By Ray Chelstowski
In the late afternoon of October 2, 2017 I was driving through central Wisconsin with my colleague Kevin Smith. The news just then broke on the radio about Tom Petty’s passing. We both almost missed it until Kevin said, “Did you hear that?” The news would quickly become louder. At first the report was speculative. Nothing had been confirmed. Rock radio helped time pass by moving through Petty’s extraordinary catalog, inserting what updates they had between tracks. As a lifelong fan of both his band and his music the news shook me to the core. The final news brought everything to a halt and the music world literally gasped. Tom Petty was one of their beloved and his passing struck deep. However, no one could possibly imagine the loss felt by those closest to him, especially his bandmates. In an effort to cope with the grief and loss, this last year became a busy one for The Heartbreakers camp. Over the summer they released a vast compilation of material never heard before from both the studio and the stage, in a package entitled An American Treasure. Now, quick on the heels of that collection comes TheBest of Everything. It’s the first career-spanning composite of Tom Petty’s hits with The Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch and his own solo work. The 38-track set also includes two previously unreleased songs, which includes the autobiographical “For Real.”
Both of these compilations were a labor of love and complement each other in a seamless manner. Whether you were a casual listener over the years or an avid fan these box sets capture the essence of why Tom Petty has long been considered an “American Master.” The expansive snapshot of his songwriting skills reveal why his music made such an impact in the moment. It also reveals why the material is timeless and as relevant today as it was upon initial release.
Maybe the most impressive fun fact about this collection is that it’s a cross label affair. This truly is a comprehensive “best of” collection that puts everything neatly in one tight, evenly mastered destination. Because of the breadth of material found in both American Treasure and The Best of Everything one can only wonder what else is sitting in “the vault” waiting to be shared with the world.
Helping producer Ryan Ulyate and Chris Bellman manage through this colossal undertaking were Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. The “best of” project was apparently something that Tom himself had long wanted to assemble. Having his two longest standing partners contribute to the process ensured that the final cut would match the ultimate vision that Tom had in mind for the collection.
We caught up with Mike and Benmont to talk about the collection, the lasting impact of Tom Petty’s music and what lies ahead for both of them in a musical universe that no longer includes their boss, partner, inspiration and brother.
MIKE CAMPBELL: Well, it’s more of a hits package for people who maybe want them all on one disc or who had never heard them all. With American Treasure we dug deep and looked for songs people had never heard before. If you like us you probably have heard some of them before, but there’s one new song on there. With the timing we just thought it was important to have something out there that represented Tom’s best songs.
BENMONT TENCH: I regret that the last Heartbreakers tour was like a greatest hits tour. One of the things I like about having the extended greatest hit package and the American Treasure box set together is that they say “look at the depth and the breadth here.”
GM: Apparently thisBest of Everything package (shown above) was a project that Tom was very interested in before he passed. How did that guide the process?
BT: Well, he never talked to me about it and I probably wouldn’t have been involved. He probably would have just done it with Mike and Ryan (Ulyate). But after he passed away, the point of both of these collections became about how The Heartbreakers always wanted to maintain a high standard and not go for the cheap shot. We certainly never wanted to exploit the fact of his passing but really wanted to put something together that would make him go, “This is up to my standards. This should be like this.” It was “what would Tom think?” And if something hadn’t been released it was a matter of “Ok, well maybe he didn’t put this out for a reason.” However, if we said, “Tom give this another listen. Don’t you think people should hear this? Is this something he would have given a second listen to?” An example is “For Real.” He would have said “Yeah, you know people should hear this.” People should hear the unadorned version of “Best of Everything” with the extra verse that Robbie Robertson took out when he went to rework it for The King of Comedy soundtrack. It made the song flow in a different way, kind of made it “a record.” I think for me, and I know that for Mike and certainly for all of us, that this is something that Tom would have wanted.
GM: How were the hits assembled? What was the criteria used to make the cut?
