Sunday, October 28, 2007


It's almost easy to take Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for granted. They've been around for more than 30 years now, never broke up, and most of their drama hasn't been too high profile. Their music has always been so solid - they've never really done an embarassingly bad album that they had to "come back" from (although Let Me Up I've Had Enough wasn't great). Even when Tom did "solo" albums, most of the Heartbreakers showed up on it, and he's never toured without them.

The new documentary Runnin' Down A Dream, directed by Peter Bogdanovich is pretty incredible. I know there's a theatrical version, but I decided to spring for the Best Buy exclusive 4 disc set, which includes a 2 DVD version of doc, clocking in at 4 hours. Pretty incredible, there's interviews with Tom and all the Heartbreakers (guitarist Mike Campbell, who also works on Tom's solo records, keyboardist Benmont Tench, original bassist Ron Blair who rejoined a few years back, drummer Steve Ferrone, original drummer Stan Lynch, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, and archival interviews with the late bassist Howie Epstein). Plus their producers Jimmy Iovine, Jeff Lynne, Rick Rubin and Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics. Plus their managers, writers (including Bill Flanagan, who I know a little and who seems to be impervious to becomming jaded) and friends and fans of the band like Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder , Dave Grohl (who almost joined the band between Nirvana and The Foo Fighters - the film has footage of him performing with them on Saturday Night Live, and the performance is included on the bonus CD) and Johnny Depp.

It covers Tom's early band Mudcrutch, all of the Heartbreakers' struggles (including fighting against being forced to sign to MCA when it purchased thier smaller label ABC) and Tom's battles to prevent MCA from charging $10 for thier next album, Stan and Howie leaving the band, Howie's death (it doesn't go too much into Howie's life, which I think was a classy move), plus the band's relationships with Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. It goes a bit into Tom's membership in The Traveling Wilburys (sharing some footage with the doc that came with the recent Wilburys reissue - which I still need to write about!) - although I would have loved to have seen a bit more about that though: the guys in the Heartbreakers I know would have loved to have been involved with some of the Wilburys-affiliated projects that Tom got to participate in. One of the best scenes, though, is Tom in the studio with Roger McGuinn, working on his comeback album, Back From Rio: there's these young-ish A&R guys in the studio trying to force McGuinn into recording this song, which Tom deemed as awful, and he accuses them of profiting from the song. They're like, "No, dude, those days of the music industry are long over." And he says, "Yeah, like payola." It was genius. And it just kind of tells the whole story in a nutshell.

Anyway, the documentary is great, and just makes you love the band more (as opposed to say, Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster, which may be a bit more engrossing, but you leave it disliking drummer Lars Ulrich.) The box, as I mentioned, comes with a CD of rarities and a DVD of thier 30th anniversary concert in Gainsville, Florida.

If you listen to Tom's latest solo album, last year's Highway Companion, you know that the story isn't over. Like Springsteen, the guy still has many songs left in him. And I think the current version of The Heartbreakers - with Ron Blair back in the band, Steve Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston - is as good as they've ever been since I've been seeing them in concert (my first time seeing them was 1985). They all get along, and there aren't any weak links. I was surprised when Steve Ferrone joined - he's kind of a "session" player who works with the likes of Clapton, and I didn't think that that would fly with Tom. But he seems to be a committed member of the band.

I've heard that, other than working with the Heartbreakers, he's also reunited Mudcrutch, which is pretty amazing. Well, whatever he does next, I'll be the guy buying the record the day it comes out. Keep on keepin' on, Tom.

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