‘Petty Country’ Earns Acclaim From Mike Campbell: Interview

Country music is in the DNA of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ catalog.

Decades ago, ahead of the Heartbreakers even existed in their complete kind, Petty was playing nation songs in what he would later describe as “real redneck country” Floridian bars, attempting to earn a living as a burgeoning performer.

“[The crowd was] always kind of weirded out by us because we had long hair, playing country music,” Petty mentioned in 2005’s Conversations With Tom Petty. “And that was completely unheard of in those days.”

Petty’s nation influences had been the classics — folks like Carl Perkins, George Jones and Conway Twitty — and more than the course of his profession, he under no circumstances dropped the torch, collaborating with folks like Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and Johnny Cash. Perhaps the most blatant nod was 1985’s Southern Accents album, whose title track emphasized that when “the youn ‘uns call it country,” Petty did not really feel the require to label his “own way of talkin’.”

There came a point exactly where Petty felt nation music had lost its way. “I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?”

This prompted a response from nation musician Chris Stapleton, who penned an open letter to Petty. “I, for one, would like to see you put you [sic] money where your mouth is in a tangible way,” he mentioned. “So, in the interest of making country music less ‘shitty’ (your words), I suggest a collaboration. I’m extending an open invitation to you to write songs with me, produce recordings on or with me, or otherwise participate in whatever way you see fit in my little corner of music.”

After 11 years, Stapleton has gotten a tiny element of his want, recording a version of the Heartbreakers’ “I Should Have Known It” for a new album titled ‘Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty,‘ out June 21. In addition to Stapleton, it characteristics each legends of the business like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and George Strait, plus newer faces like Margo Price, Lainey Wilson and Dierks Bentley, all covering the music of Petty.

UCR lately spoke with Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, who seems on the album himself and believes “Tom would be really, really happy with this.”

When you initial heard there was going to be a nation tribute album to Tom Petty, what went by way of your head?
Well, it produced great sense to me, you know? Because we grew up in the South and we grew up about nation music and there is a lot of nation music strings in the Heartbreakers’ music, I feel. Tom wrote that character really a bit. And I was just seriously excited, mainly since I want to maintain the history and these songs alive and all these good artists performing his songs, it was excellent point.

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It feels like a lot of instances when the word “country” is related with an album, there are automatic assumptions produced about what it will sound like, but this album, I feel, proves that the “country” genre is actually quite versatile. 
Well, you know, you bring up a great point. Country — the notion “what is country?” has morphed so substantially considering that Tom and I had been listening back in the ’60s when it was George Jones and Loretta Lynn. To me, that is pure nation, and Tom produced up the new nation, which sounds like, you know, a rock and roll band with a fiddle in it [Laughs]. The point is that nation music currently has morphed into pop in a lot of approaches. It’s major business enterprise and it is not hardcore nation, but it is got strings of it, you know?

It’s cool that there’s a variety of folks on this album. You’ve got artists like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and George Strait who have been in this business enterprise for decades, and then you have got folks like Margo Price, Lainey Wilson and Luke Combs who are newer to the scene. That just shows how influential this music has been across generations. 
Yeah, I feel Tom would be seriously, seriously satisfied about this, since he was proud to have nation roots and I feel he would like the record.

Dierks Bentley’s cover of “American Girl” is special since he utilized one particular of Tom’s actual Rickenbacker guitars. What was it like to see and hear a person else play that song with that instrument?
Yeah, you know, I did not know that that was the precise instrument, but it is one particular of my favorites. … “American Girl” is one particular of these songs that just lives, you know, and that song normally represents the sound of the Heartbreakers to me when we initial discovered our groove and our sound and our attitude. And even ’til the final tour anytime we played that song, I would just get a thrill up my spine, just since there is anything about the music, so I’m glad they picked it for the album.