MC: Well, it was awkward at best because he’s not here. But the criteria that I personally used was that I imagined Tom sitting next to me. I’d kinda ask him, “Yes or no?” And then I’d go by my instinct as to what he would have wanted.
BT: We wanted to show him off, both him and the band. But especially him. I think initially we were only talking about one set, but it might have always been two. We sat down in Mike’s studio with Mike, Adria Petty and Ryan the engineer and we threw out song titles and wrote things down that we thought were just special; whether they were hits or not. Songs we thought people might have missed and we put together a confident list of tons and tons of songs. And out of that came American Treasure AND this. There was the notion with American Treasure that “maybe you didn’t hear this” or “certainly you didn’t hear this version.” Also, to spotlight that, you haven’t heard this unreleased Heartbreakers track. Well, there’s a lot more of that. Maybe in the future we can spotlight just the Wildflowers album or just the Hypnotic Eye period. That was kind of the purpose of American Treasure. Things that were familiar and things that weren’t, that were unknown. This guy was so good, there was so much going on, and he was a wonderful very special writer. This one (The Best of Everything) is the first opportunity to get the songs from both record labels, MCA and the Warner Brothers years, all out in one collection so you don’t have to go, “I have to get this one, then that one, etc.”It’s more for the casual fan although it’s a ton of songs. It’s to give an overview of the more familiar stuff and throw in a few new things like “The Best of Everything” unedited, and the final song “For Real.”
MC: Not to pat myself on the back — because I’d pat Tom on the back if he was here — over the years we have always tried to treat the fans fairly financially. Even with ticket prices. We kept our ticket prices way below what we could have charged. We did that specifically for the reason that we never wanted to price ourselves out of our fans. It was the same with the recordings. You shouldn’t have to buy five different box sets to get all of the songs you like. That was kind of the idea; just put them all in one thing that spans the whole career. It’s a long career — almost 50 years. We put all of the different recordings from different eras together. We remastered them so that it all flowed well and that all of the levels were the same. We wanted everything to sound like the same program.
GM: Is there a trove of material out there that remains unreleased? Any future plans you can share?
MC: I’m planning on it because there’s stuff that’s valid. Definitely some live stuff. I know that there’s a whole record from the Fillmore West that we did in the late ’90s. We played there for like a month and did a lot of covers and deep tracks. We had a great audience and recorded every night there, 24 nights or something. So I know there’s an album there of some really great performances. I would like to see that come out as a package on its own, Live at the Fillmore. There are still some “recorded things” that haven’t surfaced yet. Eventually we will get to all of them that we think are valid — and that Tom would have approved of — and share them with everybody.
BT: We have so much unreleased material that’s fantastic. Completely unreleased. The demo tapes from my parents’ living room with Mudcrutch live on two tracks that got us the record deal in the first place. We have that and I’d say about a third of that is really stellar. We have almost an entire alternate record which is from the same time as Hypnotic Eye. We have stuff all through that period. That’s the purpose of American Treasure. Did you ever hear the song “You Can Still Change Your Mind”? Did you ever spot this song version deep in Hard Promises, or the Wildflowers album?
I don’t think that there would be An American Treasure 2. My hope would be to do something that pays attention to a certain period of the band. I don’t know what anyone’s plan is for that kind of thing. It’s just a dream of mine. I know that there’s a lot that had to be left off of American Treasure. With (Best of Everything) there had to be a comprehensive set. Everyone deserves one. The years we were with Shelter and then MCA, those years are pretty much bookended by the first album with “American Girl” and “Breakdown” and the Into The Great Wide Open record. The Warner period begins with Wildflowers and ends with the second Mudcrutch record. That’s a lot of stuff!
GM: Is there any unreleased Traveling Wilburys material? Was that period ever considered for this collection?
BT: No, because I think that The Travelling Wilburys are their own thing, its own band. That’s for The Wilburys to deal with. This is all from the Heartbreakers camp so we wanted to make sure to have the great solo stuff — to have that represented and to have the Mudcrutch stuff as well.
