It’s no secret here at B&V how much I love Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). From the moment I purchased Damn The Torpedoes shortly after it came out, I’ve been on the Petty bandwagon. I’m still shook by his loss. He and his backing band The Heartbreakers – Mike Campbell on guitar, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Ron Blair (and later Howie Epstein followed by Blair again) on bass and Stan Lynch (later Steve Ferrone) on drums – were one of the most formidable rock and roll bands in the world.
It would be very, very difficult for me to pick a favorite Petty album. But, like most people, I’d have to say Petty’s second “solo” album Wildflowers would be on the list of nominees. While it was called a solo album, like Full Moon Fever before it, most of the Heartbreakers save for drummer Stan Lynch played on the album. Petty and producer Rick Rubin wanted more flexibility than working within the confines of the 5-piece Heartbreakers so they categorized this as a solo project. I guess Petty felt freer in that atmosphere. Stan Lynch could be a bit rigid in the studio, or so I’ve read. Sometimes you gotta shake up the chemistry, the vibe. Steve Ferrone played drums on Wildflowers and basically took over on drums for Stan Lynch after this album. Years and years later Ferrone would still be known as “the new guy.”
Wildflowers was released in November of 1994 which seems like a lifetime ago now. That year, 1994, was an amazingly tumultuous year for me. I had a “milestone” birthday and as I much as I hate to admit it, I think it freaked me out. I felt my youth was slipping away. I was at loose ends. I was working for a medical supply company, a criminal outfit out of Chicago… I think they did most of their recruiting from prisons, a history of theft was considered an attribute… and I wasn’t making any money. I kept thinking my career was over. Emotionally I’d remained so walled off I had stayed unmarried while most my friends were “married with children,” as Frank Sinatra sang. Being a gypsy from an emotional standpoint was beginning to get old. It kept me protected but it also made me isolated. I was spending more and more time alone.
Eventually that led me to a very, very destructive relationship. Looking back, if I was being honest about it, I have to admit that I was as bad or worse for the woman I was seeing than she was for me. I own my part of it. Sometimes we choose to jump into relationships for all the wrong reasons. There were breakups, betrayals, heartbreak and money lost. It ended up consuming two years of my life that would have been better spent working on “me” a little bit. I hope wherever that person ended up, she’s in a better place. I certainly know I am.
In the midst of all that, Tom Petty dropped Wildflowers. I remember being blown away by the album. There were some great Heartbreaker style rockers that I just loved and that rank amongst Petty’s best tunes – “You Wreck Me,” “Cabin Down Below,” and “Honey Bee.” But perhaps because of where I was in the midst of my “mid-life crisis” (I hope it wasn’t a mid-life crisis, if that was the midpoint of my life I’m gonna die pretty young), but I was really drawn to some of the quieter more introspective moments on the album. The title track remains one of my favorite Petty tracks. “Time To Move On” is a great song that should have been a sign from the Rock N Roll Gods, that yes, it was time for me to move on from where I was at. “Crawling Back To You” contains my all time favorite Petty lyric, a phrase that could sum up my entire adult existence, “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.” Every track on that album was a standout.
Little did I realize at the time, but Petty’s original concept for Wildflowers was for it to be a double album. Petty, before he died, mentioned all the leftover music from the sessions and his plans for releasing all the additional material in a package he was going to call Wild Flowers: All The Rest. Unfortunately Petty tragically passed before he could see that project come to fruition. And, as happens too often with rock stars, there was a legal battle over his estate. His daughters and his second wife sued each other for control of the estate and the back catalog. All of that legal crap has prevented us from hearing any of this “leftover” material. I do have a bootleg copy of the B-side track, “Girl On L.S.D.” that I’ve been hoping to see officially released. It’s a funny song. I think I included it in my Petty deep tracks playlist, Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks.
Back in 2015 Petty actually released a song that was teased as single from the “soon to be released” expanded Wildflowers, “Somewhere Under Heaven.” Then of course, tragedy struck, legal battles, etc etc. Apparently juris prudence has prevailed, legalities have been settled and the long-awaited deluxe package is finally going to see release this October. To tease the box, they’ve released an early version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels (Home Recording)” which is fitting as that was the first single from the original album. Recently they also released “Wildflowers (Home Recording)” an early roughed-out version of the title track. Those tracks are interesting to obsessives like me, but I wanted to hear something I hadn’t heard before…
Earlier this month, the Petty camp released a song, “There Goes Angela (Dream Away) [Home Recording}.” Seeing that “[Home Recording]” on the title made me think, ah, another demo. And yes, this probably should be considered a demo but it’s more fully realized than most demos. Petty was in fine voice during the Wildflowers session and this track is even more evidence of that. I love his plaintive vocal. The track is a ballad in line with “Wildflowers.” I played it for the Rock Chick and she had the same response that I did upon hearing it. She said, “Wow, that’s really pretty.” It’s quiet, strummed guitar, beautiful vocals punctuated with harmonica. I think this track would have fit nicely on the original album without any additional production or instrumentation. I love the lyric, “Have a dream on me…”
I am delighted to see this long awaited box coming in October. And I have to say, I’m delighted by how great a song “There Goes Angela” is. I think this is going to be a fascinating look at the creative process Petty took in creating Wildflowers but this song is proof that there’s also going to be some great, unheard music on this thing. I urge everybody to check this track out, post haste.
Be safe out there.