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Tom Petty’s dream version of “Wildflowers” 3 years after his death

During the last week of his life, Tom Petty became unusually melancholy. At home after a tour with the Heartbreakers, he asked his wife, Dana, to call up his rarely seen 2002 video “Fun in the Desert” in which he rode around a barren landscape on a mini-motorcycle, then asked to track down a high school girlfriend on social media. “He hated Facebook,” recalls Dana Petty. “But it got super nostalgic. Looking back, it’s very strange. “

Little of his musical past has drawn him that much Wild flowers, the 1994 solo album that featured some of his most intimate, relaxed and revealing songs, from “You Don̵

7;t Know How It Feels” to the thinly titled popular song. With the help of producer Rick Rubin, the album became one of Petty’s most beloved albums, selling more than 3 million copies at the time, as well as one of his most sonically extensive works. “He always said, ‘This is the best record we’ve ever made,'” says Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench. “It was a time when song after song was coming up, which doesn’t always happen 20 years after your first release.”

When Petty first presented the 25 track Wild flowers at Warner Bros., the label, including then-president Lenny Waronker, suggested cutting it to a disc. As Petty said Rolling Stone in an unedited 2013 interview, “Lenny listened to it and said, ‘It’s great, but it’s too long – you have to cut it down.’ We were like, ‘Oh, man, we wanted a double album.’ ” agreed, relegating about half of the album to his archives, even though some of the outtakes (“California”, “Hung Up and Overdue”) would end up on the soundtrack of Edward Burns’ 1996 romantic comedy She is that.

Around 2012, in the middle of working on a new Heartbreakers album (Hypnotic eye), Petty decided it was time to finally release Wild flowers in its complete two-disc form. “We will also release the songs from the other record,” he said RS animatedly. “We recorded quite a few songs and pulled them out, and the songs are just like that cold. “

Petty would never live long enough to carry out her dream project. In October 2017, he died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, including fentanyl. But on October 16, three years after his death, Petty’s wish will be fulfilled with a multi-disc set, Wildflowers and all. As he had planned, he enriches the original album with the cut songs, some in alternative versions to those heard She is that. “I know he really wanted it to be over,” says Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. “And it was nice to do what he wanted and carry out his original idea.”

Deluxe configurations go even further: separate discs are dedicated to Petty’s homemade demos, to live recordings of Wild flowers songs and alternative footage from the studio sessions. Similar to multi-disc sets tuned to classics like the Beach Boys’ Sounds of pets, Wildflowers and all lets listeners see how one of Petty’s records came together, almost step by step. Her daughter Adria Petty (who curated the collection alongside Dana Petty, Campbell, Tench and Adria’s sister Annakim Violette) says the set “helps you understand the magic of how my father did something” in a way that nothing else can do. “I always thought they got together and maybe he had a certain amount of songs and introduced them to Rick,” she says. “But that really wasn’t the process. It was this huge collaboration … a deliberate and very painstaking process to make these pure and simple recordings.”

Yet this project, which meant so much to Petty in her later years, almost didn’t happen. Before one of the most anticipated versions of classic rock in recent memory could become a reality, Petty’s surviving family had to go through a bitter judicial battle over their estate that nearly destroyed them – and the Wild flowers project – apart. “Our world has been turned upside down and caused some damage,” says Dana. “Somehow we made it. . . . But I don’t recommend it to anyone. “

Tom Petty

Rubin and Petty in the studio during the sessions of “Wildflowers”, 1993

Mark Seliger

Before Petty started working over it Wild flowers in 1992 he had reason to feel stressed. His marriage to his first wife, Jane, was falling apart; Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein was battling drug addiction; and the tension had developed between Petty and drummer Stan Lynch. Around the same time, Petty had also left his longtime label, MCA, for a new deal with Warner Bros.