I’d like to go back to Margo Price for a moment. You play guitar and sing some backing vocals on her cover of “Ways to Be Wicked,” which is a bit of a deeper Tom Petty reduce. Can you inform me about recording that one particular with her?
It was good, you know, since that is sort of what we contact a “Lazarus song.” It dies and then it comes back alive. The Heartbreakers reduce that back with Jimmy Iovine, I feel on our second album [You’re Gonna Get It!], but we under no circumstances got it correct. And then Jimmy Iovine took it and gave it to a band referred to as Lone Justice, [and they cut] a version of it. But I normally loved that song and then Margo reduce the track and told me “Yeah, I’ve cut this track. Would you help me finish it?” And I place some guitar and sang a tiny low harmony with her. And I’m just so satisfied that song is out there since it is a good lyric by Tom, and a true exuberant — she’s a firecracker. She belts the hell out of it. And she seriously did the song justice, but it is out there now, it is alive once again. So I could not be far more pleased.

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Listen to Margo Price’s Cover of ‘Ways to Be Wicked’ With Mike Campbell

Just lately you played “I Should Have Known It” reside with Chris Stapleton and “You Wreck Me” reside with George Strait. What was it like to play with these guys in front of an audience?
You know what, Allison, it is just sort of an out of physique expertise for me to be performing this since I’ve sort of entered the second chapter of my musical life. And I under no circumstances dreamed I’d be playing a giant stadium, you know, beyond the Heartbreakers in any way, shape or kind. But there I was, you know, with Chris Stapleton and George Strait, performing songs that I co-wrote, with these massive audiences and obtaining them respect me to do the songs and ask me up to join them. It was seriously, seriously fascinating, I gotta say. It sort of breaks my brain a tiny bit.

Again, it’s proof that the Heartbreakers’ music is multigenerational.
Yeah. It’s uncomplicated seriously: I’m so proud of our legacy. And I feel perhaps the explanation that that is, is since the songwriting is powerful, and Tom’s delivery was so distinctive. It connected with a lot of folks, but mainly the songs, you know, the songs hold up more than time. That’s what I’m most proud of.

Do you have any other favorites on this album?
I like Marty Stuart’s song [“I Need to Know”]. I like them all, you know? Dolly’s [“Southern Accents] really tugs at your heart. Probably my favorite would be the Margo song because I didn’t know that song would ever see the light of day, and I got to play on it with her. But everybody did a bang-up job on all the songs. A lot of the artists, I hadn’t heard of them before, because I’m not in that world, but when I listened to it I thought “It’s great, these young whippersnappers have got it down.”

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Listen to Dolly Parton’s Cover of ‘Southern Accents’

Another thing that stood out to me with this album is that it’s really cool to hear a bunch of these songs sung by women. Wynonna Judd and Lainey Wilson’s cover of “Refugee” is really powerful and works great as a female duet. It’s almost like these songs take on a new life that way.
I agree. And, you know, it’s the strength of the song, really. A woman’s point of view singing Tom’s lyrics sometimes is very powerful, even if you go back to “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which was going to be just a Heartbreakers song. And Jimmy Iovine heard it as a duet. Stevie [Nicks] came in and when the female character comes into the song the lyrics take on a new meaning.

I know you’ve said before that you’re wary of doing Heartbreakers tribute concerts, which is understandable. Has this album, though, made you think any more about the possibility of other people performing these songs?
It hasn’t made me think more about it, but to be honest with you, I’m open to anything that honors the legacy of Tom and the band. I don’t know what the future holds, but if it’s got integrity and and it holds to the honesty that Tom and I helped build with the Heartbreakers…We didn’t really follow any trends or anything, so anything going forward that I feel that Tom — actually it comes down to if I feel like Tom would like this, I’ll say yes.

What does that mean? What are the criteria for whether Tom would like it?
I mean, that would be — I can’t speak for Tom. I just know that integrity, purity, believability, no phoniness…like what Dolly Parton put into “Southern Accents.” She made it her own, and I think if Tom had heard that, he would have been really happy. So if I hear something I think, you know, Tom would like this idea — I knew him pretty well, and I use that as the criteria for what I might do in the future. It’s as simple as that.

Watch Mike Campbell Perform ‘I Should Have Known It’ With Chris Stapleton

Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers: Where Are They Now?

The surviving members continue to forge new paths. 

Gallery Credit: Allison Rapp

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