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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Tom Petty At The Fonda


"So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
And learn how to play"

We all took lessons.

First it was Peter, Paul & Mary, the folkies, suddenly acoustics were everywhere, not only was "Hootenanny" on TV, we all sat in a circle singing the songs… Wanna know a great song? You can sing it yourself, in your head, with no accompaniment. Your own voice is enough!

And then came the Beatles.

Not only did we buy electric guitars, we went completely gear crazy, we could name every Fender amp, we knew the difference between a Strat and an ES-335 and could hear the difference.

Some wore it out, some stuck with it, like Mike Campbell and Tom Petty… They had so much gear on stage! It wasn't an affectation, it was a lifetime of collecting, to get the right feel and sound.

Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

And boy the sound!

This was the anti-Stones, they could hit every note, with feeling, and the venue was so small you could HEAR IT! Each and every player. Whether it be Steve Ferrone pounding the drums or Scott Thurston singing backups or Benmont tickling the ivories, never mind Ron Blair's bass. There were no hard drives, no aftereffects, no tweaking, just a rock and roll band, America's greatest today, keeping up the tradition.



"There was a girl I knew
She said she cared about me
The way she thought it should be
Yeah, we were desperate then
To have each other to hold
But love is a long, long road"

I had this relationship. You know, where you're so intertwined, you become one person. But your significant other…she wants you to be somebody you're not. Still, you hang in there…

"Yeah it was hard to give up
Some things are hard to let go
Some things are never enough
I guess I only can hope
For maybe one more chance
To try and save my soul"

The only thing that can save your soul is rock and roll. Those records are cast in amber, they never change, you can rely on them. And when you go to the show and hear them live… Your body starts to tingle, you thrust your arms in the air, you sing along at the top of your lungs…because this is your life, this is YOU!


It's Benmont's keyboards.

When you're this close, you can hear every note, every instrument breathes and is fully alive.

Usually you're in the big hall and it all runs together.

But Thursday night there was no noise, just individual sounds on separate parts of the stage coming together to produce the whole.

Your dream is to see your favorite band in a club?

I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Whisky. The summer of 1977, after "American Girl" had finally caught fire, a year after release, and they were seasoned and self-confident and it was wondrous, but this was just as intimate, just as magical, just as good.


The surprises. The album cuts.

That was what this gig was all about, the unexpected, the songs that you know by heart but believe you'll never hear live again. Like this, the opening cut of the second album, "You're Gonna Get It."

There was no hit, but everything on the LP sounded so great.

"Will you stand by me when the time comes?"

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will.
My friends? WE'LL SEE!


I doubt Booker T. and Steve Cropper could do it any better.

Roots, we all have them. And the key is to never forget them. And nothing feels better than to hearken back to those days when you were excited by what was on the radio, when it seemed impossible to play, but you tried so hard to do so.

This is a driving song. A groove. And when the band was playing it it was like the audience wasn't even there. There was no mugging, it's like they'd locked on and elevated above us, or were pulsing down the highway in that new Cadillac with that fine fox in front and three mo' in the back…

This is what makes a gig. When you hear the unexpected.

It makes the night special.


From "Mojo." Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are still trying, they're still making albums, they're not like their brethren who've given up, they're gonna keep recording whether you listen or not, because this is what they do, this is their job.


The Paul Butterfield Blues Band never had a hit. But they possessed one of the best guitarists in rock and roll history. One Mike Bloomfield. Who got a bit of recognition with Dylan and got some face time with Al Kooper before expiring.

Funny thing about those Butterfield albums… They were seminal. All the alternative acts of the eighties and nineties might have bought the Velvet Underground, but if you're a baby boomer, if you played music instead of sports, if you stayed at it, then you owned that initial Butterfield album, and "East West."


Now if you're a fan, you know the song from the intro.

I'd listened to this, my absolute favorite Petty track, ad infinitum, especially on the "Live Anthology" album, so when Benmont was rolling his fingers over the keys my whole body sighed, my whole life came complete, this was what I was waiting for.

So it's 1981. I've just broken up with my live-in girlfriend. I stay up all night in my new apartment thinking about her and then decide to wait until it's late enough to call her.

Which I do.

You know how you get a notion in your head…it feels so right, nothing can stop you from taking action.

So I dialed her number. She picked up. And was hesitant and distant.

I can work through this. We're in love.

So I keep at it.

Until she tells me…she's in bed with her new boyfriend.

"She's a woman in love
And he's gonna break her heart to pieces
She don't wanna see
She's a woman in love, but it's not me"

I quickly got off the phone. And played this track again and again and again.


Bands cut the new records, but refuse to play them live, they're afraid everyone's gonna go to the bathroom, everyone with a career is afraid of losing their audience, which is pure death.

This is from "The Last DJ." Petty even said so, just in case we were clueless.


You know this one, from the initial Wilburys album.