That year, Petty found herself on the same private jet as Warner from New York to L.A. with Rubin, then best known for co-founding Def Jam in the 1980s and producing the Beastie Boys and hard-rock bands. Rubin and Petty would have appeared on different ends of the musical spectrum, but according to Adria, who was also on the flight, they established a first connection there, starting with the fact that both had attended Bob Dylan’s recent 30th anniversary concert in New York. . “Rick was in the corner with a Walkman listening to every Neil Young album, and I think my dad really noticed,” he says. “He thought he was a rap guy or a Slayer producer, but here Rick was at Bob’s show studying Neil. My father must have thought, ‘Maybe he should study myself!’

Rubin, it turned out, had been a fan of Petty’s 1989 solo album Full moon fever, playing it incessantly on long trips after moving to California. “From then on, I was excited about the chance to work with Tom,” Rubin recalls. Eventually, Mo Ostin of Warner Brothers arranged a meeting between the two men, who met at Petty’s home. “Rubin was afraid of meeting Tom,” laughs George Drakoulias, then Rubin’s number two on his label, American. Soon after, however, they decided to work together. “We never discussed general goals or ideas for the project,” Rubin recalls. “Tom was clear he wanted it to be a solo album. It wasn’t clear to me why it was important to him, but he made the point. “

As the work began, Rubin recalls that Petty only had one song, “It’s Good to Be King”. But it was clear to Campbell that the album was going to be different from the start. “It was an interesting time in our life, because we worked so hard, shooting and recording up to Full moon fever and everything in between, “says the guitarist.” We finally got to a point where we didn’t have to push that hard to survive. Tom was able to sit back and think about what he wanted to do artistically later and maybe try different kinds of songs, more acoustic here and there, more introspective. Maybe some different points of view. We weren’t going to hurry, so we could take our time and wait for the good songs to come. “

True to Campbell’s memory, the Wild flowers the sessions extended at a slow pace for about a year and a half as the songs were tuned section by section. “We were a little worried if we could trust Rick or not do what we wanted to do and not lead him in the wrong direction,” says Campbell. “I don’t know if” worry “is the right word. We had to learn to trust him deeply and spiritually with the songs. And then, once that happened, we all went for the ride together … He pumped the drums for a different sound than we would normally have, and he offered to drive the arrangements in a different way that we couldn’t if all the Heartbreakers were there. We had the freedom to explore other things. “

Engineer Jim Scott recalls that Petty showed up promptly each afternoon, ready to work. One of the first goals was to recruit a new drummer. Although Lynch was technically still in the Heartbreakers, Petty and Rubin began auditioning for the album, including British percussionist Steve Ferrone. As Ferrone learned, Petty was looking for a new sound and a new approach, not as refined as the work he had done with Jeff Lynne, and wider and more open to new sounds. “From time to time, there was a song we played and I was like, ‘Ok, this sounds more like the Tom Petty I know,'” Ferrone says. “We did a few takes and then Tom would say, ‘Nah, we’ve been here before.’ I thought, ‘It looks like you. ‘But he would have stepped away from the song. “

Wild flowers came to incorporate Celtic folk ballads, blues, folk-rock and cameos by Ringo Starr and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys. To ensure the best voice, Scott recalls that Petty took advice from the late Roy Orbison, with whom he had befriended in Traveling Wilburys, and drank a six-ounce bottle of Coke before each tasting. For that perfect mid-nineties touch, everyone took a break every Thursday night to watch the latest episode of Seinfeld.

Returning from college during a Thanksgiving break, Adria saw her father and Rubin working on string arrangements and fiddling with the Beatles’ White Album. (“Only a Broken Heart” looks particularly like an excerpt from that Beatles masterpiece.) “He really enjoyed doing it,” recalls Adria. “You never knew what he was going through.”

