By Sam McDonald
Hampton Roads Daily Press - August 8, 2003
Artist Bound For Portsmouth Criticizes Greed In Music Industry
Back in the 1980s, rock star Tom Petty was pictured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine tearing a dollar bill in half.
His message was simple: Record prices were too high. The music industry was getting greedy. These were ominous trends, he proclaimed.
Twenty years on, Petty looks a lot like a soothsayer.
"If they'd have listened to me in 1981, the music business wouldn't be in the shape it is," Petty told the Chicago Sun-Times' Jim DeRogatis back in April. "That's the whole reason it crumbled. You wouldn't have so many downloads if the records were 10 bucks. I haven't [fought to keep prices down] to be noble; I just thought that was about right."
Petty's most recent album "The Last DJ" received lukewarm reviews and relatively lackluster sales. But in one sense, it was a major hit. The music industry -- particularly corporate radio -- took offense to his songs, which artfully attacked avarice and shortsightedness in the music marketplace.
He obviously hit his target.
Some radio stations reportedly banned "The Last DJ," which contained pointed lyrics such as: "The top brass don't like him, talking so much, and he won't play, what they say to play, and he don't want to change, what don't need to change ... There goes the last DJ ... there goes your freedom of choice, there goes the last human voice."
Petty found the miniature controversy interesting to watch.
"I was fascinated the very minute the album came out and it was being banned," he told the Sun Times. "I have to admit, I was really pleased by that in a way because I thought, 'I must have done something good, because there's no dirty words, no violence or anything.' If these people saw themselves in this work of fiction, it was like, 'You're all naming yourself; I certainly didn't do it!'"
Petty has also criticized promoters and artists for inflated concert ticket prices.
"It's easy to be noble for us because we're in such a good position -- we draw a lot of people, we have a lot of history, we're all wealthy," he told the Sun-Times. "Those are a lot of factors in being noble! So I've never looked at is as I was trying to fight the good fight as much as I was just trying to do what's fair."
At $35, $55 and $75, tickets to Petty's Tuesday night concert at Harbor Center aren't cheap. But compared to other acts setting up shop in amphitheaters in the region, the cost seems at least reasonable. Melissa Etheridge, who is visiting Harbor Center tonight, is charging $45, $55 and $75 for her show. Tickets to see Tori Amos, who plays Virginia Beach Amphitheater Aug. 28, are $35 and $45. Dave Matthews Band's Sept. 14 show in Virginia Beach carries a price tag of $35 and $52.50.
Beyond his crusading, Petty has once again revved up his legendary band for another spin through America's heartland. The tour began in late June in Sioux Falls, S.D., and continued in the Midwest through July. Tuesday's Portsmouth date kicks off the Southern leg of the road trip. From here, the band will visit Atlanta, Charleston, S.C., Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans as well as several dates in Petty's native Florida.
Despite the loss of longtime bassist Howie Epstein, who died in February, the band is reportedly hitting on all cylinders.
Original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair has returned to the fold to provide the musical low end.
"After all these years together, you have a sense that the Heartbreakers could pull off a show gagged, bound and blindfolded," wrote a critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after seeing the band play a June concert. "What they couldn't do is pull it off if they were bored -- and to their credit, there's no sign that that's become a problem."
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers show at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Portsmouth's Harbor Center replaces a concert originally scheduled for Saturday. That show was postponed after the giant festival Bonnaroo NE was canceled. To make up for that, Petty and his band arranged to play concerts Saturday and Sunday in New Jersey with Bob Dylan. Tickets purchased for the Saturday show will be honored at Tuesday's concert.