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Critics' Choice
PETTY TREASURE TROVE OPENED UP
10/2/18

By Bud Scoppa

I had the honor of writing the track-by-track notes for the box set Tom Petty: An American Treasure (Reprise, 9/28), a collection of previously unreleased songs, alternate takes, deep cuts and live performances that cements the beloved artist’s range and brilliance as a songwriter. The first excerpt from the notes is the entry for “Here Comes My Girl” from the Heartbreakers’ 1979 breakthrough, Damn the Torpedoes extended by box set producer/engineer Ryan Ulyate so that we’re now able to hear what happened after the fadeout. The second is “Gainesville,” recorded in 1998 during the sessions for Echo but unheard until now.

Here Comes My Girl,” extended version of the track from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

“That album was a whole rediscovery of the studio for me,” Petty said of the artistic and commercial landmark Damn the Torpedoes, “because we’d had our own way of doing it, which was pretty amateur. Then [engineer] Shelley Yakus came in from New York, and these guys were really serious about this stuff. They’d be getting a drum sound for a week. And I’d be pullin’ my hair out, going, ‘What is going on? We’ve never spent more than an hour with the drums, I don’t understand.’ So it was a real educational experience, and probably one of our better albums.”

The music for “Here Comes My Girl” was written by Mike Campbell, who gave it to Petty on the same cassette that contained the demo for “Refugee.” Petty played both for Jimmy Iovine during their first meeting, and that was all the producer needed to hear. “I always wait for someone to come into my office and play me songs as good as those,” Iovine marveled in Rolling Stone. “Damn the Torpedoes is the best album I ever made, sonically. I’d say, ‘Tom, this record should feel like [John Lennon’s] Walls and Bridges, but with that punk thing you have.’ His albums before had great songs. This was a tour de force.”

Here again, this extended full-performance mix reveals what happened in the studio after the fade, as Benmont Tench and Campbell started playing off each other in a heady, spirited musical conversation. “There’s a thing that happens in your mind when you’re playing a track and you get to the ending,” Campbell explains. “You know it will be faded out before it gets to this part, so you just start to jam. On this one, me and Ben figured, ‘Okay, we’re in the free zone now; we can just play whatever we want.’ So we started just noodling together, and that’s what you’re hearing.”

“Gainesville,” outtake from Echo, 1998

Campbell had completely forgotten about the autobiographical “Gainesville” until Ulyate pulled it out of the vault. “That was a dark period for us in a lot of ways, so that song just slipped under the carpet somehow, but I think it’s valid,” he says.

“That line about Sandy loading up the van—Sandy was my friend from junior high school who helped them carry gear around,” Tench adds. “He said, ‘You’ve got to hear this band Mudcrutch,’ and took me to see them for the first time.”

Petty portrait by Mark Seliger