Petty was so successful that a song, “Wake Up Time”, was recorded just at the last minute as the band were shooting a promotional video in a studio after the album was finished. Petty announced that he had a new ballad and everyone hurried to get it cut just then, around midnight; it was so last minute that Ferrone nearly missed his dawn flight to New York. “Wild flowers it’s not perfect, and that’s what’s so good about it, “says Scott.” It’s one of the last great analog drives that didn’t run through the ProTools grinder. You don’t have the budget to spend a year and a half on a record right now. “

Drakoulias recalls the atmosphere of the sessions as “like a fraternity – a lot of jokes and laughs”. It became clear that the sessions were an oasis for Petty from everything that happened in her life. “He wasn’t very open about what was going on in his private world,” says Tench. “The songs obviously show something was going on, and the consequences it shows something was going on … He came to the studio and had these amazing songs. “Adria adds:” I don’t think there was any doubt about what the record was. It is the quintessence of divorces. His [about] allowing you to move to another stage in your life and find happiness. “

Many of Petty’s were surprised when he accepted the label’s suggestion to cut Wild flowers when the sessions ended. “We thought the quality was there, so I was disappointed and confused,” admits Tench. Campbell insists Petty wasn’t pressured: “He wasn’t shoved down our throats,” he says. “We were cooperative and maybe put off a little bit about what they thought would work in the market. But Tom would do what he wanted. “

Rubin admits he was “shocked” in his words when Petty made that decision, which involved a new, meticulous repetition of the songs. Rubin now wonders if Petty’s decision was related to his consideration of his fans: “If part of the talk was that twice as many albums are twice as expensive for fans to buy, I might see Tom not wanting his music to have a price higher than his audience. He has always kept his concert tickets reasonably priced compared to his peers. Knowing this story helps make sense of Tom’s willingness to bend to a creative choice. “

In the end, the decision turned out to be smart. Even at 15 songs, the released version of Wild flowers it was still long, almost the equivalent of an old double LP, and still reflected the musical range that Petty and Rubin were aiming for. “It was this strange combination of being musically conservative but wanting to move forward,” says Tench. “During the day, I blamed him for his conservatism. If I’m a big fan of someone, I’m very critical. But looking back, he took more risks than I thought he was. “

Petty moved on to other albums and tours after, but Wild flowers stayed with him. When he and engineer Ryan Ulyate began revisiting the half set aside two decades later, Petty realized he had forgotten about songs like “Somewhere Under Heaven,” a psychedelic creation from the Wall of Sound. “I’m listening to him and I’m thinking, ‘This is cool – I wonder who he is?'” He said Rolling Stone. “And suddenly my voice lit up and I was just stunned. I had no memory of this song. “(Ulyate also remembers that moment:” She said, ‘Who is that boy?’ And I said, ‘I think he is you. ‘”)” There were things I didn’t even half recognize, “Campbell recalls.” I thought,’ Oh, yeah, I remember that guitar licking – it’s that song. What happened to that song? “It was like rediscovering new songs, in a way.”

Around this time, Petty invited himself to Rubin’s studio to play him by surprise. “I couldn’t believe it when we listened,” Rubin recalls. “I forgot we had recorded all those songs. It was surreal. They looked just like that Wild flowers, but none were on the album. “Petty seemed to be struggling with a way to release the material and pitched the idea to Rubin to release it as a standalone album called Wildflowers 2, although Rubin says he dissuaded him: “I said it might give people the impression that this is a new album in the Wild flowers style.”

Petty’s love Wild flowers It was also evident in another plan that emerged, for a special tour where he would play all the songs of the sessions, with guest singers. It was a classic rock gimmick he’d long avoided, but it talked about how much he enjoyed one of his signature works. “Oh, God, she was so excited to tour behind it,” says Dana Petty. “He really wanted to make it something special. He talked about it relentlessly. He had a great year and he said, “I can leave it all behind and do it Wild flowers and do what I want. “He was really happy.” While rehearsing his latest tour, Petty occasionally worked on new harmonies and arrangements for the Wild flowers songs with Charley and Hattie Webb, the British sisters who sang back up on those shows.

