Photo by Mark Seliger
Let Your Heart Be Your Guide: Adria Petty, Mike Campbell & More On The Enduring Significance Of Tom Petty's 'Wildflowers'
For years, Tom Petty fans eagerly awaited the release of the second half of Wildflowers, Petty's esteemed second solo record, released on Nov. 1, 1994. Co-produced by multiple GRAMMY-winning producer Rick Rubin, Tom Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Wildflowers was originally conceived as a 25-song double CD, though Petty’s new record label Warner Bros. asked that it be condensed to a 15-song one-disc album. Four songs from the Wildflowers sessions ended up on the She’s The One soundtrack. Another song, "Leave Virginia Alone," was recorded by Rod Stewart and debuted on "Saturday Night Live"'s 20th season finale. The remaining five songs never saw the light of day.
Today, however, two weeks after the third anniversary of Petty’s untimely death and several days before what would have been the rock icon’s 70th birthday, Wildflowers & All The Rest has finally been released. Produced by Petty's longtime engineer and co-producer Ryan Ulyate, the collection was curated by Petty’s daughters Adria and Annakim, Campbell, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and Petty's wife Dana (the couple married in 2001). There are several editions available in various formats (digital/CD/vinyl), starting with a 2-CD/3-LP reissue of Wildflowers remastered and All The Rest comprising the previously unreleased 10 tracks, the Deluxe Edition (which also includes 15 home demos and 14 live performances ranging from 1995-2017) and the Super Deluxe Edition, which includes Finding Wildflowers and comprises 16 alternate studio takes.
A benchmark in his illustrious career and his fastest-selling record, Wildflowers, certified triple platinum within nine months of its release, held significant meaning to Petty. Speaking to author/journalist Paul Zollo in "Conversations with Tom Petty," Petty says, "I think it’s maybe my favorite LP that I’ve ever done. Though I’m kind of partial to a few of them. But I think, as a whole, it’s a real long piece of music—it’s almost 70 minutes long—but that’s the one that really gets me when I hear it. I can kind of go, ‘Wow, I’m really proud of that. That came out exactly like I wanted it to.'"
Sadly, as Petty wrote songs for Wildflowers, his marriage to his wife Jane Benyo was collapsing. (The pair married in 1974, had daughters Adria and Annakim, and divorced in 1996.) Filled with pain, loneliness and uncertainty, Petty’s songwriting shifted in accordance with the crisis in his personal life, reflected in Wildflowers' lyrics and song titles including "Hard On Me," "Time To Move On" and "Only A Broken Heart." More intimate and raw than ever before, Petty openly expresses his sadness, anguish and frustration amidst sporadic shimmers of light.
Recorded at Sound City in Van Nuys over an approximately two-year period beginning in 1992, Wildflowers wasn’t technically a Heartbreakers record but all the Heartbreakers still showed up with the exception of drummer Stan Lynch, who was replaced by Steve Ferrone when escalating tensions with Lynch reached a breaking point. Ringo Starr, who played drums on "To Find A Friend," and Carl Wilson, who contributed backing vocals to "Honey Bee," were the record’s special guests.
On the opening and title track, the sweetly melodic “Wildflowers,” Petty sings, “You belong among the wildflowers/ You belong in a boat out at sea/ Sail away, kill off the hours/ You belong somewhere you feel free." Though it was never released as a single, "Wildflowers" was a huge hit with Petty fans. In audio posted to Tom Petty’s official Instagram page, Petty reveals the ad-libbed song was a departure from his usual songwriting process. “The 'Wildflowers' song was one of the only times it ever happened to me in my life. I really just stepped up in my little studio at home and I put the mic on and played the whole song straight from the top to the end with all the lyrics and the music in one go. And then I stopped the tape and played it back and I really was kind of, you know, confused. I kept playing it again and again thinking, ‘Well, what do we work on and what would I change?’ And then I thought, 'I’m not going to change it. I’m just going to leave it stream of conscious.'"
