Tom Petty recording tracks for the Johnny Cash album 'Unchained' in 1996. (Kevin Estrada / MediaPunch/IPX)
After his death, Oxford American re-upped an interview with Tom Petty from 2000. Did you ever wonder what got him into music? Wonder no more: It was Elvis. He tells interviewer Holly George-Warren about a childhood encounter with the King at a movie location near his home in Florida.
I remember a long line of white Cadillacs that came in, and getting out were guys in mohair suits—really very flashy lookin’ cats in sunglasses. Every time one would get out, I’d say to my aunt, “Is that Elvis?’’ and she’d say, “No.’’ Then all of the sudden, she went, “That’s Elvis.’’ And it really was a semireligious experience. I mean, he glowed to me. I’d never seen anyone’s hair dyed so black that it was blue—it shone blue in the front. He looked amazing. My uncle was there, and he says, “Elvis, these are my nieces and nephews.’’ He said hi, and then he went in his trailer. And we stayed and watched them film throughout the day. I remember at one point a crowd was handing records over the fence for him to sign and then hand them back. And I was like, “Damn, if I had an Elvis record, I could get an autograph.’’ So when we went home, I was a changed person. I set about finding Elvis records, so I could get Elvis’s autograph in case I went back. That was how I fell in love with rock ’n’ roll records—and that was my only interest ever since.
As a teenager in the late 1990s, I learned a hard truth about music: Your album collection couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken seriously without a copy of Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. That’s why I went to the Tower Records on 4th Avenue in New York City one afternoon in ninth grade to cop the album, with its maroon cover and purple CD. Of all the records in Petty’s discography it’s by far his best selling, a perfect record for road trips, cookouts, and everything in between.
Throughout his career, Petty’s songs cut to the core of human emotion. His catalogue expressed an everyman bent, one that was shared by anyone who came in contact with his music, which was everyone. Petty and his Heartbreakers were a classic rock mainstay from the moment the first album dropped in 1976. His singles ran the gamut from love to heartbreak, depression to longing. “American Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “You Got Lucky,” “Free Fallin‘,” these were songs meant to be sung off pitch and in unison. How else could you know the classics if you didn’t own the one album that had them all?
A look at tour bus drivers, who hold the lives of musical acts in their hands on a daily basis, and what it’s like to drive around music’s biggest stars:
Providing a band with a smooth ride, free of sharp turns and unexpected pit stops, isn’t just a matter of comfort. Good drivers get work because band members trust that they can go to sleep at night knowing they’ll wake up in one piece. Ben Kitterman know this better than most, having driven for Tom Petty (‘Favorite gig ever. Extremely professional.’), Motley Crue (‘Tough gig. They’re a little bit rougher.’), Creed (‘Fuck every minute of that! Those guys thought they were such a big deal.’), and John Legend (‘Not a whole lot of interaction. He just likes reading and chilling out and doing his own thing.’). He recently made the unusual transition from driver to rider when he became Aaron Lewis’ full-time pedal steel player.
‘Driving smoothly is really an art form,’ he says. ‘I’ve ridden with a lot of pretty well-known drivers and was surprised at how shitty the ride was. Once, I was rolled out of my bunk and dislocated two ribs. Going into four shows in a row with dislocated ribs is not a pleasant experience.’ Driving, though, is only a small part of a driver’s job. Buses must be cleaned, inside and out, on a regular basis. And as Ron Ward — who’s driven for Sean Combs (‘He lets me do whatever I want. If I need Ciroc, I can get bottles from the distributor.’), the Wu-Tang Clan (‘I have to get a new damn lung every time I come off the road with them’), and Chris Brown (‘He don’t tell me nothing but, “You want to go partying? Clubbing? Let’s go!”’) — makes clear, there are certain things he doesn’t abide.