Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Remembering Tom Petty


When my brother started Story & Grit back in May his intention was to keep the focus on southern authors and content, primarily southern crime fiction. I was all in because we’ve always been supportive of each others’ artistic ambitions. He got the idea in the early stages to start doing music reviews to which he asked me to write the reviews and I couldn’t have been more stoked. I love working with Mark and I’ve gotten the opportunity to hear and review some amazing albums that I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. The sonic palette we were stacking on was expanded when Gregg Allman passed away and Mark asked me to write an article about what his legacy meant to me. Monday, October 2nd my brother messaged me the shocking news that Tom Petty had been pulled off life support with no brain activity following cardiac arrest. I thought we had at least twenty more years of Tom Petty. He was still going strong with no signs of slowing down. Of all the heroes I’ve lost over the years it was so hard to imagine a world without Tom Petty.

The Heartbreakers have been in my life for as long as I can remember. When we were growing up in Toccoa, Georgia my mom was a huge fan of Dwight Yoakam and the Eagles. My dad listened to the classic rock station, Rock 101. We had a nice dose of country rock and honky tonk in one ear and ZZ Top and Tom Petty in the other. I’m pretty sure when I was twelve and I smoked my first joint, “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” was playing in the background. From the time I picked up my first instrument I gravitated toward the simplicity of his music. I’ll never forget how exhilarating it was being sixteen years old and figuring out the guitar lick to Breakdown on my shitty classical acoustic. During that time we lived with my mom and sister in Greenville, South Carolina and Mark would drive us around in his Toyota Solara listening to Free Falling, Refugee, and American Girl. I’ll never forget how good his music sounded against the back drop of that Blue Ridge Mountain Sky on a sunny South Carolina day. I get chills just thinking about it.

A few years went by where I let a few things get in the way of my music and when it all spiraled out of control I called Mark, who was now living in Oklahoma, and asked him to let me move in with him to sort of get straight. I tried going into ministry for a year and a half before figuring out that songwriting was what I truly wanted to do. During that time I had been learning Allman Brothers and Black Crowes tunes on guitar but I wanted to get back into songwriters. I started with my original hero, Johnny Cash, and worked my way through his early Sun Recordings all the way up to his late life and posthumous American Recordings. I soon realized Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were backing Johnny Cash on some of the later stuff and it was revelatory that he was one of the ones I should be emulating. Two of the first songs I wrote were Tom Petty rip offs. The first one, “If And When,” took a nod to the intro of American Girl because I didn’t know very many chords so I just camped out on an A chord for the first sixteen bars of the song. The other was a song called, “Good Luck,” which I approached lyrically with fierce simplicity because of Petty’s tune Listen To Her Heart.

Petty’s music was a huge stepping stone for me as a songwriter. He showed us how incredibly easy a simple melody, hook, and pop sensibilities could bring so many people together. Critics didn’t know whether to classify him as rock, punk, new age, or pop. He had no boundaries as far as what he was willing to explore. For the longest time I associated him with Southern California because he just had that sound and, as far as I knew, that’s where he always lived. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I heard the song, “Southern Accent,” that I questioned where he was actually from and realized he was actually from the south. He was in no way a southern rock artist but he was very well loved in every state I’ve ever been to from Georgia to California which, in my opinion, makes him a true American icon. This article is a poor emphasis on a rich musical career. I didn’t even touch on the Traveling Wilbury’s and there’s so many other songs I didn’t mention but my suggestion to everyone is to go on a Tom Petty binge and indulge yourself in the complex simplicity of his music. Enjoy your favorite artists while you can because lately all mine have been moving on.

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta
Is just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando
If them orange groves don’t freeze
Got my own way of working
But everything is run
With a southern accent

Where I come from

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds

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