MC: We discussed that but we figured that that’s a separate entity. I don’t think that there were any songs there that Tom wrote on his own. They were group compositions and that would require permission from everybody from that group. They probably have some plans for those recordings of their own, completely separate from The Heartbreakers.
BT: When you think about it, he had all of this stuff with The Heartbreakers. He had a solo career, the stuff with Jeff (Lynne). This was all we could bite off!
GM: When I last saw you guys it was at the Beacon in 2013. You opened with an amazing version of “Steppin’ Stone.” Are there any covers that you did live that you wish you’d cut in the studio as well?
MC: We’d do a cover because we had all grown up with the same roots and we all liked the same things. We all liked that version of that song — the Paul Revere (and the Raiders) version, not The Monkees. Any cover we would do was because someone would have brought it in and we would all understand it. We already knew the song. We would listen to the record again and then do it our way. It was always fun because we grew up on those songs.
BT: We would do the Raider’s “Steppin’ Stone.” The Monkees did a great version too — even though it may be The Wrecking Crew actually playing on both. But we kinda leaned toward the Raiders as far as that song goes. In fact, I think I learned the song off their record.
When they did Full Moon Fever, for some reason the label didn’t hear a single or thought the record was too short. So they went back and cut “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” With Tom and Mike, the writing was so strong. Why would you waste the space on a record with a cover when you can do it live and get a great version for a live album, like “Don’t Bring Me Down”? Or you could put it on a B-side of a single — back when there were B-sides. That was a lot of fun. Like “I Fought The Law.”
I know that we tried to cut a great Dave Clark Five song called “Come Home.” We tried to cut that in the studio because had been doing it live. We also tried “The Image of Me” during the Southern Accent sessions. We made it kinda like “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On.” Dave Stewart was producing the album but Denny Cordell came back and produced that song the way he had produced “Breakdown” and “American Girl.” Like old school!
GM: With compilations like this, you mine the vaults, you re-listen to many songs, outtakes, etc. Is there a lyric, a riff, a particular phrase, a chord voicing, that to you stands out as a quintessential
MC: There’s one song that always comes to mind, that’s “American Girl.” In my opinion we were making that first record, recording different grooves, different guitar sounds and when we hit that song the soul and the harmonics and the arrangement, the performance — that’s when we all kinda felt, well, that’s us! Nobody can do that better than we can. That’s our thing. At the time we wanted to do it with a 12-string but we didn’t have one. We simulated a 12-string with a 6-string. Later on when we got a 12-string, on the second album, we started using one with songs like “Listen To Her Heart.” With “American Girl,” not having a 12-string forced us into the sound that we found and I think that song defines the way Ben and I play together, and the way Tom writes. The way Stan (Lynch) and Ron (Blair) were pumping really hard creating a lot of energy. There’s a lot of “oak” and “angst” and all of those things. I think we just nailed it on that song and it defined us. It also has “youthful adrenaline” and so much excitement — you can just feel it. I think Tom too in his singing realized, “Hey, this is me! I can tap this character.” That’s special and it really gets your adrenaline pumping. I get that every time I hear that song. My hair stands up on my neck.
BT: I don’t know. I think that it changes from time to time for me. There are beautiful songs on Echo that are achingly heartbreaking. Terribly sad songs. But there are also uplifting songs on Echo like “Gainesville.” There’s a fair amount of variety. Like if you go to “Room at the Top,” it has a mournful folk music kind of thing. At the top of the song before the beat comes in its almost like Automatic for the People. Then the drums come in and it’s almost Led Zeppelin.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is just fantastic. “Refugee” is pretty much straight where we were then. But what can you say about “American Girl”?
