Today we’re going to be remembering our great friend Tom Petty. We’ll start with what Tom Petty meant to the Orbison family, how we first met, what my dad had to say about this great man, how they influenced each other, and the Traveling Wilburys of course. This week we got the sad news that Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys, the great guitarist, vocalist, song writer, front man, sometimes comedian and my uncle Charlie T. Jr Wilbury passed away. The day was October 2nd, 2017 and it was already a sad day, there were a lot of news headlines and then this one just pushed it over the edge. I was phoning my brother Alex to get the good news, every day I phone and say, “tell me something good,” “tell me the good news.” He said, “oh you haven’t heard, Tom Petty died,” a couple of curse words were exchanged over the phone and then the process of grieving started for the whole world.
There’s been a huge outpouring of love for the guy and I’ve been really happy to see that. Unexpectedly, people started to contact me, news agencies and I did a few interviews. One interview for Canadian CTV News (I was on the five o’clock news for that one) and TMZ here in America with Harvey Levin. It was brought about that maybe we should change direction for the podcast this week and do a special about Tom Petty. I was planning on doing something different but this seems appropriate. Let me begin by saying that I love Tom Petty, I love his family, all the Heartbreakers, they’ve always been there for my family, they helped with us through the grieving process. We spent a couple of Christmases with Tom Petty and after my dad died in 1988 we were in seclusion; it all happened right around Christmas so I don’t really remember that period.
The first Christmas that we spent doing anything would have been the Christmas of 1989 and we were over at Mike Campbell’s house of the Heartbreakers. The great guitarist, Mike Campbell who taught me so much in my early guitar years. We were at Mike Campbell’s house, everyone came over, even Benmont-Tenge the piano player who was a good friend of my dad’s. Backstage he would always find Benmont and my dad over in the corner talking. I got along with Mike Campbell because he played guitar and his daughter’s name was Bri, which at the time I was thinking mostly of the cheese (I love brie cheese). So it was Bri (I’m sure she’s grown woman now), Mike, his wife and us at their house with their piano and there were a lot of good memories that Christmas. Jeff Lynn was probably there but I really only remember the Heartbreakers at that time and Tom Petty. It was a sad Christmas, it was the first Christmas without my dad and my mom felt cheered up that Tom phoned and since we didn’t have any place to go he invited us for their family’s for Christmas. That’s one of my great memories of Tom Petty.
A story that Harvey Levine asked me about and that everyone seems to be asking about is the guitar that Tom Petty gave me for my 19th birthday. The story is that I was with my mom, Barbara Orbison and we were at Mike Campbell’s house on my birthday, that might have been ‘89 or ‘90, I think it was ’89. They came walking into the room with a guitar case and Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and my mom opened the guitar case. I didn’t realize it was for me, I thought it was just a Tom Petty guitar that they were showing me. It was one of those kind of red sunburst Rickenbackers twelve-strings. I should know the model name but I don’t, it’s Rickenbacker 12:30 or something like that. It was a beautiful guitar and I still can’t believe it was for me, but it was. They said, “Roy I’m going to give you this guitar, Mike and I went down and picked it out and everything.” We all played it a little bit, I think even my mom did too. That day I also remember Mike Campbell went into the other room, he came out with a cd and said, “Roy, I really want you listen to this.” He knew I was into the blues and I think I was listening to Roy Buchanan the guitarist at the time. He said, “Roy you’ve got to start with this, Howlin Wolf,” and so he gave me a cd that I still have of Howlin Wolf’s greatest hits. Howlin Wolf had the guitarist Hubert Sumlin who was a kind of awkward, simplistic, but amazing player, rhythmically his note choice was unbelievable. Mike pointed me in the direction of Howlin Wolf and I’ve been thanking him ever since.
Tom showed me the twelve-string jangly-ness, I heard it on a lot of his records, on a lot of his albums and it’s something that I think Tom got from Roger McGuinn of the Birds. I know he worked with Roger, he collaborated and toured with Roger quite a bit; that was a big influence on Tom Petty. John Lennon also played Rickenbackers famously and twelve-string Rickenbackers somewhere. I always thought that John got it from Roy because my dad always played an acoustic twelve-string. There’s actually an acoustic twelve-string at the beginning of Pretty Woman, that riff that you hear, that’s one of the reasons it sounds so alive like it’s jumping out of the speakers. I always thought of it like a rubber band shooting you in the face, in that first riff of Pretty Woman, it comes out like a slap to the face because of the twelve-string. Almost as if it jumps out of the speakers like hands jumping out and giving you a hug. It would be complicated to explain why I think that John Lennon was attracted to twelve-strings because of Roy but I know a whole generation of people were attracted to the twelve-string because of John Lennon, and that’s a fact. I would say that Roger Mcguinn of the Birds picked it up from John, Tom picked it up from Roger, and I picked it up from Tom. It’s a nice little circle that I’ve got in my imagination.