While Petty wasn’t aware of it at the time, he actually wrote "Wildflowers" for someone very specific, someone who was desperately in need of compassion and freedom. He wrote it for Tom Petty. According to Warren Zane's bestselling book "Petty: The Biography" (2015), Petty’s therapist listened to the song and "asked the singer who he was addressing. ‘I told him I wasn’t sure,’ Petty says. ‘And then he said, ‘I know. That song is about you. That’s you singing to yourself what you needed to hear.’ ‘It kind of knocked me back. But I realized he was right. It was me singing to me.'"
Infused with rock, folk and blues, the critically acclaimed Wildflowers landed at number eight on Billboard’s 200 record chart. Rolling Stone gave the album a 4-star review. "Wildflowers' resolute passion and maturity grow more evident with each listen until the album acquires a haunting, enduring resonance." GRAMMY-nominated for Best Rock Album album, Wildflowers yielded four successful singles that each scored positions on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart; the tongue-in-cheek "It’s Good To Be King," "You Don’t Know How It Feels" (GRAMMY Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, and MTV Music Video Award for Best Male Video), "A Higher Place," and "You Wreck Me."
Originally titling the song "You Rock Me," Petty shared the backstory to "You Wreck Me" at VH1’s Tom Petty Storytellers session in 1999. "I was calling the song 'You Rock Me, Baby' and, you know, you can’t really say that anymore because it was pointed out to me, anyway, that the band kind of just held their heads and said, 'You can’t sing, ‘You rock me’ in a song,' which I suppose made sense...and then, one night, it hit me. It’s ‘wreck me.’ All I did was change ‘rock’ for ‘wreck’ and we had, ‘You wreck me, baby.” With that, Petty smiles, chuckles, and launches into the highly energetic rocker with the Heartbreakers.
There’s a chance the song might never have been recorded at all. Campbell, who wrote the music for "You Wreck Me" and co-wrote several Petty hits including "Refugee" and "Runnin’ Down A Dream," says initially Petty liked the demo Campbell gave to him. But when Campbell asked about the song months later, Petty said he wasn’t sure if he knew where he’d put it. At the studio one day, Rubin asked Campbell if he had any songs. When Campbell played it for him, Rubin told him to show the song to Petty, but Campbell said he already had. Rubin suggested he show it to Petty again.
"I showed it to Tom again and kind of nudged him and said, ‘Why don’t you write to this?'" Campbell tells GRAMMY.com. "The funny thing is, I think maybe because Tom was busy writing his own songs and he was overwhelmed with that, he wasn’t really keen on that track at the beginning. He kind of did it under duress a little bit. I got the feeling as we were recording it that it wasn’t one of his favorite songs. But when we went on tour, a couple of days into the tour, we played that song live and it went down so well, he leaned over to me and said, 'I get it now. This is really a good song.'"
Filmmaker/photographer Martyn Atkins, who directed both the "You Wreck Me" music video and the documentary "400 Days,” which he shot during the recording of Wildflowers and its tour, designed the record’s tastefully understated packaging and cover; four black-and-white photos, one of which shows Petty looking out the window of a van on his way to the recording studio, set against a craft paper-brown background with a red circle surrounding a red beaded flower in the cover’s lower-left corner, providing the only splash of color. Petty’s name and "Wildflowers" are written across the top in lowercase letters in Atkins’s handwriting.
Atkins spent a lot of time with Petty, taking photos and shooting film footage, letting ideas spark organically. Inspired by the intimacy of Petty’s songs, Atkins opted for a low-key design. “My thought about the packaging and graphic for "Wildflowers" was that it should feel a little more homemade, something crafted that Tom was crafting. I got that feeling from the music. It was much more internalized coming from Tom. It felt like you were getting something personal,” says Atkins over the phone. He cut and printed negatives from his 16mm film footage for the cover photos instead of using a regular camera. “I wanted the grittiness and real grain for the album artwork. The idea was not to have something glossy.”
