The Petty Archives

Date: May 2004
Interviewer: Fans
Interviewee: Ron Blair
Notes: This is part of the "Spotlight on a Heartbreaker" series, which appeared on the official website several years ago (before it was redone), in which fans could email in questions for a Heartbreaker.

1. Jill, Emily, Harold and Sue asked: Can you tell us what may have been your very first memory of music that may have pointed you in the direction of wanting to pursue music as a career?
I don't think I've ever thought of music as a career. It was my cousin Tommy Darity in Macon, Georgia that got me completely fascinated with being in a band. He had a band that traveled in a '57 Chevy, pulled a trailer with all their gear in it and came back from gigs talking all this musician slang. He took me along a few times and even let me "sit in".

2. Cfwecker, Steve C. and Diane asked: At what age did you start playing the bass? Who did you learn to play bass from?
3. Julie L., CrazyHorse, Jill, Jackie M., Christine I. and Steve F. asked: What drew you to the bass guitar, and who are some of your early influences?
In Gainesville, Florida, where I had gone to college, I was playing guitar in several bands. A friend of mine had a band that needed a bass player. I liked the band a lot so I borrowed a bass from the local music store. I stayed up all night playing those rubbery strings and by morning the spirits of music had given me some kind of "go ahead". There was much good music coming out in those days and you'd just be influenced by everything.

4. Emmie, Nancy, Erin, Jupitergirl and Honeybee asked: Can you play any other instruments other than bass guitar?
I love playing the acoustic guitar and I guess I'm pretty fair at it.

5. Jill and Nate asked: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I listened to all kinds of music growing up. My family traveled a lot and we returned to Macon (where my parents are from) often. I know I heard a lot of country and R & B.

6. Jill and Laura B. asked: Can you tell us what one of your very first memories of Tom was?
During one of those blurry-eyed eyed evenings at The Rat (the campus lounge, The Ratheskeller), I saw Tom playing with the Mudcrutch band. He had really long hair and was rockin' out so hard, I don't even think I saw his face.

7. Robbie K., Brent J., Ryan and aebbeka asked: Why did you leave the Heartbreakers back in the early 80's and what did you do when you left?
Good question. It deserves a concise answer like, "I needed a break." Around the time of the first records release, I gave up my apartment in Laurel Canyon and packed a few trunks (which I stored under Mike and Marcie's stairwell) and set off on an adventure like a fresh wind-up toy. I guess my spring just wound down. I'm solar powered now!

I was married by then and my wife's family manufactured swimwear. We wanted to do something different and went from thinking about opening up a store, to just doing it. It was quite an experience and seems a little surreal looking back on it. I sold the store sometime around 1996.

8. Tim T., Anders S., Robin M., Marcia, Robbie K., jinxks, Kelly, Emmie, frety692, Margot and Clarissa asked: What did you do to keep up your musical skills during the years off from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?
I did more listening than playing during that time. Listening is good.

9. Håkon M., Gloria, Valerie P., jerijen, Margot and Clarissa asked: Did you ever regret leaving the Heartbreakers when you did?
Maybe a few regrets but sometimes changes just happen. I went to quite a few shows and enjoyed seeing the band with Howie.

10. Jupitergirl, Sue and Gabriel asked: When you were interviewed on "Behind the Music" for VH1 you said that you were scheduled to be back with the band in 2002. Are you clairvoyant?
It was a subconscious comment, but it makes you wonder how things work in the universe. (In the video I said 2001, I was off by a few months)

11. Andrew, Hakon M., Beth B., Linda C., Robin M., Ryan, Matt W., Jack R., Sharon H. and J. Aufgebauer asked: You know it was a thrill for us all when you came back to the band, but can you reflect on what it meant to you at that time in your life?
Coming back to the band was like surfing a tidal wave and I don't even surf. Really though, it connected a lot of dots in my mind and I feel like I'm living the "right life" now.

12. Marcia, Nate, Dave C., Jupitergirl, Meg Tammy N., Margot, Clarissa, Sharon H., Marion S., Jason, Nancy and Erin asked: Please compare today's touring, technical changes, the Heartbreaker life and a hectic schedule with when you were in the band before.
Today's touring schedule with the band is a lot more sensible. Some things change (like the lighting) and some don't. It's still throwing in your lot with people you love and heading into the wind.

13. Emmie, Valerie P., Marion S., Sharon H., Kelly and Marcia asked: After being away for so long, how hard was it to rejoin the Heartbreakers, relearn old songs and learn new ones?
I had to sort of "suit up" to listen to a lot of the earlier songs because there are so many memories attached to them. But it became so much fun listening to everything with headphones (to really hear the recordings), that I still check out songs to make sure I'm staying true to the original vibe.

14. Charlie, Dave, Emily and Jo asked: Do you ever get stage fright now before a gig? Did you used to get stage fright when you were with the band before?
I don't know if I'd call it stage fright. It's more of a high level of anticipation before shows. As long as I remember to have a few quiet moments, I'm ok.

15. Jason, Kevin S. Charlie and Matt W. asked: How have the Heartbreakers changed since you were last with the band?
Fortunately, they haven't changed.

16. Beth, Ryan, Bonnie S., Kelly, scottb43, freegirlnow64 and Micheline asked: What is it like to be in the best band in the world?
Completely awesome!

