His Own Way Of Working (Tom Petty)

By 2007 Tom Petty had been a successful recording artist for 30 years. He & his band of brothers, the Heartbreakers, released their attention-grabbing debut in 1976. Big records followed, a world tour as Bob Dylan’s backing band was a measure of their progress & the estimation in which they were held. Solo LPs added to his collection of gold & platinum records as did his turn as Charlie T Wilbury Jr in a group of superstars & friends. They were the backing band for Johnny Cash’s resurgence on his American recordings. In 2007 he was the subject of  an all-but 4 hour long film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. His steadfast commitment to anything that’s Rock & Roll, his resolve when faced with music business shenanigans & the consistent quality of his output meant that he was now ranked alongside the artists of the 1960’s who had inspired him to make music.


Tom was in the enviable position of being able to carry his audience down whatever path he chose. What he did was get his old band together. An album bearing their name was released 34 years after they had first entered a studio. Naturally, a cover of a Byrds song was a highlight of this collection.




Image result for mudcrutchMudcrutch (really ?) had been the best band in Gainesville, Florida (pop:64,510 in 1970). They sold their possessions to finance a move to Los Angeles & signed a deal with Shelter Records, home of producer Denny Cordell whose UK success with the Move, Procol Harum & Joe Cocker had continued with Leon Russell when he crossed the Atlantic. So far so Hollywood but a single failed to connect & sessions for an album were not working out. The label felt that the talent was the singer/songwriter &, while the band were running down a shared dream, drummer Randall Marsh & guitarist Tom Leadon were dropped from the roster. Tom made his smartest decision ever to keep Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench, virtuosi on guitar & piano. The pair were fellow travellers until Tom’s premature death in 2017. The rest is their story.


From the opening bars of Side 1, Track 1 of the first record it was obvious to anyone with ears that TP & the Heartbreakers had listened closely to the Byrds. “American Girl” was an urgent update on the Rickenbacker jangle. Here in the UK we were early adopters of this fresh take on classic American Rock. “Lover of the Bayou” opens “Untitled” (1970), the double LP that shows the later incarnation of the Byrds at their best. ‘Crutch (sorry, but Mud is already taken) began as a covers band & I’m sure that “Lover…” was included in their early sets. Their mature take on the song is sturdy, modern & most acceptable, maybe not as loose & swampy as the original. In 2011 “Rolling Stone” rated Mike Campbell as the 79th best guitarist while in 2003 Clarence White of the Byrds was ranked at #41 so I guess the difference is 38 !




Image result for del shannon beatlesPetty’s obsession with music began with a brief encounter with Elvis when he was 10 years old. The deal was sealed 3 years later when the Beatles arrived in the US. Del Shannon had his hits in the time between. “Runaway” (1961) with it’s strong vocal, instantly memorable chorus & a musitron ( a homemade electronic  keyboard) instrumental break, sounded great back then & still does now. For a while Del resisted & embraced the tsunami of the British Invasion. He recorded songs by the Beatles & the Stones, the Fabs’ posh mates Peter & Gordon had a hit with his “I Go to Pieces” & “Keep Searchin'” (1964) was an absolute belter. His excursions into Psych-Pop were less commercially successful. “Home & Away” an LP recorded with Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham & intended to be the “British answer to “Pet Sounds”” was made in 1967 but not properly released until 2006. Audiences still wanted to hear the hits so Del made a living as a golden oldie.


Image result for tom petty del shannonTom Petty was listening back in the day, he wrote about it in a song. In 1981 he & his Heartbreakers joined Del in the studio to produce “Drop Down & Get Me” & they made a very good record. The update is respectful, there are 3 well-chosen covers (including Jagger/Richards’ “Out of Time”), the arrangements are kept simple, the focus on Del’s voice, still strong, the falsetto still in working order. The band & Jeff Lynne, were working with Del again when Roy Orbison, another master of dramatic 60’s Pop & a Travelling Wilbury, unfortunately passed away. Shannon was a logical replacement but was then a troubled man who took his own life in February 1990. Del Shannon was very good, there’s more to say about him…later.



Image result for roger mcguinn american girlIn 1977 Roger McGuinn off of the Byrds met Tom Petty & recorded “American Girl”. It seemed to be the right move. In 1974 I had seen Roger perform a long set, something solo, something Byrds & it was a true pleasure to be there. When he hooked up with Rolling Thunder, Bob Dylan’s Rock & Roll Circus he met Mick Ronson who produced the LP “Cardiff Rose” for him. “Thunderbyrd” (1977) was a set of laid-back Folk-Rock released at a time when audiences were expecting & enjoying a new energy in our music. Columbia, who McGuinn had been with since “Mr Tambourine Man” did not renew his contract & it would be 14 years before there was another solo LP from him.


Related image“Back from Rio” (1991) found TP & the band playing & co-writing on several tracks.”King of the Hill” (see above) is the standout, the 12-string Rickenbacker sound that all the right people love for all the right reasons. Tom has no production credit but I’m sure that the song sounds exactly as he wants it. There’s a telling scene in the documentary where Petty harangues clueless A&R men who are trying to foist inferior songs on to Roger, “a great man who has achieved great things”. His respect for Rock’s legacy & for the necessity of doing it right in the studio is non-negotiable. His disregard for the men from the label is apparent too. It’s only Rock & Roll but he likes it. So do I.



