The Petty Archives

On the road again: Petty tours for new album
By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Friday, September 13, 1991

In the new Heartbreakers' video "Into the Great Wide Open," Tom Petty, looking like a sinister Ichabod Crane, narrates a familiar rock 'n' roll morality play about a guitar player's sudden ascent to stardom at the expense of love and friendships made along the way.

Because the rocker, whom Petty refers to in the chorus as a "rebel without a clue," loses touch with his source of inspiration, his decline is predictable and not too long in coming:

"His leather jacket had chains that would jingle/They both met movie stars, partied and mingled/Their A&R man said, 'I don't hear a single'/The future was wide open."

Petty and the Heartbreakers must've felt a twinge of recognition while filming that video, for the band's first album together since 1987's "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)."

The conventional wisdom among rock critics, before the multi-platinum success of Petty's '89 solo album "Full Moon Fever," was that Petty and the Heartbreakers had become respectable working-class rockets -- condescending shorthand for being less than Springsteen and Seger and more than Mellencamp -- but that they were unable to produce albums as good as the band's self-titled debut or '79's classic "Damn the Torpedoes."

Petty's perfectionism and the friction within the Heartbreakers were well-known, reaching its most tragic point during the recording of "Southern Accents" in '85, when Petty angrily busted his hand punching a studio wall. Because of the severity of his injury, doctors were skeptical he'd ever be able to play again.

While Petty recuperated, a couple of the Heartbreakers drifted off to work on other projects. It seemed clear that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers weren't going to be around for the long haul.

Ignoring all the bad press, Petty and the band regrouped to record "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)," and mounted a world-wide tour with Bob Dylan, a move that appeared to rejuvenate everyone concerned.

Petty's friendship with Dylan also led unexpectedly to the recording of "The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1," in '88 with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and the late Roy Orbison.

The Wilburys went to number one with an album of simple but well-crafted songs and Petty got the hint. His second album away from the Heartbreakers, "Full Moon Fever," debuted in '89 and recreated the Wilburys' winning formula. It sold 3 million copies world wide.