Little River Band
1993 — Twenty Years After, leaving for Los Angeles, Tom Petty still misses home, and Gainesville was on his mind as he talked, once again, to Bill DeYoung before coming home to play The Heartbreakers’ third Gator Homecoming show.
((( home again )))


Back Home Again
By Bill DeYoung
Gainesville Sun 
October 29, 1993

It was just about 20 years ago that Tom Petty said goodbye to the old hometown. Along with the four other guys in the band Mudcrutch, he threw his gear in a van and left Gainesville forever. His goal was to become rich and famous.

Oddly enough, that’s exactly what happened.

What a long strange trip it’s been for Tom Petty, the skinny, scruffy blond kid from the northeast section of town. He’s 43 now, an internationally recognized rock star who counts Bob Dylan and two ex-Beatles among his best friends.

Still, he remains closest to the Heartbreakers, most of whom he’s known and played with since his nightclubbing days in Florida.


Lead guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench were in Mudcrutch with Petty; they knew drummer Stan Lynch from another Gainesville band that had gone west and promptly collapsed.

For Tom Petty, this is a year for looking back. Out next week is his first-ever greatest hits album, including his best-loved tracks with the Heartbreakers, songs from his hugely successful solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” and two new Heartbreakers numbers recorded just for the occasion. A boxed-set anthology is in the works.

On Thursday, he’ll play the O’Connell Center, in a concert that’ll be broadcast live around the world on FM radio. The show — one of just three Petty will play this year — is officially part of the University of Florida’s Homecoming celebration.

And a homecoming it is. 

 It wasn’t supposed to happen quite this day, Petty explains via telephone from his Los Angeles home.

“Johnny Depp talked us into playing one night,” he says. “He opened this club on Sunset Strip called the Viper Room. He came to us and said ‘We’re gonna have opening night, and I’m gonna give the money to sick kids, and please come play. You can play whatever you want.'”

The band, which hadn’t toured for two years, was at that moment in the studio laying down the new songs for the greatest hits album. “With a little arm-twisting I convinced them all to come play,” Petty explains. “We played about an hour of just new stuff. We didn’t play any old stuff.

And we got a little buzz behind playing, and we sat around saying it was fun to play, we hope we do it again.”

End of episode. Petty then turned his attention back to the solo album he’d been working on before Depp’s phone call.

“Then I got a letter from some fella who runs the Homecoming thing in Gainesville,” he says. “Several requests had come in over the years, would we come around Homecoming and play?
“And of course we’d always thought, ‘Boy, that’d be a lot of fun,’ but it never worked into our plans.”

The letter-writer was Gator Growl producer Shawn Schrager.

“And then at the same time we were approached to do a live radio concert that would go all over this country and to parts of others. I thought that would be a cool thing to do, as long as we’re releasing this album and everything.

“So we took a little time away from the other project, and I wrote a handful of songs for the Heartbreakers. We called ’em in … I think the list was 30 songs in two days’ time. So we had a lot to sift through.”

In two days time, they’d recorded nearly 15 songs. Included on the hits album are “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” a bluesy Petty original that features his playing both harmonica and second lead guitar, and a cover of Thunderclap Newman’s classic “Something in the Air.”

The latter song, a call for change in a world gone crazy, seems as relevant today as it did when it was written in 1969. 

 Just days after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Petty wrote “Peace in L.A.,” a heartfelt plea for understanding. He recorded the song with the Heartbreakers, and had it released as a single — with proceeds earmarked for L.A. rebuilding efforts — within a week.

“I do what I can,” Petty says. “It’s very hard to tell somebody what that was like, to be here when that was happening. It was very disturbing. And it was just my natural urge to do that, and I’ve always been real glad we did.

“And we still get really nice letters. It obviously made some money for some really good causes.”

Although he likes to talk about environmental issues from the stage (“I’ve never really learned to shut up”), Petty won’t go the distance and call himself an activist. He was one of the first rock ‘n’ roll artists to insist that cups at his shows’ concession stands be made of recyclable paper.

“A lot of people used their position to just hip everybody that there is a problem, and here’s some simple ways you can help a little bit,” he explains. “But these days, it’s almost redundant to go up and say anything about recycling, because everybody does it.”

The idea of acting as a spokesman for an issue — any issue — is anathema to him, quite frankly. He’s well aware that other rock stars speak out all the time, but that sort of thing is just not for him.

“They’re probably much more comfortable in the role of celebrity,” he believes, “which I can honestly say I’ve never sought. And I have no intention of ever seeking it. I don’t want to be a personality or a celebrity, I just make music, and that’s the end of my job, really.

“I don’t go to things like premieres. I don’t want to be on TV.”

But Petty’s fans hang on his every word. Wouldn’t be be able to make a difference?

“Maybe they listen to me because they believe me,” he replies. “It’s hard for me to ever believe some of these celebrities — I often wonder if it’s an actor’s business to tell me anything, or a musician.

“But hell, I don’t know. Really, my time is so consumed with trying to get songs done and records made, to do anything else is almost just a spontaneous move.

“I don’t know that I’m always right, or that I’ve got the right idea, but I think somebody’s got to speak up every now and then. We still have a lot of things to work out in America — the gay issue is one, and human rights in general. I think racism still runs rampant in some areas of the country.

“These are things that I would be most interested in helping out. I think most importantly we have to treat everybody like humans and hope for the best.”

1970Bitches Brew
1974 — 
1977Voyager’s Return


1979Iranian Hostage Crisis (11/4/79)
Jimmy Carter,
(Muslim) Students of Another Colour,
Hip Hop Happens (Vanity Fair)

A Florida Journalist, Photographer, and Art Director with an eclectic client list of individuals and organizations with musical, visual, educational, and editorial interests.

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