TOM PETTY: Purity and Passion

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“It’s important to us that we don’t turn into an Oldies act. We don’t want to turn into that great nostalgia machine. We’ve seen many of the people who we came up with turn into that. I think you always have to have something new. That’s what keeps us going.”

He is optimistic about the potential of rock and roll to endure, despite the encroachment of other genres. “I think rock and roll is going to go the way of blues and jazz. It’s not the predominant music anymore. But I think we can keep going on as long as we’re honest. The music makes you feel young. It’s a good way to stay in touch with that feeling. I think we can do it for a long time as long as we remain honest in what we’re doing, and we don’t try to be something we’re not. Our audience is a rock and roll audience. It hasn’t turned into one of these passive, sit-in-the-seat kind of audience. And I’m so grateful for that. But maybe the reason for that is that we never tried to pander to a young crowd. We never tried to pretend we were something we weren’t, and so they always took us at face-value. We’re not trying to be teen idols. We had our days of doing that, and we’re trying to grow up with the music. We tried to grow up, and as time went by, the music had to grow with us.”

Asked if there are new places to explore in his music, he answered, “I think there will always be new places to go, musically. And I think that’s true because I’ve got a unit that can go anywhere I want to point them. The frustrating part for me is having songs for them to play. If you ever hear this band warm up, it’s scary! They play so effortlessly and so unbridled, and so great. But I get frustrated because I want to harness that, and get it into a song, and it’s hard to keep supplying them with material that will showcase that… It’s hard to write a great blues or a great rock and roll song. Because there’s a purity there you can’t fake. Try writing `Long Tall Sally.’ It isn’t easy. It’s a difficult thing to write because it has to be done with a certain spontaneity. It’s not something you can overwork. So those kind of things just aren’t handed to you every day. It has to just burst out of your heart. Those aren’t things you can plan. You can’t say, `I’m gonna sit down today and write `Long Tall Sally.’ It’s got to boil inside of you and then burst out. They’re hard songs to write.

“It’s a constant education,” he continued. “As you get older, you get more perspective on your body of work. I can see things that I’m better at than other things. So I’m trying to find the things that I’m good at and improve on. Rather than go all over the map and try everything. Though I’m still looking. I’m still searching. I try to be optimistic…The thing now is to keep refining, keep growing, keep finding things in us that we didn’t know about ourselves. I think as long as we enjoy doing it, we’ll keep doing it.”

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  1. Thanks for the information on the early band The Sundowners. My wife’s uncle is Dennis Lee, the former drummer of The Sundowners. I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and almost passed out when I found out the Dennis had this connection withTom. I received a great birthday gift this year from Dennis–a photo of The Sundowners playing on stage at a fraternity party. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Dennis does not like to speak much about those days with The Sundowners. Hence, I scour the internet for information related to that group.

  2. Thank you so much for the information. It really helped with my 95/100 on my project. Eye contact knocked those 5 points off though. What was Tom’s mothers and fathers name though? Several kids in my class were curious.

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