The Byrds Part 5 : A New Flock.

The revolving door on the Byrds tour bus was spinning for quite a while after the departure of Gram Parsons in 1968. The group recruited Clarence White, a guitarist who had contributed to the 3 previous LPs. Clarence introduced his best buddy Gene Parsons who quickly replaced drummer Kevin Kelley. It was only weeks later that bass player Chris Hillman decided to join Gram in the Flying Burrito Brothers. This must have been a whack upside the head for Roger McGuinn. Hillman shared the wild ride from the folk clubs of Los Angeles to the top of the world’s charts & stepped up as a songwriter when the major talents of Gene Clark & David Crosby flew the coop. They lost their producer too, Gary Usher was fired by CBS for overspending on a Chad & Jeremy LP (ANY money would have been too much !). There were concerts booked, a recording commitment to the label. A new bass player, John York, joined in September 1968 & just a month later was in the studio contributing to the follow up to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”.



The title of the new record,”Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde” (1969), reflected the split-personality of the group, caught between psychedelic Rock & a Country place. It’s the only Byrds LP where McGuinn sings lead on all the tracks &, like “Sweetheart…” it opens with a Bob Dylan song. For all the personnel changes & the innovations of the last 3 near-perfect LPs the Byrds singing Dylan was where it all started, a touchstone of American popular music. “This Wheel’s on Fire”, written with the Band’s Rick Danko, gets an assertive Acid Rock treatment with outstanding guitar work. It’s not “Eight Miles High” but it’s about six.This clip, recorded before an audience of people who thought it acceptable to be in the same room as Hugh Hefner, shows that the new band could cut it as live performers too.


There are other good tracks on the record. “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a leftover from Gram’s time with the Byrds, is a kiss off to the Nashville establishment’s snotty reaction to the group’s appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. The instrumental “Nashville West” & the country ballad “Your Gentle Way of Loving Me” were brought along by Gene Parsons & Clarence White. There are shades of “Notorious…” & of “Sweetheart”, it’s obviously a Byrds record  made by a new unit yet to establish their own personality on the sound. What is striking is the contribution of guitarist Clarence White. It would need a more technical person than myself to outline the advantages of his innovative Stringbender on his Telecaster but whether he was playing space-rock or a country hoedown Clarence was up to the job. “Dr Byrds…” was the lowest selling Byrds LP yet, just 7 months later there was another record in the stores.



The film “Easy Rider” was a big deal in the summer of 1969. Peter Fonda &  Dennis Hopper’s low budget ($360,000) hippie fable drew an untapped youth market to cinemas & grossed over $40 million in the US alone. The soundtrack LP, the music cost more to licence than the film, went gold within 6 months. A memorable scene in the film employed “I Wasn’t Born to Follow” from “Notorious Byrd Brothers”. Roger McGuinn was a friend of Fonda’s, he & David Crosby had dropped acid with Fonda & the Beatles in 1965. When Bob Dylan proved reluctant to allow his songs to be used McGuinn recorded “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” then completed “The Ballad of Easy Rider” after Dylan handed him the first verse. The Byrds, generally perceived to have peaked before the Summer of Love, were responsible for 3 of the 10 tracks on the coolest soundtrack album around.



Ok so CBS were a little over the top with their “The movie gave you the facts, the Ballad interprets them” tagline.There’s an element of the cash-in as the title track was the only one to have any connection with the film. “The Ballad of Easy Rider” was re-recorded for the LP, speeded up & given a classy, clear as a mountain stream, orchestral backing by producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, who had performed the same duties for the group’s first 2 LPs in 1965. During the period of recording the LP the psychotic Manson “family” showed up at Melcher’s old house with murder on their mind. The 5 occupants were brutally killed. However freaked Melcher was by these extreme events he completed a fine job. The songs are mostly short & always sweet with a coherence that was missing from “Dr Byrds…”.


Roger McGuinn only wrote the one song for the record. He was busy with “Gene Tryp”, a rock adaptation of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” (those crazy 1960s eh ?). John York, contributed a song about his dog & Gene Parsons wrote “Gunga Din” about an incident when York & his mother were refused service at the Gramercy Park hotel in New York. What a lovely song it is too. Gene, a multi-instrumentalist, was proving to be an asset. He & White had played with the Gosdin Brothers in 1968 & “There Must Be Someone”, a country lament, came from that. He had also been in the studio when gospel group the Art Reynolds Singers recorded “Jesus is Just Alright” in 1966. The Byrds’ version sounded rocking on the radio when it was released as a single from the LP. All the covers were well chosen. There’s a Dylan song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, one from Woody Guthrie, “Deportee” & John York brought along “Tulsa County” from singer-songwriter Pamela Polland. Clarence White, playing whatever is put before him, is just perfect again. In the 1970s I briefly crossed paths with Gene Parsons & was able to thank him for the music, particularly “Gunga Din” which still sounds great. He took my fan-babble very well, a classy guy.



