I was a college sophomore in the summer of 1976 at Ole Miss, when I got the call from my co-ed pal Bob Milam. ‘Have you got the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album?’ he screamed. Uh, no I’m sorry I’ve never heard of them, I replied. ‘Well you better hop in your VW and head on over to Album Alley and buy it!’ he said – so I did.
There, in what today would be considered a ‘wax museum’ full of great new 1970s music was the shiny new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album. You couldn’t miss it with the now famous colourful red heart pierced with a cool electric guitar, and that skinny Tom Petty on the cover with the smirky grin.
No instant gratification with iTunes downloads back then. Nope, you had to race back home with anticipation, ripping the plastic off to check out the insert sleeve, then finally slapping that vinyl music relic on the old Yamaha turntable to crank it up on the Marantz amplifier blasting the Jensen speakers.
What a great investment. Fast forward 32 years and I count my lucky stars to keep spinning Tom Petty tunes. This time LIVE as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers storm the St. Pete Times Forum, bringing down the house with over 16,500 of their most adoring fans.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are Florida natives, having grown up in Gainesville just off the University of Florida campus. Their southern heritage and tales of outcasts and long-suffering lovers gained the band global recognition as musical innovators spanning over three decades.
The Heartbreakers are made up of old childhood pals consisting of piano/organ master Benmont Tench, journeyman Ron Blair on bass and Mike Campbell ‘co-captain’ of the Heartbreakers, arguably and absolutely without question one of the most talented guitarist ever to strap on a Stratocaster.
It was fitting that on the day of the show, the St. Pete Times Forum was recognized as the second most popular concert and event venue in the US, slightly below New York’s Madison Square Gardens. It’s no wonder. This world class facility delivers big time and is managed by a great team of enthusiast pros who love what they do.
So let the show begin! On a clean high-tech stage with skyward arching steel grid arms sporting multiple 6 sided full motion digital video cubes, Petty welcomed the crowd with his slow, southern drawl ‘We’re back in Florida again, and we’re prepared to give you one long rock n’ roll show!’ The band then tore into ‘You Wreck Me’ followed by a sensational exhibition of ‘Listen to Her Heart’ from the 1978 ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ album. The Gainesville rockers then had the crowd roaring at top lung with ‘I Won’t Back Down’ from the Tom Petty Full Moon Fever solo album.
Time for a breather? Uh…not quite yet, Petty and The Heartbreakers were just warming up as they cranked out ‘Even the Losers’ from the acclaimed album ‘Damn the Torpedoes’, followed by world famous Rock N’ Roll anthems ‘Free Fallin” and ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, which the adoring crowd sang to in high volume unison.
Petty broke from his traditional play list when he played a rarely heard Euro blues song ‘Sweet William’, which featured a faster-than-fingers-can-fly Benmont Tench organ solo, complimented by the visually amazing artwork of Mike Campbell playing rhythm guitar reminiscent of the ’60’s Eric Clapton led Yardbirds.
The high energy, tightly coordinated multimedia song & stage theatrics kept coming on strong with crowd favorite sing-a-longs ‘Breakdown’, ‘Learning to Fly’, and ‘Refugee.’ And for those who really prefer no visitors….’Don’t Come Around Here No More’ was greeted with a howling vengeance as the fans leaped out of their seats heard across state in Daytona Beach.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers closed out this 2 hour historic show with a fitting encore that included the classic ‘American Girl’ from the ’76 debut album and epic ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’, which really is what it’s all about for everyone with Rock N’ Roll running deep in their veins.
To wrap up this Tampa Summer Concert review, I am pleased to share with you a rare ‘back then’ 1978 photo of Tom Petty I took in Oxford, Mississippi as he sings ‘Listen to Her Heart’ from the ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ tour. Well, young TP was just 28 years old then. Check out the ‘now’ 2008 pic at The St. Pete Times Forum as a still “young” 57 year old TP belts out ‘I Won’t Back Down’. Looking good Tom Petty. Let’s Rock.