MC: You reminded me of something I’ve never talked about. The first time we went to England we are on tour and we are playing Liverpool. A girl comes up and she goes, “I love ‘American Girl’ but why does she have to die?” I said, “She had to die TRYIN’!” Tom got a lot out of a very few words that can be interpreted differently by different people. That’s a real gift.
BT: You have to evolve and we did. We are kind of classicists in form. In general the classic ’60s pop song — and we were kind of conservative musically in a lot of ways. But “American Girl” is a very strange sounding single, even for the time.
GM: Have you ever been surprised by one of your songs quickly charting and becoming a hit?
MC: That’s a good question because I think they all kinda surprised us. To be honest, we never attempted to write something that was going to chart. We can’t even think that way. I actually remember it the other way around where we turned in Full Moon Fever to MCA at the time and they said, “Go record a hit. We don’t hear any here.” That’s why we put The Byrd’s cover on that album because they wanted a hit. And of course there ended up being several big hits from that record. On any album you might think, “Well, these songs definitely aren’t hits because they are just grooves or side songs.” With “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” we thought that that might connect, but you never know. We always were kind of surprised and happy when it happened. Having said that, when (producer) Jimmy Iovine heard “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl,” he just threw down his wallet and said, “I don’t need to hear any more songs. Those are two big hits.”
GM: You’ve both done a lot of session work. Have you worked with any band where the chemistry reminds you of
MC: I think Fleetwood Mac has that because they’ve been together for so long. The Heartbreakers is the perfect example of “the sum of the parts is better than any one person.” I’ve played a bit with Fleetwood Mac recently and I feel that with them — especially the more we play together because that rhythm section has been together for decades — their musical telepathy and dynamic feel reminds me a little of The Heartbreakers. The Heartbreakers were their own band, one of a kind really.
BT: There have been a lot of sessions that I have really enjoyed but I don’t generally think in those terms. When I’m doing a session I’m thinking about what I can do that’s best for the song. Usually I fit really well because I think that the people who ask me to play ask me to play on the right stuff. Every band has a different dynamic.
MC: Most bands break up. Egos or romances break up the brotherhood. It’s a miracle to keep a band together for decades. I’m really proud that we maintained our integrity and musicianship for quite a while. There’s only a few other bands like the Stones that have stuck it out that long and still have that original spark. I’m proud that we had that.
GM: Can you talk a bit about the creative process that the band embraced?
BT: What was great in the studio about this band is that we were all initially from the same hometown. The guys that joined later understood too because they basically came from the same musical background. When Mudcrutch got out here we really couldn’t play in the studio. (Producer) Denny Cordell spent a fair amount of money trying to help us learn. He sent us to Tulsa where Shelter Records had a studio and where we cut some of the stuff on American Treasure like “Lost In Your Eyes.” But the band broke up. By the time that we laid down the first Heartbreakers record, Denny Cordell was there again. He might be lying on a couch smoking a hash joint, then we would share the tape in playback and he would lean up at moments and say, “There! Listen to that. That’s the thing. Do that for the whole song.” He was brilliant. And at parties at his house, Denny would put on great records just for the fun of it. There would be something on and someone would say, “That’s incredible, what is that?” He’d say “Jerome is the maraca player on this. Listen to the shakers on this. The shakers are what make this song.” So we had schooling like that!
After we made the first record we still didn’t really know what we were doing. We were instinctively a really good band and we would get guidance from whoever was producing, for sure. But as Tom wrote a song on the piano he would show it to me and say, “Play it like this,” because that was the heart of the song. On a song like “Don’t Do Me Like That” or “Breakdown,” I’d play the piano the way he played it. Mike brought in “Refugee” and it had kind of a Latin feel. But when they counted it off we did what’s on the record because that’s what came naturally.
GM: Tom Petty is really considered an “American Master” when it comes to writing. What was his regimen like?
