Tom Petty/Mike Campbell ’86: Rednecks in space


To set the stage: This freewheeling, slightly intoxicated interview was conducted around midnight July 16, 1986 in Tom Petty’s suite at the Omni Berkshire Place in New York City, after the first show in a three-night stand at Madison Square Garden, which New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles would describe as “oddly paced and willful.” Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were playing three-hour concerts that summer, with no intermission. This was, Petty gleefully told me as he strummed an unplugged Fender Telecaster, the only interview he’d agreed to do on the entire tour.

(Intro from I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews)


So what have you been up to?

Since I’ve seen you, I did the Southern Accents tour, I did a film of that tour, then I mixed the double live album. I did Farm Aid with Bob, then a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Japan with Bob. Mixed the HBO thing. Did a double album in four weeks. I did a single for Bob in Australia, called “Band of the Hand.” What else did I do? I did a part in a movie called Made in Heaven. I did that and flew right back to the studio and got the ol’ double LP done. It was cut between the Australian and the American tour. I produced two songs for Bob on his album, and we wrote some songs together that are gonna be great, that we ain’t got around to doing yet. And then I jumped on the bus for this.


So you’re going to make this a double album?

I think I have to. You always hear “there’s a bulk of material,” but there really is a bulk of good material. Real rock ‘n’ roll stuff. I think just one slow song on a double album. It’s real barrel-out stuff.


Why did that happen?

I don’t know! I’m still mystified by it.

(Mike Campbell enters)

Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Campbell. Mike, you got anything to say to the newspapers?

Campbell: You want to write some songs tonight?

Petty: You never know, man. I’m a songwritin’ machine!


So, this new stuff is full-steam rock ‘n’ roll?

Campbell: Is that what you called it, Tom? Full-steam rock ‘n’ roll?

Petty: Well, full steam hasn’t really come out. It sounds kinda like a redneck bar band, or a garage band. It’s real light stuff …

Campbell: With a little bit of a cosmic edge to it.


Stan (Lynch) says it sounds like the first album.

Petty: It sounds better than the first album. It’s a lot more raucous than the first album. You know how they always say “God, I wish he’d make a rock ‘n’ roll record like he used to”? Well, this is a lot better than the rock ‘n’ roll records we used to make. This just happened, in the studio. I’d say – (he plays the opening chords to ‘Can’t Get Her Out’) – and the band would start playing. Then I’d start singin’ a little thing, you know? And then it’s done.


Why hadn’t that happened for years? What got in the way?

You gotta be kind of good to do that, and you gotta have a band of a certain mentality to do it. We’ve been fuckin’ around together 10, 15 years.

We just felt like playing. We weren’t even meant to be there. We went there because I’d booked the time for Bob, and he wasn’t ready to go in. So we just jumped in there to try out some songs me and Mike had written. We went in with about four tunes and left with 35. We’re gonna put a number of them out.


You’ve cut “Got My Mind Made Up”?

Yeah, there’s a Heartbreakers version and a Bob version. We wrote that together, and there’s a lot more verses. So I think in our version there’ll be a lot of the extra verses that didn’t get on Bob’s.

Campbell: Bob wrote the verse about Libya.

Petty: I wrote the verse about Libya.

Campbell: You did?

Petty: I did. Well, if the truth must be known … Bob says “Let’s write a song about Florida!” And I said no. He goes (singing) “I’m going to Tallahassee ..” and I said no, “I’m going to Libya.” And he sings “There’s a guy I gotta see/He’s been living there three years now/In an oil refinery …” Great! And then we did another one.

Writing with Bob is great, because if you throw one line he comes back with three great lines.


Could you tell him if he came up with a lousy line?

Oh yeah, sure. No, no, no, you don’t want no lousy lines.


Well, Dylan has written some bad songs too …

Petty: What great man hasn’t?


You’ve written some bad songs. Both of you have.

Campbell: I’ve never written a bad song in my life!

Petty: Well, so has everyone. I think Ludwig Van had a few clinkers. Lennon, certainly.