17. CrazyHorse and Charlie asked: What do you feel your role in the band is as a bassist?
It's the traditional role of trying to tie the melody to the rythem.

18. Caroline S., Emily, Laura B. and Gabrielle asked: What do you like the best, and the least, about playing bass guitar, as opposed to other instruments, in a rock 'n' roll band?
What is so great about it is, that it's just so damn cool!

19. Julie L., Kelly, Steve F., Chris A., chucky J. and Kim B. asked: What Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' song do you most enjoy playing live?
All the songs are great to play live, each for different reasons. It's always a defining moment for me when the band plays "Free Fallin." It's an uncomplicated three chord song that everyone just loves.

20. Patty, Jill, freegirlnow64, Chris A. asked: What is your favorite Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' song to listen to?
"Room At The Top". I always have the stereo up real loud to hear all the great stuff at the beginning of the song and then when the drums come in it's just terrifying. Then I put it on again.

21. Jill, jerijen, Carmen, Anders S., Brent J. and Christine I. asked: What kind of music do you listen to while at home taking it easy?
Really whatever I can find that sort of matches my mood (which seems to run the gamut). Sometimes it's the soundtrack from "Baghdad Café", sometimes it's funk hits from the 70's.

22. Sue G., CrazyHorse and Kelly asked: What is your all time favorite record, and why?
It figures it would be outside the world of rock. It's a jazz record called "Sunflower" (Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard).

23. Bonnie S., Charlie and Sue G. asked: What is your favorite "Howie Epstein on bass" Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' song?
I don't know that I have a favorite but every time I see Howie in a video I think he's playing great, singing great and he looks cool under pressure.

24. Jerijen asked: If you could chose any person or band to open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the next tour, who would YOU want?
Maybe some band a little more edgy than our recent openers.

25. Cathee and dabel92 asked: How did you get the nickname "Snake" or "The Snakeman"?
I think there were several times I earned the sort of undercurrent reputation this nickname implies. But early on, during our first rehearsals in Florida (seeking seclusion), we all went to our friends beach house late one night. In the dim light, trying to open the back door, Tom saw a snake crawl right over my shoe. Anyway, the full name is "Snakeman Walks Amongem".

26. Rich L., Lance N., Corrine N., Anders S., Chris E., Heinz S., Wendie, Trans Zuma, Brad and Elena asked: Are there any plans for a tour in the near future (special requests to tour in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Spain, Australia and New Zealand)?
There are always a lot of things being talked about. Have passport, will travel.

27. Josh S., Laura B., Donna P. and Dave C. asked: What qualities should I look for in a bass guitar? And is there any one guitar you would strongly suggest over the rest? (Almost all of your pictures show you playing a Fender Jazz bass.)
The volume and tone of the notes up and down the neck should be as even as possible. The Fender Jazz Bass is actually a little bit tricky to keep adjusted right. Whatever bass you have, you tend to play a certain way because of the feel of the neck.

28. Amy T., Charlie and Steve C. asked: What's the best advice that you can give to young musicians?
Just to really learn how to play music with other people. The real experience only exists while you are doing it. Sure there are recordings and representations of it, but...

29. Patty, Emily, Judy and Diane asked: Is there anything you do to "psyche" yourself up before a show? How do you unwind after?
Every show is different so I give myself a little talking to which seems to be some version of "stay in the moment." There is no winding down!

30. Jessica, Margot and Clarissa asked: Ron, you obviously have lots of fun on stage and it's reflected in your playing. How would you describe this feeling? Is there anything similar to it?
It's such a turn on. Some songs you have to concentrate on and some seem to play themselves. It all has this great unpredictable nature to it. What makes it so different is that you are doing it with a lot of other people.

31. Ash T. asked: What is your favorite kind of dessert? I'm a pastry chef in Nashville, Come see me!
Can you improve on apple pie and vanilla ice cream? I'm easy to please.

32. Carmen, Jo and Steve C. asked: What is your favorite movie?
The movie "Wings of Desire" got me through a rough time but there's nothing like seeing "The Coneheads" for the twenty-fifth time.

33. Jo, Carmen and Emily asked: What is your favorite TV show?
Somehow I got roped into watching the "Survivor" series. Now I'm hooked.

34. Margot, Clarissa, Jo and Laura B. asked: What's your favorite memory with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?
I have hundreds of favorites but it's those country boy in the big city moments that are the funniest. Like when Tom and I discovered that all those drinks in the hotel mini bar weren't free. The look on our faces was priceless.

35. Jack, Laura B., Gabrielle and Sue asked: What was your most memorable moment as a professional musician and why?
Playing "American Girl" at the Hall of Fame ceremony. It had so many dimensions to it for me. And interestingly enough, I had a great time with Howie that night. We helped each other with the bass changeover.

36. Patty, Jo, Steve C. and Harold asked: What's the craziest thing that's ever happened while on the road with the Heartbreakers?
Among the craziest moments there was this guy in Reno that pulled Mike's guitar from around his neck as he was leaning over doing a "crowd pleasing" solo. He thought he could make it to the back door before our trusty roadie Bugs could.

37. Jupitergirl, Jo and Diane asked: Tell us 5 things about yourself that will surprise us.
1- I've been misspelling the word rythem for over 25 years.
2- I went to my first year of college in Tokyo, Japan.
3- I made it through two more years in Gainesville, Florida.
4- My sister was married to Gregg Allman between wife #1 and Cher.
5- Gimme some more time.