Editor's Note: Thanks to French-Canadian Robert Lefebvre for translating this (Spring 2018).
Tom Petty at the Heartbreak Hotel
By Gérard Manlu
Unknown French Publication - ca. Fall 1977
Tom Petty at the Heartbreak Hotel
A handsome kid, and a winner, this is Tom Petty. With his Heartbreakers, he's in the process, without upsetting much of the musical landscape, of becoming rock and roll's newest American darling.
The "Heartbreaker" moniker seems to be everywhere these days. It served Paul Rodgers well, as the title of the last Free album a few years back. It's also the name of Johnny Thunders' post New York Dolls' punk outfit, recently disgraced on French soil and sent packing back to the States after some performances best described as setbacks. And now, there is the Heartbreakers, an America band. They seem destined to be more lasting, with the Shelter Records / Leon Russell tandem having an apparent hit on their hands. Tom Petty is the group's leader, their image built around his charismatic good looks. Their first and only album is now almost a year old, but the record boasts an evocative cover that is pure nineteen-seventies.
The group's calling card will most certainly be the personality of its leader, with elements of the band's musical talents and good looks close behind.
A young man, Petty is unlikely to revolutionize "Rock Music" per se, but he and his bandmates have all it takes to be successful. Only the States could produce such a winning combination - a determined voice fronting a Rock 'n' Roll band. Without hesitation, we can easily predict a brilliant future for this group. Tom alone represents the very identity of the prototypical "American Teenage Rocker" and the band's choice of producers seems to be a perfect fit. Petty's image is somewhat vague, but his enormous personality alone should overcome these shortcomings. His youthful exhuberance will push through, however. In what is the normal procedure for a young American band, they seem poised to soak up all the influence in the Rolling Stone's wake, much like, we the French, have Verchuren in our blood. By using the Stones as a jumping off point, they are sure to find the required musical enlightenment, as so many American bands have, and forge their own identity, from a universe saturated with identical sounds. As it stands now, the group's first record is embedded and locked into the Stones' muse.
Petty's adventures took root not long after meeting up with the musical ruffians of his countryside, namely Bernie Leadon and Don Felder, local boys who later went on to make a good name for themselves. Tom formed his first group and together they decided to leave Florida and venture into the uncertainty of the Los Angeles area. The time spent there by the band would prove to be beneficial. The group was talented, young and green - unsung geniuses are rarely discovered walking the streets anymore. It was then that Shelter Records' guru Denny Cordell hears of the band, listens to their demo and invites them back to Tulsa. A contract is signed shortly thereafter, but as is often the case with young bands, the immediate lack of success leads to disillusionment, and the groups breaks up. With the support of the label, Tom then tries his hand at a solo record but nothing very convincing comes of it. Just then, destiny intervenes in the form of Leon Russell, who hears the demos and takes an interest in Petty's songwriting abilities. Under Russell's guiding hand, Petty becomes a student, with the master teaching him the craft of mining gold from his greatest influences. Given better direction, songs such as "Strangered In The Night" and "American Girl" begin to emerge. The group reforms and heads for Hollywood's Shelter Studios. The resulting album, "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" defies description. The record is a perfect launch for these "American Rolling Stones." Without a doubt, their next one will be a bomb. The album is a good listen, and tracks like "American Girl" - recently covered by Roger McGuinn - ably display the eloquence and sincerity of this new American trailblazer. That being said, a recent, bland presention in our beautiful Pavilion, combined with some disinterested press is preventing the album from climbing the charts in our country. Nonetheless, given Tom's personality, the combination of talents in Cordell and Shelter sphere - even without Leon - the band's second album is destined to become a classic.