You can’t be great if you don’t show your ass now and then. Or you’re not trying to do anything. I mean, Bryan Adams might not ever write one that you notice is bad, because they’ll polish that turd to a high chrome!

Come on. This is the only band in America who doesn’t know who’s gonna take the solo. Fuck ‘em! The name of my album’s called Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough.


You’re gonna call it that?

Petty: That’s right, because I’ve had enough. It’s called Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough, written by me and Brother Campbell.


You’ve got a song called “Let Me Up” and another one called “I’ve Had Enough”?

Campbell: No, they’re one song, in two parts. A “Let Me Up” part, and then an “I’ve Had Enough” part.

Petty: It’s heavy art! (laughter)


How can you guys stand each other after so long?

Petty: Oh, we hate each other. We can’t fuckin’ deal with each other. I don’t know how the fuck I put up with you after all these years!


Campbell: It must be ‘cause I’m so good-looking!

Petty: Looks is a good part of it.


There’s a lot of talk right now about Jagger and Richards not writing together any more. And you guys have been working together for a while ….

Petty: Since 1970, if we must reveal it …

Campbell: See, the thing is, we don’t write together. We write apart, and …

Petty: Not till we’re in the studio do we look eye to eye and try to bang it out. Unless I’m doing something and I can’t think of a bridge, Mike’ll think of a bridge.


I’m curious about this new stuff. It sounds like it’s “The Heartbreakers, Mach II.”

Campbell (to Petty): What does he mean by that? Mark 2?

Petty: “Mach.” Mach II. It’s another era. “No more funny glasses and backward tapes,” is what he means. I see people in New York wearin’ them glasses now.


So we’re back to playing live in the studio, without overdubbing?

Petty: There’s hardly any overdubbing. But we never did that much overdubbing anyway, really. We tried a lot but it never got on the record most times.


Do you think Dylan’s slash-and-burn approach – “go in and do it” – has rubbed off on you?

Petty: It’s too early to tell. I could tell you in a year, maybe. We’ve been running around with Bob for about a year now. I think we rub off on him more than he rubs off on us. You know, you can slash and burn but it’s still gotta come out good.

I think it’s just a real good band, you know? This band keeps getting better. Another thing was, me and Mike are producing this record, and there was never a producer there to sort of like throw a wrench in the works, or suggest another idea. Or make it feel like you were making a record. We didn’t ever talk about making a record!

If you hear the tapes, I’m calling the chords. Some of them we only ever played maybe once or twice. And that was the writing and the playing of the song. So when I hear them, they’re still real fresh to me.

Campbell: In Bob’s defense, that was something we learned from him.

Petty: We probably did learn that from Bob. We learned the joy of throwing some chaos in any time things … Bob will never let things get too settled. When all of a sudden you feel like “I got this thing down,” he’s gonna change it. And that may sink, but if it really happens it REALLY happens. You can’t fake it then, buddy. You really got to do it.

I’d rather hear somebody try, and sink, than turn on their fuckin’ computer and just drift by. I’m not into that. That shit’s gonna die. People are gonna catch on to that.


You have these raw tapes now. If you sit on them, will you start thinking “Ah, I could do this better,” or do you want to get them out fast before you start to think?

Campbell: You don’t want to think. If you start thinking, you’re in bad trouble.

Petty: There’s no thinking involved. If you’re thinking, there’s something wrong. We’ve done some of those intellectual albums. Southern Accents was a real production piece. Two years of production.

And we’re not in the mood to do that. Not that we won’t do it again, no promises, but this is what we’re doing now. We’re “Rednecks in Space,” you know? It’s a garage band, but a good one.


It’s very kamikaze. You cut all these tracks in such a short period of time. It’s unlike you guys.

Petty: Well, I’m sure it’ll come out that Bob Dylan did that. Maybe he did do that.

Campbell: And we might throw all those tracks out and start all over again.


Petty: You never know … we might go back and do something else. But I think we won’t, because I really like this album so much. I really do. I ought to play you some of it … but I don’t know, it might scare Michael.


How is your relationship with MCA?

