Monday, October 02, 2017

Tom Petty-- Perhaps Still Alive!! (R.I.P.)


Your first gold record is always the best. And mine wasn't even gold. It's wood. But it will always be one of the most meaningful to me. For one thing, I worked hard and deserved it. For another, it was given to me personally by Tom Petty. It was for his first album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which was released by Shelter Records at the very end of 1976. Commercially it was a dud except in San Francisco where 4 or 5 of my fellow djs at the city's top rock station, KSAN, were absolutely nuts over the album-- Beverly Wilshire, Richard Gossett, Norman Davis, Chris Knab, Bonnie Simmons... We played it and played it and played it. It was a smash in San Francisco, although nowhere else that I knew of. And then we heard Shelter's parent label, ABC Records, was in trouble and might drop Tom from the label. The album never even got a chance. KSAN got busy, not just playing it even more heavily, but asking our listeners to write to Shelter and demand they re-release the album. And they actually did. In 1977 "American Girl," our audience's favorite, came out as a single and helped break the band.

The first live show of his I ever saw was a kind of showcase for "the industry" at the Whiskey in L.A. I didn't like L.A. but I flew down to see the 3 days worth of shows since they were opening for another favorite band of mine, Blondie, at a pretty small club. Great shows. Earlier Shelter sent Tom and label-mate Dwight Twilley to do some interviews in San Francisco. A much bigger dj than I interviewed him for KSAN but Tom knew I was behind the concentrated firepower to make him a star in at least one market and spread him from there. So I interviewed him for one of the rags I worked for. I went to Tom's and Dwight's hotel with another rock writer, Michael Snyder. There was someone else there, probably Phil Seymour. Dwight's album wasn't out yet but KSAN had played his first single and we had a hit with it despite his lame label (Shelter/ABC). Soon after Shelter imploded and ABC kept Tom but Twilley went to Arista. Anyway, this is that first single, "I'm On Fire."

I didn't hear a massive hit the way I did with "American Girl," but the KSAN listeners loved it and Tom and Dwight were close. I think Dwight and Phil sang background vocals on some of the songs on Tom's album. Anyway, the interview-- I guess I should go find it; I have it upstairs somewhere-- was fine, even if everyone was interrupting everyone else. Somehow it devolved into an energetic physical struggle for a small amount of coke that someone had, nothing something I was personally interested in. But the whole thing was very bonding. We were all still kids having some fun and when Tom's record finally broke-- it didn't go gold for a few more years-- he had some wooden plaques made for the people who helped him when he was just some unknown guy with a mostly unrecognized potential. He gave me one. I have three closets filled with gold and platinum albums and some scattered around that don't fit in the closets. But Tom's is still hanging on a wall.

I pushed Tom as part of the "new wave." He had bigger ideas than opening for Blondie and his albums got increasingly commercial (and successful). It wasn't my music anymore, although there was always a Tom Petty song I could liven almost every album. And when we'd cross paths over the years, I always felt that bond from 1976 or '77 never broke. Four friends called me today to tele he had passed away, just a couple of years into Medicare eligibility too. Each one of them said the same thing, "why couldn't it have been Trump instead?" Uncanny. You know what really sucks about getting old? Everyone you know starts dying-- and in increasing numbers and frequency. Here are some of my TP faves after that first album:

Turns out Tom may not have died after his heart attack after all! Not exactly fake news, but... I guess by tomorrow we'll know for sure. Meanwhile pray for Tom's recovery... and enjoy his songs. UPDATE: Tom passed away last night.

I don't think this was a big commercial hit for Tom... but it was a smash for every dj in the world who didn't want to play songs on a corporate playlist. It sure spoke to me and everyone I knew:

Elton John: "Tom Petty's music and songs are timeless. He was a wonderful writer, musician and singer. Irreplaceable and unique."



At 6:24 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

He was an enormous talent so sad may he RIP.

At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe. Very sad and depressing to lose such a part of your music history. I Won't back down!

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Wendy Reed said...

I love your political posts, Howie, but I love your music posts even more.

At 11:38 PM, Blogger TeddyPartridge said...

So sorry for the loss of your friend, Howie -- thanks for sharing these stories about Mr Petty, whom we'll all miss so much.

At 4:32 AM, Blogger DeeinLA said...

This American Girl will always be in touch with the sound track to her life. Having a hard time shaking his departure. I hoped to see Tom around town more, and playing locally now that this tour is over. Much love and adoration to such a keen mind and ability to help us through music get through life, and fondly look back on 'growing up' in idyllic America. Peace, light and love forever.


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