He explains the red beaded flower's significance. "Tom had a tobacco pouch at his house, an American Indian suede pouch with a beaded flower on it. I think somebody had given it to him. He wondered if we could use it in some way. I took it away and photographed it and suggested we make it like a seal on the cover, something graphic that could become a motif. He liked that idea as the pouch meant something to him. We did stickers of it and included them in the CD packaging."
Petty himself stuck a Wildflowers sticker onto the upper-left corner of one of his favorite guitars, his blonde Telecaster (nicknamed "Torucaster" for luthier Toru Nittono), where the sticker remains to this day. Some of Atkins's Wildflowers-era photography, along with pictures taken by photographers Mark Seliger and Robert Sebree, are included in the new box set.
For years, Petty longed to reissue the beloved Wildflowers along with its second half. "He thought it was really important because the legacy of the Wildflowers album loomed large in this career and he knew that the second half of Wildflowers was an important statement," said Rick Rubin, speaking to bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell on their "Broken Record" podcast in 2018.
Ulyate and Petty first cracked open the Wildflowers vault in 2013, poring over tapes during breaks between recording sessions for Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ final studio album. By 2014, they'd remixed the 10 previously unreleased Wildflowers tracks, which Petty sequenced and named All The Rest. Petty also selected some home demos to release as bonus material. He told Rolling Stone about a two-disc Wildflowers release slated for that Christmas. A year later, Petty released the Wildflowers-era song "Somewhere Under Heaven" as promotion for a Wildflowers: All The Rest collection that didn't have a release date yet. He was waiting to release Wildflowers: All The Rest when he could give it his undivided attention and promote it properly with a tour. Between touring Hypnotic Eye, working with his early '70s band Mudcrutch (whose members include Heartbreakers Campbell and Tench), and the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour in 2017, he held back Wildflowers: All The Rest until he could prioritize it.
"He wasn’t putting out music by the pound," says Ulyate over the phone. "He thought about it and was like, ‘I don’t want to just toss this thing out.’ He was never into flooding the market with stuff. If he had just put it out without promoting it, he felt it wouldn't have gotten the reception he thought it deserved so he decided to hold back. He was going to get back to it, take stock, and figure out how to move forward when they got off tour in 2017."
Throughout Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 40th anniversary tour, the 18-song setlist included five Wildflowers songs, alongside a bevy of classic Petty hits including "American Girl," "Free Fallin'," and "Mary Jane’s Last Dance." Two days after the tour wrapped, after three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl, Petty told the L.A. Times that the Wildflowers project was probably where he'd turn his attention next. While he said he still had some research to do, he speculated that a three-city theater residency, instead of stadiums and arenas, might suit the material best.
"We had several discussions about doing a tour of only Wildflowers songs, maybe in theaters," says Campbell. "For so many decades, it was a greatest hits tour, which is great, but this would have been a different type of thing. We could share this intimate album and we'd have different guest singers come in with the band to give it a different vibe and experience from the touring we’d been doing, which would have been artistically rewarding for us." Campbell says among the potential guest singers they’d discussed were Jeff Lynne, Eddie Vedder, Norah Jones and Stevie Nicks.
Tragically, five days after his L.A. Times interview, Petty, who suffered from emphysema, coronary artery atherosclerosis, knee pain and a fractured hip, died suddenly at 66 years old from an accidental overdose of prescription pain medications. But Petty’s incomparable legacy lives on with Wildflowers & All The Rest, which arrives on the heels of two previous Tom Petty posthumous releases: An American Treasure (2018) and Best Of Everything (2019).
Over the past few months, several Wildflowers & All The Rest songs and videos have been released: Petty's home demos of "Wildflowers," "You Don’t Know How It Feels" and "There Goes Angela (Dream Away)," which was unearthed after Petty’s death. "We didn't find that when Tom was around," says Ulyate. "We found about half the demos with Tom and he approved them and liked them and then after he passed, we really scoured the bottom of the vault to try to find everything. That’s when we found more demos."