It’s great. I’ve known Irving Azoff for years and years. I don’t do a lot of record business any more, but I know Irving and he’s somebody I can call up and talk straight with. All he asks of me is to bring him a record. He never rushes me. He didn’t rush me for two years. He’d come down and listen and say “When it’s right …” He knew what I was doing.


So you’re going to try to get this album out this year?

You betcha!


Will Irving let you do another double, after the live album?

I never asked him. I just assume he will. Why wouldn’t he? Irving’s a reasonable man. (laughter)


Irving must’ve been the guy who decided to make “Needles and Pins,” a four-year-old track, the single from the live album?

I don’t know. I don’t pick the singles. I thought they should have put out “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” I just thought it was such a great record. And you know what they said? They thought it was too rock ‘n’ roll for the radio. And at that point I said well, guys, we really don’t have anything to talk about. At the time, it was the Number One Airplay song in the country. And they wouldn’t release it as a single because it was “too rock ‘n’ roll.” That’s … you know, let me up, I’ve had enough. (laughter)


What was the inspiration for “American Girl”? There’s always been a story that connects it to Gainesville …

Petty: Naw, that’s myth …

Campbell: It’s got 441 in it …

Petty … and it’s probably got a southern setting. A lot of songs are based around there. I’ve written a lot of songs with a southern setting. “Magnolia” could be that area. There’s a lot of magnolias there.

I’m trying to remember writing “American Girl.” I think I wrote it in an apartment in Encino, California in ’76 or ’75.

Campbell: It was the Fourth of July, wasn’t it?

Petty: Fourth of July. And it came quickly. It was written very quickly. Instantly.


It’s a song about suicide …

Campbell: Naw. BULL-shit!


Well, the story goes that the girl jumped from Beatty Towers in Gainesville …

Petty: No, the line is “If she had to die trying …”

Campbell: Love is dead, that’s what it was about. It’s a figure of speech! “If she had to die trying …”

Petty: “If she had to die trying.” She didn’t have to DIE. “It was one little promise she was going to keep.”


Well, it’s desperate …

Petty: Yeah, it’s very desperate. Well, maybe that’s why they thought she just lept off the balcony. I always pictured her as a much more stable bitch than that.


That was back in the period where all the songs were two minutes, 25 seconds.

Petty: Yeah, we just figured “Let’s get in, get out,” you know? We were highly criticized at the time for that. I kinda miss that, you know? Verse, verse, chorus, solo, verse, chorus, get out. A good rock ‘n’ roll song doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes long anyway.

We got songs on this record now that are nine minutes long. There’s one song that’s probably a whole side. I don’t know, Campbell will probably edit it.

We just play. We record everything played in the session. If one guy’s playing, it’s recorded. And there’s always somebody out there playing. It’s not the kind of band that can learn a song and do, say, 10 takes any more. We’re too impatient. We’ll go on to something else. Because we just want to hit a feel and play it. If we know it too good, we can never record it.


Is the live stuff as much fun now as it was when you first started playing with Bob last year?

I like playing with Bob. Bob’s all right. He’s just a good friend to play music with. And God, he sure has done a lot for us. We’re allowed to do whatever we want. It’s kind of like having another band. We got another singer who writes, you know? We treat it like a group. That’s the way Bob’s arranged it. I respect him for that.

It’s kind of like jamming for three hours. You don’t really know what you’re gonna play, or what rhythm it’s gonna be.


You’re hanging back a lot in these shows.

I like hanging back. I sing a lot in this show, man. I must sing 15 songs in this show. I got at least five songs to sing with Bob, and what’d we do tonight? Eight. That’s a lot of singing.


Still, where’s the ego fit in, when you’re playing a supporting role?

What ego? What are you talking about? Listen, man, if you’re in a rock group and you’re even dealing with ego, you’re not going anywhere. You can’t deal with that and do anything!


That’s not what I heard.

Well, there’s a lot of things you hear that ain’t true. I’ve done this a long time. I’m much too smart to get into ego. I want to make Bob good, and Bob wants to make me good. And that’s why we get along, because we’re way above that.