The first time I met Tom Petty, I get asked that all the time and I don’t even remember; it would have been pretty casual though and probably with a group of people. It’s strange that I don’t remember it but I don’t remember the first time I met any of the Wilburys. The Wilburys were suddenly just there in our lives and they were at Roy’s shows and we were at their shows, they were at our house and we were at their house. I take it for granted that I know these guys, all of them and there’s so many stories. I can’t wait to do the Bob Dylan podcast, I’ve got things in there that even Bob doesn’t know; some confessions that I have to make about things that happened (although with Tom Petty I don’t have any of those).
There’s a famous picture taken of Tom Petty with my dad and George Harrison who has a towel on his head and Tom’s in the middle smiling. Tom was kind of the young guy of the group then, although I was the real young guy. In that picture I’m off to the right with short blond hair and Jeff Lynne was there too. The picture was taken at the Anaheim Theatre in the Round; I’m sure it’s got a little bit different name but it was the Anaheim Theatre. They called it “in the round” because the stage was circular and spun around the audience; it was one of my favorite concerts because of that. When I was around seventeen or maybe sixteen and we had to drive what I thought was a long distance from Malibu to get to Anaheim. When we get there Tom and everyone else is already there and they watched the show. We had been hanging out with him and Tom and Roy had already recorded “Handle with Care.” They came to the show to ask Roy if he would be in their band the Traveling Wilburys and Roy said, “yes of course;” even with that story there’s so much to tell. They came in and they asked everyone to leave the room, even my mom. My dad came and he asked my mom and everyone to leave the room, but strangely enough they didn’t ask me to leave the room. I think it was just because of the way my dad was around his children that wherever he was we were. They joked because all their wives managed them so they made all the managers leave and they had to do it in secret because they didn’t want any record companies, music business or music business people to ruin the creative aspects. They wanted to keep it quiet and they just walked into a record company with the album already made. They knew that they would get too much press, too much attention and they knew there was no way to keep it a secret. I was the only one in the room that day and they asked Roy to be in the Traveling Wilburys. Then I had to keep that a secret from my mom, my brother, my friends at school and everyone else. I was walking around school the next day smiling all day long because I knew a secret about the Traveling Wilburys. It was only a few more months before everyone knew the Traveling Wilburys and the album did great, it sold millions.
There was a great video they made for “Handle with Care” in downtown Los Angeles in a huge warehouse. There was amazing sun light streaming through these windows and the warehouse was kind of trashy; I couldn’t really imagine why we were down there at the time. It was a huge open space, there are so many things to say about it, so many memories. The Wilburys at the beginning walk in through a big gate and I was with them, we were walking all together and I was about to go through the gate when I realized that I wasn’t really part of the band. I wasn’t really part of that, I had to stop and they all walked in while I hung back. I didn’t get to see that entrance until later when I saw the video myself like everyone and else; they are walking in and you see the silhouettes, they’re carrying their guitars and the sunlight is behind them. When I saw the video, I realized why they were there, the place had a lot of character and it transferred to film really well. They had the guy stand in this circle, the camera spins around, Roy’s wearing funny red shoes and George Harrison is playing a Traveling Wilburys guitar (which I used to collect).
I used to be like the guy from Goldfinger with gold, I was going to get all the Wilbury’s guitars. I got quite a few I had twelve or fifteen of them at one point and then I started giving them away to all my best friends and that went pretty far. I actually gave one to the fellow who’s helping us do these podcasts, Luke Chalk, say hello Luke, “yeah hi.” Luke is a great friend, he’s worked for my family, my mom and the Orbison company for a long time now. Luke’s dad is Tony Colton of Heads Hands and Feet who played with Albert Lee, a great musician who wrote the song “Country Boy.” We love his dad and we love him and he’s got a great speaking voice, he’s English. Luke what’s your accent, it’s not east London, is it just a standard London accent? “It’s North London.” He’s got a good North London accent which some people like our old buddy Jack Clement used to say all the time “he talks like the Geico gecko.” That’s something he’d rather have buried, that joke, he’d rather it be buried but it’s a joke that will not die. When you hear him talk – we’ll we have to do a podcast on your dad and you sometime soon Luke, we’re going to turn a spotlight on you, there’s no place to hide. So, I gave one of these guitars to Luke, I gave one to my drummer friend Gavin and I gave one to my best friend Darey who died quite a few years ago. Slowly I’ve given most of them away, I’ve still got a few and if you haven’t checked them out, there these little (they don’t play well) half size guitars but George was really proud of them. George was friends with a lot of people and one of those was the head of Grech. He phoned them up and they made I think 500 of these guitars. I’ve tried to count how many there are, I know Tom Petty has one, Bob Dylan has one and we had one. There’s a lot of variety, they don’t play really well, they’re kind of toy guitars, cheaply made, they’re ¾ size so you have tune them up to A instead of E. I’ve spent years actually trying to convert one to be a player guitar, changed the hardware on it, changed the pickups and it still goes out of tune all the time.
