LITTLE ROCK Tom Petty has yet to run for elective office, but he has something in common with the president — neither of them has ever been spotted in Arkansas. Well, one or both of them might have made a road trip through and stopped for gas or a doughnut or something, but what we’re referring to here are public appearances in President Barack Obama’s case and performances in Petty’s.
So fans of Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, were the ones making road trips to see their heroes in Memphis or St. Louis or Dallas, starting back in the late 1970s, when Petty began his string of hits with “American Girl” (which at least was heard prominently last year when Taylor Swift used it as the song that played as she came onstage in Verizon Arena).
What took Petty so long? Chances are, it will remain one of life’s little mysteries, unless Petty someday writes a “tellall” memoir and confesses. Kelley Bass, veteran music reporter at the Arkansas Gazette in the early 1980s, recalls that a Petty concert was announced for the Pine Bluff Convention Center, but was canceled due to lack of sales.
The 61-year-old Petty was born and raised in Gainesville, Fla., and traces his decision to become a rock ’n’ roll singer to the time he was 10 years old and met Elvis Presley, who was in Florida to make a movie, Follow That Dream — a title that proved prophetic for Petty. He later decided he wanted to be in a band when he saw The Beatles’ American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
To further Petty’s fortunate connections, one of his early guitar teachers was future Eagle Don Felder.
Since Petty and the Heartbreakers debuted in 1976 with a self-titled album, they have released a mere dozen studio albums, the latest of which, Mojo, came out almost two years ago, plus seven live or compilation albums. There are also Petty’s three solo albums, plus a couple as a member of The Traveling Wilburys. Petty fans will point out that one of Petty’s early bands, Mudcrutch, which had existed briefly in 1969, got back together and released an album in 2008.
Petty has been around long enough to find himself ranked in the higher echelons of rock royalty, alongside Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, one of the more memorable tours of the 1970s matched Dylan and Petty, with Petty opening for Dylan, followed by Dylan’s set and then a combination of the two bands.
One of the first times that Petty made nonmusical headlines was when he faced off with his record label and refused to approve a raise in the price of his 1981 release, Hard Promises.
Sales of Petty/Heartbreakers albums have totaled 60 million copies and in 2002, he and the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Five years later, film director Peter Bogdanovich made Runnin’ Down a Dream, a documentary film about Petty’s career — which the director found to be so intriguing that his director’s cut DVD contains two discs with a four-hour running time, plus a CD of the band’s 30th anniversary concert in its hometown, plus a bonus CD of rarities, such as the band’s version of John Sebastian’s “Stories We Could Tell.”
Though there have been personnel shifts in the lineup of The Heartbreakers, two of the members have been with Petty since the beginning: Mike Campbell (lead guitar, mandolin and Marxophone) and Benmont Tench (piano, keyboards and backing vocals). Other members are Ron Blair, who was in the Heartbreakers from 1976 to 1982 and has returned (bass, backing vocals), along with drummer Steve Ferrone, a member for 10 years and Scott Thurston (rhythm guitar, harmonica, lap steel guitar, ukulele and backing and lead vocals).
Petty and the band made the news a week ago, but not the way they would have liked: five of their cherished guitars were stolen from a Culver City, Calif., soundstage they were using to rehearse for their tour, which started Wednesday in Broomfield, Colo.
Opening act Regina Spektor, a 32-year-old Russianborn singer-songwriter-pianist, got her start in New York after her parents left their Moscow home when she was 9 years old. Growing up, she was influenced by the music of Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco; later she cited her musical favorites as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Billie Holiday and Frederic Chopin. She graduated with honors in three years from the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in New York and briefly worked at a butterfly farm in Wisconsin. Her first gig as an opening act came in 2003-’04 with The Strokes. By 2007, she was a festival favorite, playing at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit.
In 2003, she self-released an album, Soviet Kitsch, which Warner Bros./Sire Records then re-released a year later. She followed that with Begin to Hope in 2006, Far in 2009 and What We Saw From the Cheap Seats earlier this year.
Her songs have been used in the TV shows Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds, Brothers & Sisters, 90210 and Weeds, and in the films (500) Days of Summer, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and My Sister’s Keeper.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Opener: Regina Spektor
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Verizon Arena, East Broadway and Interstate 30, North Little Rock
$113.75, $89.20, $36.30, $30.65
Weekend, Pages 34 on 04/19/2012
Print Headline: Result of Petty’s brick-by-brick career? A mansion