It’s a matter of feeling, this music. It’s all about feel. To send out something and make somebody feel good. It’s not any deeper than that. And if you can learn that, then you’re gonna be around more than a record or two.


Bob was out there tonight pulling these Jesus songs out of the hat …

And rightfully so!


Right after your second set, after Ronnie Wood came out for “Rainy Day Women,” then there was a Jesus song. I could feel the momentum dive.

Yeah, but see, you’re still talking about it. You know what, the Beach Boys wouldn’t-a done that. They’ve have probably just steamrollered that baby to the end like Bruce Springsteen. But that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what this is about. He had something to say at that point.

This ain’t show business, man. This ain’t show business. That’s Bob Dylan. He had something to say at that point. He had something to say about Jesus right then. He sang “Like a Rolling Stone,” right? He’d already done that.

Listen, man, you gotta dig that there’s a lot of great songs about Jesus. David Lee Roth might not want to do that. But I admire a man that’s confident enough in himself to do that. And I tell you what, nobody left.

Campbell: He does that on purpose. I know what you mean by momentum. It builds up and it’s boogie till you puke. Bob doesn’t want to boogie till he pukes.

Petty: I respect a man that can bring it down and still hold ‘em. This is not boogie till you puke. We’re not there to do that. We’re there to offer an alternative. To expose people to an alternative.

A lot of times we don’t know who’s taking the solo or what’s gonna happen. This is the only band left like that. And it’s a shame. Except for some of the younger bands that nobody wants to give the time of day to. And I’m real concerned about that.

A rock show’s gotten to be such an organized, routine thing. I don’t know when’s the last one I went to, because they’re so fuckin’ predictable. You know what’s gonna happen. You know they’re gonna play an encore. You know they’re gonna do another encore. Da, da, da, the big lights are gonna come on …

Fuck it! It’s like you may as well watch Johnny Carson. Bob did a great show, and he didn’t concede to anything. And that’s an artist. That’s when you start calling this shit art. (laughter). If you must!

A lot of these guys are great performers and entertainers, but they’re not taking the medium anywhere as far as I’m concerned.


But is Bob’s intention, with those kind of songs, to get people to follow him?

They’re never gonna follow you. Did they ever? If they’d ever followed him, I mean, there wouldn’t have been a war. They’ll follow you to the record store. They’ll follow you to the concert hall. And they might have a great time, but very few retain a sense of “following,” as far as taking the lyrics … but you can inspire them. You can inspire them to think for themselves, which is the greatest thing you can do for them. You can inspire them; you don’t want them to follow you.

Campbell: Even the Jesus songs, they’re not pro-Jesus. They’re just sort of calling attention to it.

Petty: You have to ask Bob those questions, because I don’t really know how to interpret that. But I respect it. And I don’t think he’s ramming anything down anybody’s throat. And he certainly offered a wide variety of his material tonight. Bob’s done 35 albums; if he played one song from each of his albums, that’s the show.

Story and photo 1986 @Bill DeYoung



The whales

This was the first feature story I wrote, after a couple of concert reviews. I was 18 years old. It was published in the St. Petersburg Times Sunday, Feb. 20, 1977. It’s reproduced here exactly as it was written.

MAYPORT – A large school of pilot whales (globicephala melaena) committed suicide in a mass beaching at Fort George Inlet two weeks ago near Jacksonville. Less than 48 hours later, I was there dragging dead whales out of the surf and observing post-mortem scientific activities.

The pilot is a toothed whale. It does not exceed 20 feet, but is very muscular and bulky. It is completely jet-black, prompting the common name Blackfish.

Fort George’s Inlet is a deep, choppy channel barely 65 feet wide, running off the Atlantic in a mushroom-shaped bay. At one side of the bay is a bridge, behind which lie salt creeks and marshes. All around the rest of the bay is broad, white beach, running back to high dunes and seaoats.

ON THE DAY of the beachings, commercial fishermen spotted a herd of upwards of 200 pilot whales headed, rather deliberately, for the mouth of the inlet. Because the pilot whale is a deep-sea mammal, the fishermen knew something was wrong.

