Conversations With Tom Petty…what a great read!
Author Paul Zollo did extensive interviews with Tom Petty, including discussing almost all of his songs, and the results are fascinating. I strongly recommend the recently updated book to all Tom Petty fans. There is so much revealed, and it was particularly interesting to hear about Tom’s relationship with George Harrison.
Tom said he originally saw George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1974, when they visited Leon Russell’s studio. It was right after Tom and his band began practicing there for their first album. It wasn’t until the next decade, when Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were in England with Bob Dylan in 1987, that Tom actually met George Harrison.
This was a really big deal for Tom. He said seeing The Beatles during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was when he wanted to form a band. But by the time he actually met George Harrison, his own experience with fans informed him to not act like one with George.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with Tom describing how it was to meet George Harrison:
“The Hindus think that when you meet someone and you feel really close to them immediately, that maybe you knew them in a past life. And that was how it was with George. We instantly became very close. And I remember him saying to me, ‘You know I’m not going to let you out of my life now’. We really got along well. And shared a sense of humor. And we became very close friends.”
Petty said The Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan played several more nights in London. After one of the shows, they hung out with George, Ringo, former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, and their wives. It was a day later, on Tom Petty’s birthday (October 20th), that George gave Tom a cassette with his just completed album, Cloud Nine, and asked him to “Let me know if you like it.”
The album was produced by The Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, and of course Tom loved it. When it was released later in 1987 (November), it went Platinum and had two hit singles, “Got My Mind Set On You” (#1 on the Hot 100) and “When We Was Fab” (#2 on the Rock chart).
Tom Petty’s meeting with George Harrison also led him to a friendship with Jeff Lynne. In fact, Tom happened to spot Jeff while they were both driving in L.A. traffic one day. As it turns out, Jeff Lynne had moved into a house not far from where Tom lived. The two got together and eventually Jeff Lynne produced Tom’s most successful album, Full Moon Fever. Jeff even co-wrote “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down”, and “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.
Shortly after that (still in 1987), there was another chance meeting. This time, Tom and his daughter, Adria, we’re out Christmas shopping and decided to stop at a restaurant. After they we’re seated, the waiter told Tom that someone in the restaurant had asked to see him. Tom and Adria were escorted to a room and found George Harrison and Jeff Lynne. George had just been asking Jeff for Tom’s number, because he wanted to visit with him. George followed Tom to his house. They hung out all afternoon, laughing and playing guitars.
All of these friendships…Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne led to The Traveling Wilburys in 1988.
Of course Roy Orbison was added because Jeff Lynne was producing an album for him at that time, and also because all of them were Roy Orbison fans. Tom and Jeff even wrote two songs with Roy…”You Got It” and “California Blue”…the two best songs on Roy’s album.
Tom Petty says George Harrison’s reputation as “The Quiet Beatle” wasn’t how he really was. Petty said…”He was so funny. It’s hard to explain. He was the funniest guy I ever met.”
That’s just an extremely small sample of Paul Zollo’s book. It’s filled with Tom’s very forthcoming comments. The above picture of Tom was taken by the author as Tom exited the stage at his last concert, September 25th, 2017…exactly one week before he died.
We miss both Tom Petty and George Harrison, two great friends who enriched our lives with timeless music.