BT: I know that Tom wrote “Free Fallin’” as a lark. But when you’re writing something you don’t necessarily know what you’re writing, “Free Fallin’” is a pretty sad story. It’s fun to just sing along and go “Ventura Boulevard!” and get a chuckle. But “she’s a good girl and he’s a bad boy because he doesn’t even miss her” — well, damn! That’s a little dark! Yeah, it’s funny, too. “There’s a freeway running through the yard”! There’s a lot of stuff going on here. He’s really interesting because his contemporaries, Bruce and Elvis Costello, are exceptional songwriters, too. Both tell a story in great detail. I’m friends with and work with Ryan Adams from time to time. He can also tell a story with great detail.
Bruce had all of these stories to spin and Elvis is just brilliant with the joy of words and the meaning underneath them. Tom would write a song with two or three verses of four lines each and you got the whole picture that way. To me it’s just a miracle and one of the ways he stands apart. He kinda comes from some of those Brill building writers, or maybe from Leiber & Stoller. He’s really good at just a few brush strokes.
When it comes to Bruce, “Thunder Road” is a long song but you are not going to find a better opening line than “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves.” That’s Tom as well with “Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now.” You’ve got to open a song with something that will bring people in. Or open a record with a sound. With every Beatles record you know what song it is because there’s a sound not just some drum beat, like the opening of“A Hard Days Night.” You know exactly where you are. “She’s an American Girl raised on promises” is like “Ok, tell me more!” Elvis with “Accidents Will Happen” and “Well, I just don’t know where to begin...” These guys are like Irving Berlin. I always thought Tom was under-recognized for the depth and the care that he took. He never took his songwriting lightly. He might write something funny and silly. But he would rarely do something for the sake of a rhyme.
GM: How much did outside contributors influence the band’s sound?
BT: Over the course of 45 years of course there are instances where you break it down. I know, because I worked a lot with him, Rick Rubin would say, “Let’s break this down to this. Let the drums do this. Play less on the piano. What if you have just one guitar and don’t double it?” Really specific. But Tom, while he would get in there, I think he generally thought that the band understood how to play his songs. I think we had a really good musical trust between all of us.
GM: What was the band dynamic like, especially in the studio?
BT: I got frustrated with Tom at some points because I really love playing Hammond and I think that the Hammond shines really well with what he does with Mike. Not all of the time but every now and then there would be a song and I would start playing Hammond on it and he would kind of blanch to say, “No let’s not put Hammond on this one.” And I know that it was because it was too familiar. We had made that sound before. Me? I’d be like, yes but it’s the right sound for this. However, him and Mike were producing at that point and they did a really good job. God only knows if we would have gotten out of Gainesville (without them).
MC: On the album Mojo I had just gotten a ’59 Les Paul. Tom came to me and said, “I want to make a whole album around that sound.” That was his inspiration. We had always been this jingly-jangly Byrds, Rickenbacker band. Tom said let’s go in that direction, tap that space and see what we can come up with. That’s the only time there was any discussion other than the song is always first. It still is.
With the first Mudcrutch album I went in on the first day and I played a Telecaster with a string bender — which I love and never use that much. I was intending to record a record using a plethora of different guitars. I’m gonna try them all. After the first day Tom says, “I want you to play that guitar on every song. That’s the sound of Mudcrutch.” And we did. We always have fun, no matter what we were doing.
BT: I think that we were always much better live. I think that Tom thought so too. Ryan went through everything and found great live stuff. The thing I always come back to with any of this stuff is that I was a fan whose best friend was a roadie for this band called Mudcrutch. And he said, “You’ve got to come see these guys.” I went and saw them and I was like, that’s the guy who used to work at the music store. He always seemed kid of dangerous although I had never even spoken to him. He was 15 and I was 13. So it was like, “Wait, it’s THAT guy.” I started following Mudcrutch around because my friend would tell me about fraternity parties they were playing and say come on down. Eventually I sat in with the band that I was a fan of and became a member of what would become The Heartbreakers. I come at it all as a fan. Even when we were making a record we were all pretty much fans. We all loved the way that he wrote and we loved the sound that we made together.