After the last Heartbreakers show, at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25, 2017, Petty threw an intimate party in his and his wife’s room at their Bel Air hotel, where he talked to Ferrone about what he had in mind: playing the ‘original Wild flowers from start to finish, followed by the rest of the material, with guests such as Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder and Steve Winwood. “It would turn into a huge band,” says Ferrone. “He had a lot of ideas. If anyone could have put it together, it would have been Tom. It would have been fabulous. “

Tom Petty

Petty in a Los Angeles supermarket, 1992

Mark Seliger

A week after the last Heartbreakers show, those dreams vanished when Petty collapsed at his Los Angeles home and was rushed to a hospital, where he died the next day. Prior to the tour, Petty had dealt with knee and hip problems involving some of those close to him. “I didn’t want him to go,” Dana says of that latest tour. “He wouldn’t have heard it. He really thought it would be okay: ‘I’ve had a broken hip for two years. What’s the worst that could happen?’ It definitely wasn’t the healthiest move. It’s not worth it. “

Petty was often so sore on that tour, due to knee and hip problems, that he would be taken to the stage in a golf cart and Ferrone had to accompany him up the stairs to the stage. “He had a lot of pain in his hip – it wasn’t easy for him,” says Ferrone. “I would be on his right, he would put his arm around my neck and he would have the railing, and we would go up the stairs. For those who saw it, it was a couple of old friends who were going up the stairs talking to each other. : “Ready for the next step?” And he: “Take me up there! Everything will be fine! “We would get to the top of the stairs and I would go to the drums and he would come out front and wave his arms, and he was on.”

With Dana as the designated trustee of her deceased husband’s estate, plans for posthumous projects began, starting with a casket (An American treasure) and a hit pack in 2018. Court documents indicate Warner Bros. has put in $ 900,000 for the expansion Wild flowers, which was written in pencil for 2019, the album’s 25th anniversary. But those plans stopped that spring. Accusing Dana of “gross mismanagement” of the property, Adria and Annakim Violette, Petty’s daughters from her first marriage, sued her for $ 5 million, claiming she excluded them from the property’s finances. In subsequent court cases, Dana called Adria “irregular” and “abusive” and said she wanted to put her father’s name on products such as salad dressing.

Adria says the Wild flowers the plans were part of what troubled her. “They were about to slap them All the rest with the same cover as Wild flowers, like, “There you go,” “he says.” I felt like they weren’t going to do the due diligence. I didn’t want him to go out without the thoughtful discussion he deserved. “She blames nameless” 70-year-old white men “for ignoring her and her sister’s wishes.” They can put whatever they want in those papers, “she says.” That’s a lot of bullshit. They used it to try and push us to make financial concessions and creative control that we were really uncomfortable with. “

Dana admits her late husband’s legal affairs weren’t necessarily tight. “Tom’s will wasn’t written very well, to be honest,” he says. “It was very confusing and it got ugly. When lawyers get involved, they like to throw dirt. And unfortunately the lawyers were involved. And I don’t think it was necessary. “It stops.” I don’t know. Maybe it was. “

From the sidelines, the Heartbreakers – Campbell, Ferrone, Tench, bassist Ron Blair and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston – could do little but watch the fight unfold. “It was sad that it wasn’t harmonious at times,” Campbell says. “Everyone was stressed and in pain.” Adds Tench, “I didn’t want anyone to get angry or feel mistreated on either side. Tom would have been furious because he never let his personal life end up in the press.” (Adria makes it clear that the Heartbreakers weren’t her targets: “They are my family, like my uncles. There is no disrespect for them.”)

In December 2019, the two sides reached an agreement to file their legal disputes; new manager Will Botwin (of Red Light Management, a company that also works with Phish, Brandi Carlile and others), has been hired to oversee the property. “As soon as no lawyers were involved and there were no people trying to manipulate the dialogue,” says Adria of the reconciliation, “it was completely fluid.”

