Tom Petty Honored at 2017 MusiCares Event

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Tom Petty flanked by Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison at the 2017 MusiCares event

An impressive parade of his fellow musicians honored Tom Petty on February 10, 2017, at the MusiCares Person of the Year benefit concert in Los Angeles. But even after tributes and songs from Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, the Byrds’ Chris Hillman, Gary Clark Jr., Foo Fighters, Taj Mahal, Regina Spektor, Jakob Dylan, George Strait, Randy Newman and others, it was Petty’s speech and performance with the Heartbreakers that brought down the house.

Petty was honored “in recognition of his significant creative accomplishments, his career-long interest in defending artists’ rights, and the charitable work he has undertaken throughout his career, which has notably focused on the homeless population in Los Angeles,” according to the original announcement of the event.

Petty and the Heartbreakers performed a 40-minute set (joined at various points by Stevie Nicks, Jeff Lynne, the Bangles and Dhani Harrison).

Watch Petty perform “I Won’t Back Down” with Lynne and Harrison. (Lynne co-produced the song.)

Watch the same performance from a different angle

The event brought in a reported $8.5 million, to aid musicians in need. The annual MusiCares event (now in its 27th year) takes place the same weekend as the Grammys each year. The audience included such diverse celebs as Ringo Starr and Nancy Pelosi.

Even Ringo shares videos of his favorites on social media…

Here is the complete text of Petty’s speech (You can also watch it below):

“Twenty years ago I would’ve been way too cynical to do this. But I’m 66 now. I thank you for this; it’s a great honor. I’ve watched the whole show backstage. I’m really at a loss for words. The music has been wonderful and I think all these artists for coming. I’d also, right off the band, like to thank my band, the Heartbreakers. They’re such an important part of this.

“I won’t talk too long. I want to play a bit more music. We have some friends we brought with us. We’re gonna get to that. To be here in the presence of so many great American songwriters is amazing… Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Cassandra [Wilson], Randy Newman.

“It’s been about two years since I played with the Heartbreakers honestly, I’ve been producing records. We got together last week and rehearsed for this thing. And I realized I may be in one of the two or three best rock ‘n’ roll bands there is. I’m so proud of them.

“I got into rock ‘n’ roll at age 10. I was collecting records… rock ‘n’ roll records… the ‘roll’ designates there’s a swing in the roll. The music became popular and it empowered the youth of America. The government got very nervous… especially the Republicans. They put Elvis in the Army, they put Chuck Berry in jail. Things calmed down for a couple of years. But it was too late… the music had reached England. In 1964, the Beatles came, I had my eyes opened like so many others and I joined the conspiracy to put black music on the popular white radio.

“And rock ‘n’ roll goes on. More like the blues or jazz now. There ain’t nothing like a good rock ‘n’ roll band, people.

“This is kind of a surreal moment and a surreal life. For some cosmic reason, so many of the artists that I adore came into my world without me calling. They just showed up and we played together and we became friends. The first one was Roger McGuinn and the Byrds who was there right away, it was my first record.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“I know so many people here. Mo [Ostin, founder and longtime head of Warner Bros. Records] and Olivia [Harrison] are out there. Me and George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, one night, were at Mo Ostin’s house. We were just working on the idea of the Traveling Wilburys. I had written this song, ‘Free Falling’, and done the record and taken it to my label, MCA, and they rejected the record. And that had never happened to me before. I was like ‘Wow, what do I do?’ So, we forgot about it.

“And we were at Mo’s house at dinner and George said ‘Let’s get the guitars out and sing a little bit.’ And George said ‘Let’s get that ‘Free Fallin’, Tom. Play that. So we had a kind of Wilbury arrangement of harmony and we did it. And [Warner Bros. Records President] Lenny Waronker  is sitting there and he said ‘That’s a hit.’ With two acoustic guitars. And I said, ‘Wow, my record company won’t put it out.’ And Mo said, ‘I’ll fuckin’ put it out.’

“Sorry, I’m trying so hard to be good. I got my wife who’s here, my daughter Adria… I’m on my best behavior tonight. I got into town in 1974 and I was signed by Denny Cordell to Leon Russell’s Shelter Records. Leon brought me over to his house. He liked the songs I’d done He said, ‘If it comes to a thing where we need some words I need you to be here, and I’ll pay you for it. The first session, in comes George Harrison, Ringo and Jim Keltner, and they didn’t need any words because those cats are so cool.

“We were hanging out and I found myself slipping my sunglasses on. Leon said, ‘What the hell you doing with dark glasses, man?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. it feels cool. Like Jimmy Keltner, he has his.’ He said, ‘Wearing sunglasses at night is an honor you earn. Lou Adler had Johnny Rivers and the Mamas and the Papas before he put them glasses on. Jack Nicholson made really shitty Boris Karloff movies before he put the glasses on.’ Well, I’m putting my glasses on. [Petty exchanges his regular eyeglasses for sunglasses and the audience applauds.] But I thank Leon for that advice.

“I was fortunate enough to know the great Johnny Cash. I loved him since I saw him on the Hootenanny television show in 1962, filmed in Gainesville, Florida. I actually didn’t see him that week. The paper said he was a little loopy and punched a policeman and did not appear that night. I loved all of his songs: ‘Hey, Porter,’ ‘Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,’ ‘Big River.’ You want to be a songwriter, just listen to ‘Big River’ about 50 times and you’ll write something. But we made an album together, Johnny and the Heartbreakers, and it won a Grammy for best country record of the year [American II: Unchained], without ever being played once on the country stations. But that’s all right because it was actually a rock ‘n’ roll record. Johnny was pretty rock ‘n’ roll.

“This morning, I was looking through a file and a card fell out, and it was from John, on my 50th birthday. It said, ‘Happy birthday. You’re a good man to ride the river with.’ And that’s all I wanted to be, a good man to ride the river with. I’m gonna keep riding’ the river. Thank you.”

Watch Petty’s speech

Two months later, on April 20, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers began their 40th anniversary tour. On Oct. 2, one week after the tour’s final concert, Petty died.

Tom Petty’s recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Becky in Texas
    #1 Becky in Texas 14 February, 2024, 08:48

    Tom Petty on Sirius XM is all I listen to. His shows bring back great memories of music I listened to (and he as well) like The Yardbirds, Fever Tree, Trapeze, Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies, of course The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, but also the more obscure artists—The Velvet Underground, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and on and on. His show is on Channel 31. It’s great to hear him speak and reminisce about the music and musicians who influenced him.

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