the Bridge City Mayor in The Postman (1997).

He was also a recurring character (playing himself) on two HBO series starring comedian Garry Shandling (“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show”).

He also appeared on “The Simpsons,” and voiced “Lucky Kleinschmidt” on Mike Judge’s animated TV series “King of the Hill.”

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The three-time Grammy winner — who just a week earlier had just wrapped up his and the Heartbreakers’ hot-ticket 40th anniversary tour with three shows at the Hollywood Bowl — had recently said that this latest tour might be his last.

He’d also planned to play two dates in New York in November.

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Petty is survived by second wife Dana York Petty, and Adria and Annakim, his daughters from his first marriage.

On his Facebook page, when asked how he’d liked to be remembered, Tom Petty answered:

“Like Roy Orbison once said, ‘I just hope I’m remembered.'”

R.I.P. Tom Petty, we’ll definitely remember you, and your music, and you’ll be in our hearts forever.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.