George is playing one in “Handle with Care,” and they made a great video for “End of the Line,” which happened about three days after my dad’s funeral. That was very sad for everyone and I’m not even sure how they did it. It was sad that Roy died, then there was a little time and then we had the funeral. The Traveling Wilburys including Tom Petty were the pallbearers at Roy’s funeral. Three days later they were doing the video for “End of the Line” (which they had already booked previously). There was a rocking chair in the video, the rocking chair would be rocking and they’d have that Roy Orbison Gibson ES335 in the rocking chair. Of course, the first time I saw that rocking chair with the black Gibson in it I started crying and I still do. It’s really touching and amazing how thoughtful and considerate they could be. On that album Roy and Tom sing a duet called “Last Night,” it’s actually a reggae pop song. Roy’s kind of the narrator of the of the story, Tom’s telling this story about a girl, “da-da-da, last night” and then Roy comes in with the cinematic narration. Roy laughed for three days about this “I asked her to marry me, she smiled and pulled out a knife.” He couldn’t believe he was singing these lines, they were comedy.
There was a lot of comedy, we were always laughing and the Wilburys were doing Monty Python routines. Michael Palin wrote the liner notes for one of the albums and Eric Idle of Monty Python wrote the liner notes of another. The Traveling Wilburys were blessed with a Monty Python kind of feeling. Eric Idol is in one of the videos, the “Wilbury Twist” with John Candy (another great comedian whose kind of linked to the Orbisons). Dan Aykroyd was there with us when we gave Roy Orbison his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame January 29th, 2010; Dan came riding up in a motorcycle. Dan Aykroyd was also connected through John Belushi. Back around 1978, John Belushi came backstage to see Roy and he brought the Ramones. We had the punk band the Ramones, John Belushi and Roy Orbison and they all wanted to come meet my dad (to me they were just fans). Later I saw a video of John Belushi doing a Roy Orbison impersonation. He’s very famous for the joke Cocker One but he did he did this kind of thing several times and nobody seems to know about the Roy Orbison imitation he did. He’s wearing dark sunglasses, he falls over backwards while they’re playing, they lift him back up and he’s still singing “oh-oh-oh.” Dan Aykroyd saw that and he grabbed a pair of the dark Orbison glasses and put them on too. John Belushi was a Roy Orbison fan, Dan Aykroyd was more of blues guy, so he took it in a blues direction and that kind of became the Blues Brothers. John Belushi connected to Dan Aykroyd, Dan Aykroyd is a close family friend and he was best friends with John Candy.
Roy Orbison did SE TV in around 1980 and all those guys were there, John Candy, Eugene Levy and a lot of famous comedians. John Candy was a big Orbison fan and the director who did it, Hughes was also a great Roy Orbison fan. If you look carefully you’ll see a picture of Roy or reference to Roy in all of his movies. He made one movie called Only the Lonely that started John Candy. In Planes Trains and Automobiles, with John Candy and Steve Martin, Roy is in the background of the scene. The best scene in the movie is this funny scene about the pillows, “I’ve got my hand stuck between two pillows,” “those aren’t two pillows haha.” Roy is in that hotel room, he is above the bed in a poster on the wall. In “Wilbury Twist,” a great song on the Traveling Wilburys volume three (which was actually the second disc that Roy wasn’t on) starring Eric Idle and John Candy. Monty Python was all over the Wilburys.
Tom Petty was coming over to the house a lot, Roy was hanging out with him a lot and they wrote a couple of songs, great songs that became “You Got It” and “California Blue” and Roy was there during the writing of “I Won’t Back Down.” Tom played guitar on “California Blue” and he played guitar on “You Got It.” “You Got It” ended up being one of Roy’s biggest songs. The Heartbreakers of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they played on some of the songs as well. Mike Campbell produced half the album Mystery Girl, so the Heartbreaks and Tom Petty are all over Mystery Girl.