“As the fishermen saw the whales going past and towards land at high speed, it was all they could do to get their nets up in time,” said Quentin White, a member of the scientific crew from Jacksonville University.

Mass suicides, while not common, have appeared with some degree of regularity on Florida coastline. Last summer, a small group of spinner dolphin beached and died at Casey Key near Sarasota. Within the following month, larger groups of False Killer whale beached at Fort Myers and Loggerhead Key. Whether these suicides are deliberate or accidental is a point of speculation. In autopsies taken on self-stranding whales and dolphins, the common factor seems to be two kinds of parasites found living in the animals’ inner ear.

THE PARASITES, the theory goes, throw off the animals’ delicate sonar, a hearing mechanism that allows them to navigate and locate food sources. Thus impaired, the whales swim frantically, and when the pod leader, or “pilot,” swims too close to shallow water, the entire group follows him straight into the shallows and right into the beach. In such shallow water they cannot maneuver, and having neither the strength nor the will to return to deeper water, they eventually roll on their sides and drown. The animals’ blowhole, or nostril, is located at the very top of its head. When they roll over, water gets in the blowhole, and they lay helplessly, waiting to die. The ones that make it onto the beach die of exposure.

As soon as word got around, volunteers of all ages came to the stricken whales’ rescue. Frogmen came from nearby Mayport Naval base, skin-diving clubs turned out in wetsuits and rough weather gear, and scientific researchers from several Florida colleges arrived in vans full of equipment. More than 150 whales, ranging from monstrous bulls 20 feet long and weighing close to a ton, to calves five feet in length and barely a year old, were lined up at various points on the beach or in shallow water.

SOME WERE floundering off the bay’s entrance, still others were stranded on a sandbar several hundred feet into the chilly water. The volunteers’ objective was to right the whales and drag them into deeper water.

The volunteers worked long into the night, and all the next day, trying to keep beached whales alive and grouping up to drag larger animals into deep water.

But beaching whales seem to have a death wish, and, to the workers’ horror and dismay, the unencumbered whales turned right back around and beached again.

During the first day, the situation became so frantic that the Marine Patrol had to block off entrances to the beach, to keep the ever-expanding mob of residents, curiosity-seekers and by now unneeded extra volunteers from getting in the way.

Someone came up with the idea of herding the whales back out of the channel with boats. Several dozen whales were tagged on the dorsal fin with red plastic tags. These were mostly in the deeper parts of the bay, where a little maneuvering was still possible. At the first high tide the boats were brought around, and the roundup began.

“AT FIRST, it looked like it might work,” said one local observer. “They played cat-and-mouse for a while, with the boats trying to stay between the whales and the shoreline.”

Apparently, the attempt was partially successful. “They were playing it right, getting the whales into the channel. Some of them went out into the Atlantic. But then” – and then the Mayport resident speaks quietly – “one of the big whales made a shrill noise and they all turned and dived under the boats.” Moments later they went back in the shallows, dying with the remainder of the school.

Dr. James Mead, curator of mammals from the Smithsonian Institution, was expected to arrive the next day to begin autopsies.

Slowly the volunteers dispersed, leaving an aura of hopelessness and sadness to the scientists and onlookers. The last glimmer of hope for the living died away and finally no one made any attempt to save the last few suffering individuals.

The beach at Fort George Inlet is long and wide, and the sand, continuously shifted by the cold Atlantic wind, made travel by car extremely difficult. As I walked from the last road to the first group of scientists, I could see the Marine Patrol digging a Humane Society van out of the sand.

The tide was high and I spotted a black fin protruding from the breakers.

There were several whales there; all dead, all on their sides. Up the beach researchers from the University of Florida were standing around a group of whales. These were cows and calves, the smaller whales pulled far up on the sand for autopsy. The creatures were beautiful, so streamlined, so perfect. Their dorsal and pectoral fins, stiff and cold, jutted up into the air. Their expression was that of a creature from a different planet: very distant, very foreign.