"Confusion Wheel," the first official single from All The Rest, epitomizes Petty’s tormented and highly confessional Wildflowers-era songwriting. Petty sings, "So much confusion has torn me apart/ So much confusion has made me afraid/ That I don’t know how to love/ I don’t know how to trust/ And I don’t know why that is." Yet Petty hasn’t lost all hope for a fresh start as he sings, "One of these days, we'll drive away/ Drive away singing a brand new song/ We'll wake up singing a brand new song."
Mindful that the material was close to her father’s heart, Adria is also highly cognizant of its significance to the Wildflowers narrative. Speaking to GRAMMY.com over the phone, she says, "If the 'Wizard Of Oz' had another reel or if 'Let It Be' had another album you’d be like, ‘Woah! To me, that’s what Wildflowers & All The Rest is, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get it right because it’s a little gem in the archive."
"Everybody involved is trying to honor and use their sixth sense as to what it is he would like, to carry on the legacy as he would have if he were still here," says Ulyate, who worked closely with Petty for more than 10 years. He misses Petty terribly but notes that being immersed in his music has helped his grief somewhat. "I don’t think any of us will ever get over the loss but, in a way, working on the music has made it easier because he’s still here and he’s still coming out of my speakers. Finding this stuff and putting it out feels like we’re all doing our job in honoring him and his legacy. In that way, we’re doing the right thing and doing justice to his legacy so we’re keeping him around in a way and that part of it makes me feel good."
Exploring Petty’s archives was tough for Campbell, however, whose history with Petty dates back 50 years. "It was a bittersweet experience going through the stuff and not having Tom there to do it with us," he says. "Going over the songs brought up a lot of joy and grief as well. He really wanted this stuff out though, so we worked very hard on it and took the best stuff of what was laying around. It was as if he was sitting there with us and we made decisions based on that.
Some of the tracks I’d almost completely forgotten about until I heard them and it was nice to hear this good music that we could share with the audience. At the same time, I’m still grieving and it was kind of hard to sit there and hear Tom’s voice in the speakers and him not be there. Sometimes I would just have to leave the room for a while, but we got it done."
Adria says when her father died, "It was such an eternal primal scream of disbelief to have him die on us so suddenly." She says it felt like a universal loss and that while the world mourned along with her family, they also gave Petty’s heirs a lot of support. As to her grief, three years later, she says, "I feel like I’m turning a corner with it, and as time goes on, I feel like parts will get easier. But no one ever gets over the death of their parent." At times, however, her grief is overwhelming. "There are times when you just don’t want to hear those songs...when they come on in the grocery store and you’re like, ‘That’s a lot.'"
She says, however, that listening to Wildflowers is uplifting. "There’s a lot of joy in listening to this particular era of the music for me. It touches my soul. It touches my heart and makes me feel good. It’s not the kind of stuff that makes you really think necessarily about the live shows or the hit-run of Dad’s catalog but it’s a little bit more of a pure experience." As of late, Adria says she’s been getting lost in her dad's lyrics and the purposeful manner in which he chose each word, constantly editing himself, as reflected on studio notes, legal pads and notebooks where he constantly scratched out and replaced lyrics.
Rick Rubin and Tom Petty
Photo by Robert Sebree
Renowned for his anthemic songs, witty lyrics and compassion for underdogs, along with his uncanny skill for conveying profound wisdom and emotional depth using plain and concise language, part of Petty’s artistic genius was how deceptively simple he made his thoroughly relatable yet equally epic songwriting seem. In truth, he was a blue-jeaned, tirelessly working poet, inducted into the Rock and Roll Of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
While the more comprehensive editions of Wildflowers & All The Rest are a treat for fans, they also serve as a masterclass in songwriting as you hear the evolution of Petty’s songs. Some demos were reworked before being recorded in the studio. For example, before he changed the chorus for the completed studio version of "Crawling Back To You," on the demo Petty sang "coming back to you" and "running back to you." Other demos were set aside entirely, with portions of their lyrics transplanted into other songs. "There’s a Break in the Rain" is a beautiful and heartfelt demo that Petty never developed further. Instead, he used its lyrics "in a memory of a dream," in "You Don’t Know How It Feels," the first song recorded for Wildflowers. Years later, he recycled its chorus in "Have Love Will Travel" on The Last DJ (2002).
