Depending on when a person is introduced to Tom Petty’s music, one might know him as an aggressive garage-rocker, a pensive, acoustic-based songsmith, an early MTV pop-rock icon or the lucky SOB who was part of the Traveling Wilburys supergroup alongside rock & roll pioneers Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison.
With a catalog of instantly recognizable songs stretching across four decades, Petty and his band The Heartbreakers are providing the songs for July’s Provo Rooftop Concert Series show Heartbreakers & American Girls: The Songs of Tom Petty, via a collective recruited by local musician Paul Jacobsen.
“He’s old-school in that he wanted to write a pop song,” Jacobsen says of Petty’s approach. “I think he’s from the Buddy Holly school, Sun Records school, of, ‘Write a song that people want to sing along to. Write a song that speaks to a lot of people.’ Now, there’s so much emphasis on indie cred and purposefully trying to be inaccessible, and he had no interest in that.”
For Pat Campbell, a drummer whom Utahns know from Jacobsen’s band The Madison Arm, Swim Herschel Swim and myriad other projects, Petty’s popularity was a roadblock to his becoming a fan.
“I have this nonconformist thing in me, and when he was really popular, I just couldn’t really take it seriously,” Campbell says. Years later, a friend helped him get over his earlier assessment. “[1994’s] Wildflowers was the first album I bought, and it just hit me. It was such a great album, so simple, so clean, and it opened me up to a lot of music.”
Ryan Tanner (along with Brian Hardy) is tasked with delivering the distinctive keyboard parts of the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench and singing one of Petty’s most iconic songs, “American Girl.” For him, the entry to Petty’s catalog was 1989’s Full Moon Fever. From there, he started looking back and learned “what a force he was before that.”
“Those songs—we talk about it all the time—they’re three chords,” Tanner says. “Three chords—that’s it!”
Jacobsen says the group picked Petty partially “because we have the right players for it.” Count Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn, The Devil Whale’s Brinton Jones, The Moth & the Flame’s Nate Pyfer, Sarah Sample and Fictionist’s Stuart Maxfield among those who answered the call on vocals, joining about 20 more folks in performing Petty’s songs. Seeing how the different performers inhabit their roles playing one of the most notable song collections in rock history should be intriguing, to say the least.
“No one’s cutting their hair like Petty for the show,” Jacobsen says, before pausing. “Well, we’ll see.”
HEARTBREAKERS & AMERICAN GIRLS:
THE SONGS OF TOM PETTY
Provo Town Square Parking Terrace Rooftop
100 N. 100 West
Friday, July 6, 8 p.m.