When Tom Petty’s inner circle began to think about how to properly honor him in the months following his death in October 2017, they went straight to the archives. “It was not an easy process for any of us,” says his widow, Dana Petty, one of the architects behind the box set An American Treasure, a 60-track collection out Sept. 28 via Reprise. “It was very emotional, and, especially at first, hearing the songs was brutal. But music is healing; it got easier. It felt like Tommy would be so proud of this.”
In the end, it took Dana, Petty’s daughter Adria, Heartbreakers bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, and producer Ryan Ulyate roughly seven months to assemble the rarities, unreleased songs and live renditions — from an alternate version of “Straight Into Darkness” to a live recording of Mudcrutch’s “Hungry No More” — for the set. It will be released in four formats, from a two-CD package to a sprawling four-disc collection with a hardbound book and lithograph. “If you knew nothing about the guy,” says Ulyate, “it would still be a really good set of songs you could get into and love. It’s designed to tell you a story.”
For the estate, An American Treasure is merely the first step in telling that story; there’s a bounty of archival music to come. “There’s so much more in the vault, so much more that we tried to put on this record, that everyone needs to hear,” says Dana. “I just don’t want them to think we’re greedy, because it’s not about the money — it’s about getting the stuff out there for the world to love.”
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of Billboard.