Tom Petty passed away from cardiac arrest at age 66 on Monday (Oct. 2), sparking nostalgia from all corners of the music industry and beyond. On Tuesday (Oct. 3), Rolling Stone published an interview with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell that was conducted in 2014, just hours before the group wrapped their Hypnotic Eye Tour at The Forum in Los Angeles.
From their first encounter to Petty’s songwriting genius, here are four of Campbell’s most endearing memories of his late bandmate.
On how they first met: “I was living in Gainesville, and at that time the whole city was based around the college. There’s a lot of musicians, and bands would play in the college out on the lawn or whatever. The first time I saw Tom Petty, he was playing in a band called Mudcrutch with Tom Leadon. They were in a park doing country-rock type stuff. I think Tom was playing bass, and Tom Leadon was playing guitar. They had a couple of other guys, and they were doing a Flying Burrito Brothers style of music, which at the time I thought was really cool because most of the time bands were doing really bluesy, jammy stuff and here was this band with harmonies with beginnings and endings. The first thing I remember about Tom was that he was writing songs, and pretty good songs. Not many players I’ve been in bands with were that tuned in to the songwriting thing.”
On transitioning from Mudcrutch to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and whether he was bothered by it: “Maybe on a small level in the beginning, because we started out sharing every dollar as a group like a total democracy. When we changed it to a group with his name in front, there was a twinge of, ‘Well, wait a minute. That is not the way I’m used to doing things.’ But when I stepped out of my ego and looked at it, I said, ‘Well, he’s writing the songs, he’s singing the songs, and he’s leading the band. He’s kind of the driving force behind it.’ I’ve never had a problem with it since.”
On the meaning behind 1987 album Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough): “I think I remember having a conversation with Tom around that period. And I guess he was in a down state for whatever reason, and he called me up goes, “You know, I think I’ve had enough.” I go, “What do you mean?” He says, ‘Well, I don’t know, I think maybe it’s time to put a bow on it.’ And I go, ‘What are you talking about? You’re going to break up the band?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I don’t know. It might be time.’ I say, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know. Call me back when you’re feeling better.’ Maybe that was on his mind and maybe he pictured that as our last album and he wanted to move on to something else. Once again, the storm passed and here we are.”
On Petty as a songwriter: “He had a knack for writing simple things that a lot of people can relate to. I don’t know if that’s something you could learn. Lord knows, I’ve been trying to learn it, but he just has an affinity for finding simple lyrics, simple melody that is instantly identifiable with a lot of different people. Also, I liked the roots he was drawing from, which were the same roots I was drawing from – the Byrds, the Beatles, the Stones. I really understood what he was trying to do, and I really felt like I could help. … He could take a simple phrase and make it instantly identifiable to large number of people. That’s a talent.”
You can read the full interview here.