Dylan sings the lead on the original. And I'm sitting there thinking how lucky Tom Petty was. Scratch that, what he earned, from staying in the game, being great. Being able to play with Bob and George and Roy. Being made a member of the club. Pinching himself. You never know where the rock and roll road will lead you. In Tom's case, from his producer Jeff Lynne to where it all began. Yes, they're just people…but their music came out of the dashboard, it shaped our lives, how did we get from there to here? From Florida to L.A?

And Petty commented about Hollywood…

They lifted up the country and all the loose nuts and bolts fell to California. We're all here because we just didn't fit in back there. But out here…we found people JUST LIKE US!


"Southern Accents" brought Petty back to the mainstream, made him an MTV staple, but it was never one of my favorites, and I don't love the original recording, but this was a highlight. Hang in there long enough and songs surprise you.


Usually people go solo and no one cares.

Tom Petty went solo and went nuclear, reinvigorated his and his band's career. To hear the notes strummed on an acoustic was so intimate…it was like we were in Tom's living room.


Also from "Wildflowers." Another cut you'd never hear at the festival, in the arena. That's what made this night so special, this whole run… Contrary to what classic rock radio thinks, these artists created a whole body of work, we don't only know the hits, the album tracks are our friends, sometimes the best ones.


The Ray Charles song. Like I said, it's all about roots. From an era when you could like and appreciate everything, and hear it all on the radio.


Everybody does Linda Rondstadt's version. Or Seatrain's. No one does the Little Feat original. Wherein Lowell George, who possessed one of the most mellifluous voices of all time, basically speaks the verses. It's about the lyrics more than the sound… Except for that magical chorus, with its rock and roll anthem words:

"And if you give me weeds, whites and wine
And you show me a sign
I'll be willin', to keep on movin'"

You've got to be willin'. Despite the roadblocks. You've got to get up in the morning and get going even if you've got no desire, because once you stop, you die.

And when I first heard this song, I knew where Tucson was, but I'd never heard of Tehachapi, Tonopah or Tucumcari.

That's how you know you've left home… When you're running down the road and you see that sign… For an outpost you only know from a record.

This was so good…it was like Lowell was in the balcony smiling down at the proceedings.


Talk about deep cuts!

You'd only know this from the "Live Anthology," you had to be a fan to know this…but not to enjoy it.


Another one from "Mojo." As Donald Fagen so eloquently sang…

"I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long"

If you're not doing it for yourself, you're not gonna enjoy it.

This was the too loud, work it out number for anybody who had the notion the band had gotten soft. If you're not willing to turn it up to 11 and noodle, you should hang it up.


Yes, there are some classic hits in every show. Tom doesn't want to insult you, but carry you along into the nooks and crannies. But the classics cannot be denied, they glue us all together.

And there was a time when "Refugee" was so popular, you could not turn on the radio without hearing it.

And the funny thing about this number is it means more to me now than it did then. Back then, I had it all together, I thought the future was smooth sailing.

Whew, how wrong you can be.

To a degree I still live like a refugee. I owe not a single dollar. I live beneath my means. I've got money in the bank. Because I know…you can lose it all. Your woman, your house and your health.

You do have to fight to be free.

But you get so tired of punching air.

I don't know how you get through.

I hit rock bottom. Was saved by psychotherapy.

Laugh all you want.

But stoics tend not to last, they're the ones who commit suicide, they're the ones who are not here anymore.


Another number from "Full Moon Fever." And this deep in the set, the band was truly on cruise control…at a hundred miles an hour.

You can still hear Del sing "Runaway" on the radio.

But not live. Del didn't make it.

But you can.


I rarely play it, but this was one of the highlights. Maybe because at this point Petty and the Heartbreakers were that band in the bar when everybody is inebriated and the musicians have amped it up and are spewing it out not caring what anybody thinks, because they're having such a good time.


I've seen it done better. By DAVID BOWIE! At the end of the Ziggy Stardust show. It was the encore. With all the lights on. Bowie spread his arms. His charisma was in full-force. He would not be denied.

And I love the Stones' version.

But Petty still knocked it out of the park.

I don't think youngsters know this number.

But everybody over fifty does.

The joint was truly rockin'. We were out of our seats. Dancin' 'round.

That's the power of music.

That's the power of this classic Chuck Berry tune.

It's basic.

That's what Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers know, you don't need too much, just enough.


The song that started it all.

On a bad label.

In England.

Because a great track cannot be denied.

Wanna make my night complete? Play "Luna" and "The Wild One, Forever." No one does that introspective stuff anymore, that hot summer night stuff. But I guess I'll have to wait another five or ten years until the band does the complete album shows.

And a great concert always leaves you wanting more.

But we got quite a lot.

We got real players, infected by rock and roll. Who had to follow the muse, despite having no cash, no fallback plan. It was a dream. But theirs came true.

And that's what we need in society. More dreamers and fewer bankers.

Because when the dreamers succeed, they're a beacon to us all.