Another Tom Petty story that comes to mind really strong that was actually very important to me was the only time I sang with my dad in the studio that made it to tape which was on a song called “In the Real World.” It was song number two on Mystery Girl and we had a whole studio full of people, all the Heartbreakers were there. We were all in the room singing backups and slowly people had to drop out. My mom and dad sang the early parts, it’s mostly those two, my mom and dad singing. Towards the end there’s an ascending line that goes very high and no one could really sing it so people started leaving the room. I was in the control room, I wasn’t even in the recording room but my dad looked through the glass and said, “Roy Kelton come on out here.” He heard me sing all the time so he knew that I could sing those notes. The last four people there was me (I was on left to the microphone), Roy, Tom Petty, and Howie Epstein across from me. Howie Epstein was the bassist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Even Tom couldn’t sing this part so he left the room, that left Howie, me, and my dad. We sang those last couple of lines and then on the very last note no one could hit it but me and my dad and that’s us. When I listen back to it now it sounds kind of like a female voice because it’s so high and I was pretty young but we hit those notes and that’s one of my favorite parts of any song anywhere. I have a lot of favorites, over the course of these podcasts I’ll probably have a hundred different favorites but that’s a favorite memory with Tom Petty, singing with Tom Petty at the end of that song.
Howie, I could do a whole podcast just about Howie and how he became a good friend of ours. A side note about Howie, he dated Carlene Carter. I knew Carlene since childhood, she used to babysit me, she was June Carter Cash’s daughter and I love her; her daughter Tiffany is a good friend of mine too. Carlene had a big country hit around the time, “Every Little Thing,” I believe Howie produced that album. Tragically, Howie died and his funeral was held at McCabe’s Guitar Store of all places which is on Pico and Santa Monica California. There in the back in this little room, Jim Keltner (who is the drummer for the Wilburys), my mom Barbara Orbison, Tom Petty, his daughter, Carlene Carter and the whole staff of McCabe’s Guitar Store were back there and we had his funeral there in the guitar store. I went to Howie’s funeral, I still miss the guy and miss Tom Petty too, already and the world is going to miss those songs.
Tom Petty made songwriting seems so easy but it’s actually very difficult and it’s difficult to do with intelligence and conviction. “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” that was the song of the summer for me, “Free Fallin’” and I love the girl in the video skateboarding. They shot that down at the mall that we all used to go to, I think it was the Beverly Center California. I have so many memories of Tom Petty, some he was just there and I don’t remember enough, others were things that he told me. We talked about Elvis, we talked about John Lennon, we talked about Roy Orbison and we talked about rock n’ roll. Tom Petty was always about music and I went to see his live shows as many times as I could. The first time when he opened for Bob Dylan in the mid 80’s all the way to this last time on the 40th anniversary tour of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That was a great show, we went to one in Nashville with my family, my brothers Alex and Wesley, a couple of our friends, and our niece Emily all packed up and went to see Joe Walsh open for Tom Petty. We couldn’t figure out who we liked better, because I love Tom and I love Joe, he’s a longtime family friend. Joe Walsh’s wife Marjorie Bach is my mom’s best friend and she’s the sister to Barbara Bach who is married to Ringo Star of the Beetles. Our family histories go way back with all of these people and I was happy to see Joe that night, we got a nice picture, a family picture with Joe. The tragedy of Glenn Frey dying made me really happy that I saw the Eagles so many times and I was happy to see Joe again to see him back on his feet a little bit and now we’re in the same situation with Tom and it’s very sad.
I just looked up a little something that I could read about Tom’s death, it says: “Petty suffered a cardiac arrest early in the morning of October 2nd, 2017 and died that night at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California.” Not nearly as happy and as the news that he was born October 20th, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida. My birthday is October 18th, so I’ve always been a little bit close to him and I will always remember him and say a quick happy birthday Tom on October 20th. I know the world is going to miss him. As I’ve said before we can’t afford to lose too many of these kinds of greats like Tom Petty. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and all the friends who love him and care for him. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of Tom Petty, I know there’s some good music hidden that they’re going to release. There’s always those albums, they say that about these great musicians, my dad included, they’re never really gone because the music is so good.
In closing I’d like to read a quotation from Tom Petty talking about my dad, it goes: “the first time that I heard him was on the family radio, I remember that he sounded very other worldly like he came from another place. I remember the next time I heard him was when he did “Mean Woman Blues” and that really shook me up and I then made a point to find his records and find out exactly who this was. Not long after that “Oh Pretty Woman” came out and everyone knew who he was. He had that incredible stage presence with the sunglasses and the jet black hair,” Tom Petty. We used that quote in last week’s podcast entitled Quotations where we went through a lot of people talking about Roy. If you haven’t heard that, I refer you backwards and I refer you forwards, go listen to some Tom Petty, go listen to some Traveling Wilburys, especially volume one, especially “Last Night,” and shed a tear and laugh for Tom Petty. Thank you very much for listening again to Roy Orbison Jr’s Rock & Roll Circus podcast and I’ll see you next week.