GM: The Bogdanovich doc (Runnin’ Down a Dream) seems long enough at four hours to be comprehensive and exhaustive. That said, as a big fan of Stan Lynch I didn’t think it was particularly fair to his contributions. But is there anything that you feel Bogdanovich got wrong or left out?
MC: I am, too. I’m a huge fan of Stan Lynch! When I hear his old recordings, I’m always so happy that he was part of the band. I just heard a song of his the other day and I never really keyed in on this before. On American Treasure there’s a version of “Here Comes My Girl.” At the end the band is playing out and there’s an amazing drum part. Just duh-da-duh, a great snare role he put in there. In the early days he was very important to all of those records and live he was a monster.
BT: The Bogdonovich films was a lot of history. I really loved it but it had some glaring omissions. For example, I think that Danny Roberts was in Mudcrutch for a few years and they just left him entirely out of the film. Entirely! I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if it was Peter’s decision or not.
GM: While you weren’t a band like Queen or Journey fronted by big theatrical voices, you could go on the road with your material like the Dead or the Eagles have, using a known fan to front The Heartbreakers. Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell or Nathan Followill come to mind. Is that an option?
BT: I get really well-meaning fans who ask, “Why don’t you get so and so and go out and do the songs?” I don’t know how to play without Tom. I’ve played with a lot of other people and have done a lot of session work but The Heartbreakers without Tom at the center, and his guitar playing... it’s not the same. He was a member of the band. He didn’t hire a band. He was working on a solo record after Mudcrutch and Stan Lynch and I put together a bunch of musicians from Gainesville who we knew to do demos. I think the only one in the gang that I didn’t know might have been Ron Blair. Tom said that he didn’t want a solo career. He wanted a band. So we were a hired band, we were a bunch of guys from Florida who had all played together. It was a totally organic thing. He is the rhythm guitar player and lead singer in a band called The Heartbreakers.
MC: It’s a very good question and I respect and God Bless all of the guys you mentioned but there’s only one Tom. The scar is still kinda fresh to me. The thought of doing that is just so far beyond any concept that I can’t even entertain the idea. No one could do that and I don’t know how that would evolve or become an option for me. Definitely not right now. Maybe it’s grief but I can’t really entertain that question.
BT: There’s all of these great people. But the thing about it is that right now for me I like the noise that we made. Nobody made that noise except Tom. You know, it’s like Chuck Berry makes a certain sound when he plays. Keith Richards plays Chuck Berry great but he doesn’t sound like Chuck Berry — he sounds like Keith Richards. And I have heard people ask, “How long can this band do it? Why are they still going out (on the road)?” Well you know what? It’s not because you’re too old or your leader passed away and you got someone else to fill their shoes. It’s because you’ve been making this sound for all of your life and how can you not? Are The Rolling Stones too old? Hell no! They just want to make that noise together. The Grateful Dead with John Mayer or whoever? If they want to play together and make the sound, to have the joy, then they should. If the guys in Queen want the pleasure of playing together then of course they should. What are we gonna do? I have no idea. Right now I can’t see playing Tom’s stuff.
GM: My 13-year-old daughter asked me a great question. Was Tom Petty a “Heartbreaker”?
MC: Oh yeah! He’s the number one Heartbreaker. I mean as a band member, not as a human being! (laughs). He was IN the band. That’s why to set up and play without him doesn’t feel like the band. He’s definitely one of us.
BT: Absolutely! Here’s the thing about the name. There are two reasons for his name being first. I’m not sure if the decision was made before or after we learned that Johnny Thunder had a band called The Heartbreakers. I do know that after having been in Mudcrutch I’m pretty sure that he wanted to make clear that there was one chef, there’s one cook, there’s one chief, there’s one guy in charge. He may even have been thinking, if this band doesn’t pan out at least they’ll know that it’s me. I won’t be some anonymous guy who was in a band.