“The Ballad of Easy Rider” is a classy album too. I’ll not make the claim that it’s up there with the great trio of LPs, “Younger Than Yesterday”, “Notorious Byrd Brothers” & “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” but if you’ve spent enough time listening & love the Byrds then you might. Roger McGuinn was the only original member of the group, he was the keeper of the Byrds’ flame. If he wanted to continue as a unit rather than pursue a solo career then the 2 LPs of 1969 justifies his decision. As Peter Fonda wrote in the liner notes of “The Ballad…”, “whoever the Byrds are is just alright. OH YEAH!”. OH YEAH !



Change Is Now (The Byrds Part 3)

The initial recording sessions for the Byrds 5th LP were unsettled & confused. David Crosby was a Niagara of creativity but seemed to have little consideration for the contributions & intentions of his 3 associates. It appeared that Crosby was looking for a way out &, in October 1967 he was gone. There was conflict & dissatisfaction with the attitude & ability of drummer Michael Clarke. He was out too, only to return then leave the group on the completion of the record. Still, as we always say down at the Freemasons Lodge, “ordo ab chao”, out of chaos comes order.Despite the problems the 2 remaining Byrds, Roger (formerly Jim) McGuinn & Chris Hillman with producer Gary Usher, did not drop the ball. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”, an experimental, ethereal, beautiful record was released in January 1968.

Now this is a strange one. “Goin’ Back” was released as a single 3 months before “Notorious…” was ready. Clarke was still around but the Byrds were reduced to a trio & that really wouldn’t fly (ouch!). To promote “Goin’ Back” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” they called up Gene Clark, who had left the band in 1966, to make up the numbers. Gene was still signed to Columbia but his LP with the Gosdin Brothers had not sold well. He co-wrote a song, played a couple of gigs, added some backing vocals & hung around for all of 3 weeks. Crosby had not wanted to record this Goffin & King song, he wanted to leave the jingle-jangle behind. An early lethargic take does lack inspiration but McGuinn had an appreciation of how the Byrds had got to where they were, what was expected by their audience & he was right. “Goin’ Back” is a  yearning for a lost innocence, a Rickenbacker infused reverie, a trademark sound still appropriate to their new music.


“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” was recorded across the release of “Sergeant Pepper’s…”.The bar was raised whether you were a musician on a bubblegum pop assembly line or were jamming in a Haight Ashbury crash pad. It was no longer enough for an LP to consist of a couple of hit singles & some quickly recorded knock-off soundalikes. You had to mean it ma’an. The same folk, country & jazz tinges present on “Fifth Dimension” & “Younger Than Yesterday” were still around . Gary Usher’s use of brass, strings &, more importantly, the Moog synthesiser moved the sound forward, creating a depth, an atmosphere which tied the whole thing together, brought a unity to the collection. A future member of the group spoke of his ambition to create a Cosmic American Music. He was too late, the Byrds got there on “Notorious”. Change Is Now.



Man, it’s tough to choose just 3 tracks from this LP. “Old John Robertson”, a country tear up moving into the baroque with strings & phasing, all in 1 minute 49 seconds.would be the choice of 2 of my associates but they are not here right now. “I Wasn’t Born To Follow”, another Goffin/King song, became a hippie anthem when it hooked up with Captain America & Billy for a spot of easy riding in “Easy Rider”. The introductory “Artificial Energy”, an amphetamine song which gets dark in the final verse, didn’t raise the controversy that “Eight Miles High” had. The moral panic had gone to San Francisco. For myself, only the closing sea shanty sci-fi “Space Odyssey” fails to make the cut.

David Crosby’s prints are still all over this record. He has 3 co-credits on the songwriting & appears on 5 of the 11 tracks. Crosby’s cutting-edge ideas about harmony & the lyrical content of his songs were sometimes too far out for his fellow band members but inspired them to experiment & develop. “Draft Morning” follows an inductee to the battlefields of Vietnam. Crosby’s lyrics were re-modelled by McGuinn & Hillman & he was not pleased. Now we know those ins & outs, the ups & downs. Then, we just had a stirring, beautiful song.The record had the 3 remaining Byrds & a horse on the cover. Roger McGuinn denied that this was a jibe at Crosby. Well, he would say that wouldn’t he ?



“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” is the most psychedelic of all the Byrds’ LPs, the last triumph of the original group that started all that folk-rock in 1965 with “Mr Tambourine Man”. There is not the harshness of acid-rock, it’s spaced-out, tripping on a sunny day by the lake with friends. A new wave of young groups were growing their hair & sporting hippy plumage while the Byrds ditched the moptops & dressed down. No longer at the centre of American popular music but not yet ready to be filed with the golden oldies. It was a turbulent time for the group, Roger McGuinn & his steadfast sidekick Chris Hillman had been knocked about a bit. They kept an eye on where it had all begun, omitted their more far out investigations & created assured, modern music which sounded great in 1968 & still does today & tomorrow. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”…get on it.