They all had the same trace of a smile; and I had trouble visualizing them as carefree, free-swimming creatures. One calf, I noticed, was completely decapitated. “They arrested some guy here yesterday,” volunteered one of the scientists. “He came down here in the middle of all the activity, and cut off its head with a chain saw.” He had wanted to take home some whale teeth.

A DISTANT FIGURE on the far point of the bay, near the mouth of the inlet, was Dr. Mead, who had arrived a few hours earlier and was investigating the situation.

As I hiked the good mile of beach to the point where I would find Dr. Mead amid a large concentration of dead whales, I heard a blast of air and looked out into the water. There, about 60 feet out, lay the last live whale, floundering in two feet of water. She twisted and turned, and every 10 seconds or so she would raise her tail and blow out her blowhole.

I stared hopelessly from my isolation on the beach, wondering if I should try and help her, as she blasted out her pain in gradually weakening spurts. Then I realized her destination was already planned, and, remembering the admirable but vain efforts of the volunteer corps, I moved on, as the tide slowly carried her shallower.

“THIS IS AN extremely large beaching,” Mead said, gazing at the scores of fins sticking up from the now receding tide. “Pilot whales are very sociable animals, but usually the big school will split up out at sea and beach at different locations.” Mead said he expected the group of whales driven out of the inlet the previous day would merely beach themselves somewhere else. Several different accounts of the number of dead whales were circulating, but most believed the figure was about 100.

Mead explained that studying beached individuals in such detail may not provide the answer as to why such suicides occur. “The most valuable thing here,” he said, “is not to find answers but questions. Things to look for.”

He said the problem with the parasite theory is that scientists don’t have the opportunity to examine normal, wild pilot whales to check for the parasite. “The narwhales and belugas, both northern dwellers, also have parasites in their inner ears.” To further complicate the situation, the beached spinner dolphins, when examined, were found to have parasites in what would well have been normal amounts.

“The pilot whale’s way of life is quite different. While the narwhales, belugas, and bottlenose dolphin are close relatives, there is one important difference: they all live in coastal water, that is, close to land mass and shallows. The pilot whale, as well as the spinner dolphin and false killers are deep-sea dwellers and as such, they don’t realize the ocean has sides and a bottom,” Meade said.

“THEN, WHEN their sonar or hearing, is impaired, they swim right into the shallows, get confused, and try to keep swimming.  They don’t understand confinement. They’re virtually helpless in shallow water.

”We don’t fully understand the hearing mechanism, so we can only assume that these parasites, in abnormal numbers, are driving the animals into these frenzies.” The beachings then may be more a case of running into a land mass than looking for a beach to kill themselves on.

Whales have beached en masse for thousands of years and it is easy to remain detached when you hear about it on the news, but being there, seeing so many, beautiful, intelligent creatures lying still on the edge of their world, I felt a kinship with them.

THE DOLPHIN is the most intelligent animal next to man, and I wished I could see these whales slide back into the water, out of this foreign tomb. I wanted to shout to them, “Prove it!” But everywhere along the coast of the small bay, still flukes and stiff fins revealed that the story had run its course. The waves would roll them back and forth, revealing the glassy eyes and rows of short, white teeth.

The scientists and workers hauled all of the carcasses onto the sand in a long line. All of them were towed there by the tail, and every one of them faced the ocean.

Walking back down the beach, now at low tide, I again passed the last whale.  She was completely stranded now, on the edge of the receding tide. Painfully she breathed, loud, gasping sounds emerging from her blowhole as she exhaled.

I WET MY HANDS and stroked her head. Her sides heaved and she made several feeble efforts to raise her tail. I was alone. The scientists, reporters and officers were all busy with the autopsies. I wet her dry skin and talked quietly to her. I looked down at her eyes to see if she was watching me; they were closed tightly, the skin around them contorted as if she was straining to keep them closed.

And coming from both her eyes in a slow, steady stream were thick tears. I knew that whales, as well as other marine animals, did this as a way to dispel excess salt from their system. Still, if she had ever had reason to cry, this was it.