"He really cared about writing good songs and performing them well," says Ulyate. "He always wanted to keep getting better and better and refining his craft. He was more into that than being a famous guy," says Ulyate who says Petty’s meticulousness was all-encompassing. "He was into every facet of songwriting. The song had to be good, the first line had to grab you and the song had to have good construction, and he was into production, and how the songs were arranged in the context of an album was important. He wanted to make sure he was telling a story."
Petty would continue to scrutinize and change songs even after they were recorded. "I’d go into mastering and say, ‘OK, we’re going to master the album and finish it up’ and he’d call me two days before and say, ‘I have a better line for the third verse,'" says Ulyate. "Luckily, we had a set-up that made it easy for me to drop in a line at his studio and we’d listen back and I’d say, ‘Man, I’m so glad you called me. That was so much better.’ He was always thinking of ways of improving stuff."
Ulyate partially attributes Petty’s songwriting prowess to his "encyclopedic knowledge" of music. "If you want to be a good songwriter, you have to be a good song listener," he says. "Tom Petty was probably the best song listener of anyone I knew." Petty’s extensive and colorful musical palette ranged from the most obscure music Petty could find to the blues to his heroes Bob Dylan, the Byrds, The Beatles, Beach Boys and Elvis Presley.
He laughs incredulously when recalling Petty’s meeting with director Thom Zimny who, at the time, was making the documentary, Elvis Presley: The Searcher. "Thom Zimny asked a couple of questions about Elvis and Tom Petty went into this thing where, basically, for the next 45 minutes he just schooled the guy about Elvis! He knew more about him and I was like, ‘How do you know this much about Elvis?!'"
"Even if you never shook his hand, you knew him, and it will always feel like we lost a friend, not just the standard-bearer for great songwriting." —Cameron Crowe on losing Tom Petty
In fact, when Petty was 11 years old, growing up in his native Gainesville, Florida, he was taken to meet Presley by his uncle who was working on the set of a Presley film shooting nearby in Ocala, Fl. Petty relays the Presley anecdote in Oscar-nominated director, screenwriter and author Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream (2007). "Elvis appeared like, you know, a vision. He didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen and I’m just dumbstruck...I went home a changed man," Petty said at the time. "When I hit the street the next day, I was trying to find some Elvis Presley records. The music just hypnotized me and I played these records to the point my parents began to worry that something was wrong with me."
Speaking over the phone, Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Mask) says though he and Petty were both proud of the documentary, which won a GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video in 2009, ("I was thrilled. What director gets a GRAMMY?"), it's forever "tinged with sadness" due to Petty’s untimely death. He says when Petty had a three-week window between tour dates in 2017, the pair discussed adding material to Runnin’ Down A Dream. "We talked about maybe adding 10 to 15 minutes to it to include the last 10 years to bring it up to date. We had a nice talk about it and he was keen on the idea but it didn’t work out because he died."
Bogdanovich says he last spoke to Petty after he attended his penultimate concert at The Hollywood Bowl three years ago, and called Petty to rave about his performance. "It’s tragic. I miss him dearly. I just loved the guy," he says. "He was a real artist who cared about the art, singing terrific songs that he put his heart and soul into. It was everything to him. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the work."
Petty’s dedication to his fans matched his commitment to his art. During the 40th anniversary tour, Atkins expressed concern to Petty about carrying a heavy guitar every night while suffering from a cracked hip that needed surgery. He says he suggested the idea of stopping the tour to get better and touring the following year instead. Petty said, "I don’t want to stop the tour because people book their holidays around coming to see me and it’s important in people’s lives and I don’t want to let them down."
Dating back to 1981, Petty famously fought his record label MCA who wanted to add a dollar to the price of his record Hard Promises. He withheld the album until MCA relented and didn’t raise the price. Petty describes his fan-philosophy in director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s 1983 MTV hour-long documentary Heartbreakers Beach Party, which was Crowe’s first directing credit. Facing the camera directly, Petty says, "At the risk of sounding corny, you have to thank the fans. I’m still very reverent about that. I will stop and sign the thing because it’s that important. I think that if you lose that, if you get where they’re just them, then it’s all gone."