GM: On your FB fan page, Mike, a picture was posted of you playing George Harrison’s custom “Rocky” Strat — his first Fender guitar and one that he never parted ways with. What guitar is YOUR prized possession, your “Rocky”?
MC: It’s my ’59 Les Paul or my Fender Broadcaster. Those are the two oldest guitars that I have and the most valuable. And they’re the best sounding guitars. They’re so valuable I won’t take them on the road. But yeah if the house burned down I have already given everyone instructions to save the Les Paul first. It’s the only guitar that I have that I always put back in the case when I’m done playing it, and I put it in a foot locker by my bed.
GM: Mike. you played The Mint (club in L.A.) after Tom passed with your band The Dirty Knobs, and only played one Heartbreakers track. It was a Dirty Knobs concert not a Tom Petty tribute. How did that help with the healing process? Benmont, how did you process the grief? Did performing live play a role?
MC: I would never do that. I have too much respect for my brother. I will never do anything to taint his integrity on any level. That was a moment where there was an elephant in the room and it was nice to just acknowledge that he was gone and that I still loved him. We weren’t trying to monkey the Heartbreakers. No way.
BT: I have been playing solo shows, getting ready to make another solo record. Just solo piano or else with my friend Sebastian playing upright bass. I play Tom’s songs in that context. I don’t really plan it or I find a really obscure one to play. But it’s not like I’m making it part of the show or anything. I also cover Joy Division. They’re great songs. And if he was my friend, or adversary, or boss, or hero or whatever he was that’s relevant AND irrelevant. Sure it adds a depth if I play it. But I can’t be in a room with Mike, Steve (Ferrone), Ron and Scott (Thurston) without Tom. I can’t walk into that room right now.
GM: After “The Best of Everything promotion” what’s next for you both? Mike, Fleetwood Mac?
MC: I’m in an alternate universe without my brother. I’m just taking things as they come. I have some touring to do with the band that I joined. I wasn’t expecting to do that. I have my own band which I was expecting to pursue, which I’m still going to do, The Dirty Knobs. We recorded an album that’s almost finished. As soon as this other touring ends I’m going to dive straight into that because I think we’ve got great songs. It’s a much smaller scale than I’m used to doing but I’m looking forward to that.
BT: The Fleetwood Mac connection came through Jimmy Iovine and Stevie (Nicks). In 1978, I think we cut a track with her called “Outside The Rain” that wound up on her first solo record. A couple of years after that we cut “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” We all love Fleetwood Mac.
GM: What excited/disappointed Tom about the current state of rock and how might that have shaped the music you would have made moving forward?
MC: Our approach is the same. We’re a guitar band with Benmont in the band, God bless him! All we think about is songs. If the song comes in and the song is good, we pick up our instruments or whatever is close by and play it. I think one reason we have the legacy that we have is because Tom was an amazing writer. The songs kept coming in. I think what I will the miss most is not hearing what songs he would have written over the next 10, 20 years. We’ll never know but I’m sure that’s what he would have been doing, writing.
BT: As I recall he thought highly of Jason Isbell. I know that I do. I remember even when Jason was in Drive-By Truckers that Tom thought highly of his work. There’s a theory about rock ‘n’ roll, that its kinda going the way that jazz went, moving more to smaller venues — where the interesting stuff in general HAS moved to. There are people who should be playing The Staples Center here that are playing The Greek which is a decent-sized venue but much smaller. I don’t agree with all of the choices that the Hall of Fame makes. I certainly think that they were right to bring Public Enemy in. That’s rock ‘n’ roll to the core. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t going to go away. And the guitar? Pete Townshend said maybe 35 years ago in an interview that the guitar was going to go away. That it was completely done. And here is Pete still playing away. (laughs) The most important thing are songs.
I don’t think Tom was thinking about where rock ‘n’ roll was going. I think that he was thinking, “What am I gonna write today and how GREAT can I make it?”