Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Tom Petty fan. As a performer, he was for more than 40 years the dynamic frontman and leader of what was arguably the greatest American rock band ever — the Heartbreakers. He earned the respect of legends like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne as the youngest member of the Traveling Wilburys. As a recording artist, he left a legacy of decades of albums and singles, with a recording career that spanned from the mid-1970s until 2016 … and then some. He even revived his pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch, for two successful albums and tours.
But more than anything else, Tom Petty was one of our greatest American songwriters. The depth of his commitment to the art and craft of songwriting is so incredibly evident on the newly released “Wildflowers & All The Rest” deluxe set.
The original “Wildflowers” album came out in 1994. Produced by Rick Rubin, it took Petty in a different direction than the Jeff Lynne-produced “Full Moon Fever” and “Into The Great Wide Open” albums — a more acoustic and intimate sound. “Wildflowers” has been one of those “desert island” albums I’d have to have if I were ever … you know.
Petty was writing so many songs during those years in the early to mid-1990s, and he originally presented his record label with “Wildflowers” as a double-CD album. The label told him to trim it to a single-CD release, so Petty and Rubin chose the top 15 songs. The 10 or so songs that didn’t make the cut met various fates — some were released on the “She’s The One” soundtrack album, one was cut by Rod Stewart, and many others were never heard.
During and after the 40th Anniversary Tour, Petty talked about revisiting “Wildflowers” and putting out the unreleased tracks in the double album format they originally envisioned. Sadly, Tom’s passing just after the tour put the project on hold.
Three years after his passing, and just in time for what would have been his 70th birthday, the double album — and then some — is finally out. The “Wildflowers & All The Rest” deluxe set includes not only remastered versions of the original 15 songs, but also includes the extra ten tracks intended for the original release. It also features three more CDs: “Finding Wildflowers,” a CD of alternate versions of the original releases; “Home Recordings,” which presents the “Wildflowers” songs as Petty demoed them in his home studio; and “Wildflowers Live,” 14 live performances from tours and shows recorded from 1995 to 2017. There are special production and recording notes from Rubin, as well as Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, that detail their memories of recording these songs.
Listening to the home demos is a master class in the craft of songwriting. In these, the listener can hear Petty developing ideas and lyrics, and motifs and chord progressions that would later become full-fledged songs on their own. Listening to the alternate versions is a post-graduate course in record production. It shows the songs and arrangements going through changes on their way to what Petty and Rubin would consider the best versions that were eventually released.
Petty called “Wildflowers” his best album ever, and thankfully we now have the project he would have wanted us to have. Needless to say, the “Wildflowers & All The Rest” deluxe set is now the new “desert island” version of the album … and the next best thing to a new Tom Petty album we’re likely to see for a while.
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Join us in costume this Friday, Oct. 30, at Havana Jack’s for the big Boo Bash Costume Contest to benefit Presents In Paradise! The fun starts at 6 p.m. and the contest happens at 8 p.m. I’ll be playing music and MC’ing the contest, and we’ll have celebrity judges including Sheriff Rick Ramsay, County Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Coldiron, Marathon Vice Mayor Luis Gonzalez, Islamorada Mayor Mike Forster, and Key Colony Beach Mayor John DeNeale! Prizes include a two-night stay at The Villas at Glunz Ocean Beach Resort, as well as $100 and $50 gift cards for Havana Jack’s. Admission is free, but there is a $10 entry fee for the contest — and all money raised goes directly to Presents In Paradise. There will be spooky drink specials, a 50-50 raffle, and we will have an overall scary good time for a great cause. For more information, including how you can help local Keys kids this Christmas, visit Presents In Paradise on Facebook, or on the web at: presentsinparadise.org