With that legal resolution, keep working Wildflowers and all resumed. Petty’s original 1994 monitoring order for the double disc Wild flowers it has never been identified. “I’ve been looking for the original sequencing of the double album for a couple of months,” says Adria. “I would have liked to release what he gave Lenny and Mo as a finished album. It would have been something. I listened to it all the time on a gold CD, and we liked it and dad loved it. And all we can remember is that it was basically the first album and All the rest, a J.J. The cover of Cale, and then it ended with “Girl on LSD” “.

But after searching for “the home studio and all of our cabinets and cupboards,” says Dana, the estate and Ulyate were able to put together an entire disc of Petty’s unreleased recordings at home, proceeding through the Wild flowers songs, some with different lyrics or arrangements, and with Petty he sometimes overdubs instruments. That disc in the box set is almost an album in its own right, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s essentials Nebraska. In addition to the unplugged versions of Wild flowers songs, the estate also discovered completely unknown songs such as the sweet, harmonic “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)”. “I was baffled,” says Tench. “Why hadn’t I heard this before?”

A first demo of “California” includes an unheard of verse – “Don’t forgive my past / I forgive my enemy // I don’t know if it lasts / I just have to wait and see” – which stood out for Adria. “That verse gives that song a lot more meaning,” he says. “You wonder, was it too revealing? You can hear what originally came out of him, compared to what he shared with everyone. “Adria also learned that” Don’t fade on me, “apparently a chronicle of her marriage in the original. Wild flowers, it began as the story of a band, not a relationship. “He was almost moved back to his home and his relationship,” she says. “There were so many discoveries about those demos.”

As for the release of those and other private recordings, Campbell says he used a simple formula: “My approach was to simply pretend to be Tom: ‘This is good’ or ‘No, please don’t let the world ever see that song! “I had a pretty good idea. I hope we did it well. I think so.”

Listening to those tapes again proved surprisingly healing, both for the family and for the band members. “It keeps me in the band – I really don’t like it not being in the band, “says Tench.” It was very disorienting for [the Heartbreakers] to vanish into thin air. It was hard to find my way. But things like this box have been useful. It makes me happy to hear it. “Dana Petty had a similar reaction as she listened to unearthed recordings of her late husband’s voice in a studio.” I was there every day to listen, and it was very healing and exciting, “she says.” We would dance around. It’s been a really tough three years, but that’s what got us through. “Choking a bit, he adds:” It was awful without him. It doesn’t get any easier. Who said it’s full of shit. I wake up every day and think it’s next to me. And it’s like Groundhog Dog every day. It sucks. “

With the first part of Petty’s dream project finally completed, the focus may eventually turn to Wild flowers concerts he had imagined. At this point, especially with Covid-19 closing the concert business for the foreseeable future, nothing has been nailed. Campbell and Ferrone both say they are open to preserving Petty’s idea of ​​a star tour. “It’s embarrassing to think about reuniting the Heartbreakers without Tom there,” says Campbell, who joined Fleetwood Mac in 2018 and hopes to tour next year with his new band, Dirty Knobs. “But if that ever happens, the only thing that would interest me would be that project, because I know he wanted to take those songs on tour.”

Still, as a sign of how raw emotions remain three years after Petty’s death, Tench has some reservations about the plan. “Do I want the band to back up someone else?” he says. “It would just be too strange. And as for playing the record with different singers, I don’t know. Because? It could be great and my mind is always open to anything. But right now, I’m not done. “

For now, Petty’s survivors are relieved that the legal turmoil of the past two years appears to be behind them. “It was really embarrassing and a weird and horrible thing to go through after losing your father,” says Adria. “But if we were to struggle to say that we really care about this and that it wasn’t about the money – and to be able to secure [the projects were] to a level he would have appreciated – it was worth it in this regard. “Adds her stepmother Dana:” If all goes well, we can move on. We did it on this record. “

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