Tom Petty explores roots on new album
By Frank Spotnitz
The Citizen Auburn - Friday, April 19, 1985
NEW YORK -- Tom Petty had been working on his new album, Southern Accents, for the better part of two years and had reached the conclusion that there was no way he could finish it by the end of 1984.
Partly out of anger, partly out of despair, Petty last October slapped his left hand against the wall of the stairwell outside his Los Angeles recording studio and broke three bones.
The album still was incomplete and now Petty had to face the possibility he would never play the guitar again, or perhaps for only short periods.
"I think from the time I did it, I just realized what I was up against and I just set my mind to healing it," Petty said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
Only now getting his guitar-playing ability back after months of not being able to play at all, Petty is calling together his band, the Heartbreakers, in preparation for a summer tour in support of Southern Accents, his first LP since 1982's Long After Dark.
It is Petty's first "concept" album, exploring the attitudes toward Southerners and those that Southerners have toward themselves, and it makes several changes in the Heartbreaker sound, which is traditionally dominated by the organ and electric guitars.
The difference is most noticeable in the album's stunning first single, Don't Come Around Here No More, a brooding piece of work that adds the sitar, a cello and female backup singers to the band's usual arrangement.
It was co-written by Dave Stewart of the technopop British act, the Eurythmics, whom Petty met along with his produer Jimmy Iovine one night last summer. The two immediately hit it off and Petty estimates had written Don't Come Around Here No More within 30 minutes of their meeting.
Petty rose to prominence in 1977 with the hit Breakdown. He continued to have minor hits until the release of 1979's Damn the Torpedoes, which was a critical and commercial smash, producing Top 20 singles including Don't Do Me Like That and Refugee.
Petty, a Gainesville, Fla., native, said the idea of writing an album about the South came to him while he was touring in support of the Long After Dark LP and making frequent visits to Florida.
"Initially, I was going to do it as a double album," he said. "I write 26 songs and got really immersed in it and it was just too vast. I had to trim it back. It was a harder album to record than to write."
On the title track, Petty begins:
"There's a southern accent, where I come from
"The young 'uns call it country
"The yankees call it dumb."
Petty said the song commented on prejudices directed at and shared by Southerners.
"I've lost a lot of my Southern accent," said Petty, who has lived in Los Angeles for 10 years. "But when it's strong, and if you were in New Jersey or someplace, there would be that tendency to think you were stupid because you're talking with a Southern accent."
The album's final track, The Best of Everything, was intended for 1981's Hard Promises record, but when it did not fit there, Petty offered it to ex-Band member Robbie Robertson for The King of Comedy soundtrack he was producing.
Robertson added to the song a horn arrangement and the work of his own former bandmates, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, but disputes between the soundtrack's record company and Petty's kept it from being released. That's when Petty decided to use the song for Southern Accents.