"Tom always carried himself as a fan," Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) tells GRAMMY.com over the phone. "First and foremost, I think, he was somebody who never forgot his music-loving roots in Florida and remained an avid music lover and collector his entire life."
Crowe says Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were one of his favorite artists to write about when he was a Rolling Stone journalist and that it was "a dream come true" for which he’ll forever be honored that Heartbreakers Beach Party was his directorial debut. As a matter of fact, but for Petty (and executive producer Danny Bramson), it would have taken Crowe much longer to have become a director, if it even happened at all. "We were on the way to the video shoot for 'You Got Lucky' and he said, 'Pick up a camera and I’ll play you a song.' I said I wasn’t a director. He said, 'Just film me.' So I did. He played the novelty song ‘I’m Stupid’ and when it was done, he said, 'Guess what. Now you’re a director.' Can’t think of a better person to convince to jump in the deep end and start a new career."
He says Petty contributed music generously to Crowe’s film soundtracks over the years, including an exclusive mix of "It’ll All Work Out" for Elizabethtown. He also gave Crowe an opening quote to use in the first trailer for his TV show "Roadies."
"He was as down to earth as down to earth gets," says Crowe. "Even if you never shook his hand, you knew him, and it will always feel like we lost a friend, not just the standard-bearer for great songwriting, and a band that can pivot in any direction to deliver his songs."
In honor of their father’s unique relationship with his fans, both Adria and Annakim switched their private social media settings to public when Petty died. "His fans really came first for him in his career," says Adria. "That’s a lot of our job and our responsibility, to say, ‘We are here to still treat you well and to make things affordable and to give you access to all sorts of cool stuff he left behind.’”
Earlier this month, on the third anniversary of Petty's death, Adria posted a home video shot at Petty’s home studio at the family’s last Christmas together. Petty's strumming an acoustic guitar and singing "Crawling Back To You (one of Petty’s personal favorites) while Cammie, one of Adria’s and Annakim's younger cousins, plays the piano. In the caption, Adria writes that as soon as Petty heard Cammie playing the song, he took everyone into his studio to sing along and encourage her. The caption ends with, "I miss you too much every day, dad." On that same day, Annakim posted a selfie, captioned, "This was me a month after my dad died I feel greatful [sic] to feel alive again."
Hundreds of Petty fans responded to the sisters’ posts. "His music has made many of us feel alive," wrote one fan while another wrote, "I've loved your dad's music since I was 10 yrs old. I'm 52 now. Was lucky to see him in concert about 19 times. Always the best and most memorable shows. Crying now...still hurts so much."
As to the possibility of a future Wildflowers & All The Rest tour, Campbell, who toured with Fleetwood Mac for a year and a half and has since been focused on his band The Dirty Knobs, becomes emotional at the thought of moving forward without Petty. "I’ll tell you how I feel about it," he says. "I don’t know how many stages of grief there are but I’m still in probably stage four or whatever it is. I don’t ‘feel emotionally comfortable with having all the Heartbreakers in a room and going ‘one, two, three, four’ and playing without Tom there. It’s a little too painful, but I’m not opposed to the idea only because this was something Tom really wanted to do. I would remain open to the idea when our grief settles to do what he would have wanted, and maybe get the band back together with some singers and learn the songs and do that Wildflowers tour in his honor."
After a pause, Campbell says, "I need more time. It’s such a huge loss. He was my best friend for 50 years. I’ll probably never get over it completely and I am doing well but for something that close to Tom’s energy and soul, I need to be a little stronger to take that on."
In the meantime, Adria says she's currently in discussions with a director about a Wildflowers documentary, and that there will definitely be more Tom Petty music to come. "We have a big beautiful archive,” she says, “We’re just going to take our time with it and work on this one for the time being and then sit down and think about what should happen next."