A new book written by a former SongTalk editor is due out this fall.
Tom Petty is often overlooked as one of America's great rock'n'roll singers/songwriters but really it's his own fault.
If his 25-plus years in the public spotlight didn't include dozens of rock hits -- "American Girl," "Breakdown," "Refugee," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Free Fallin'" and more -- that tugged at our emotions and forced us to sing along, then Petty and his Heartbreakers, which return to Northeast Ohio for a show June 30 at Blossom Music Center, wouldn't be taken for granted.
One person who talked with the press-shy Petty regarding his long career, which resulted in a 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, is author Paul Zollo, whose book "Conversations with Tom Petty" is due out this fall.
It was roughly a year ago when Zollo, a former editor of SongTalk magazine, began meeting with Petty every Saturday at one of his two Malibu estates. "He doesn't like to talk about himself much," Zollo said calling from North Hollywood, Calif. "He's kind of a modest guy. He doesn't like to do much press. He told me after shows he doesn't like to glad-hand backstage. He doesn't like hearing how great he is. He just likes to get onto the bus, get onto the plane and get on to his next show."
One of the topics of discussion that Petty opened up about for the first time was the devastating fire that destroyed his California home in the late '80s.
"They never did find the culprit but they did find out it was arson and the person was most likely trying to kill him and his family," Zollo said. "That's something that Tom never spoke about. He got very frightened about fire and he said he wouldn't use the word 'fire' in any song. He said, 'It changes your mind when somebody tries to wipe out you and your family.'"
Written in Q & amp;A conversational form, the 295-page "Conversations with Tom Petty" is an easy read that caters to the diehard Petty fan with plenty of insights into his career, including a detailed discussion regarding every album in his oeuvre. Notable sections range from in-studio nuggets, such as when Petty teamed up with music legends Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison to record the "Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1" album, to the difficulty he experienced when releasing his first solo record "Full Moon Fever," which initially was rejected by his record label.
"It's hard to believe that the [label] at first said there were no hits on it," Zollo said. "It's pretty ironic because there were [plenty] of hits ["Free Fallin'," "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "I Won't Back Down"] off the album. He felt pretty bad about it. Even in his position, this really had a big effect on him. He thought this was the best work he had ever done."
Luckily for Petty, turnover is rampant in the music industry so he waited six months until the next regime change at MCA resulted in new management, which loved the album. The rest is platinum history.
Speaking to Petty's longevity and credibility with rock audiences is the fact he's had his share of ups and downs, all the while maintaining a blue-collar sensibility. Yeah, he lives in Malibu mansions, but he hasn't forgotten what it was like growing up poor in Gainesville, Fla.
In fact, Petty took his label to court in the late seventies when they tried to raise the cost of his album from $8.99 to $9.99. Despite the fact no other rock star supported his cause, Petty remained steadfast, eventually winning the case.
Raised on promises just like many of the characters in his songs, Tom Petty is an American success story. He shows no signs of slowing down.
"There are people like Chuck Berry who keep going," Zollo said. "It seemed like for a while there that it was only something for young people, but he said he's going to be 55 years old and girls are still throwing their panties at him. He said he didn't expect it to be this long. I think he can just keep going. The guy loves it and is as good as ever at it. He'll keep doing it."