Friday was officially Tom Petty Day in the City of Austin, as declared by formal proclamation from the mayor’s office in acknowledgment of what would have been the 67th birthday of the legendary rocker who died Oct. 1. Austin had seen its share of Tom Petty tributes over the last couple of weeks, especially at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but Friday brought a fresh wave of salutes to his music.
Local station Sun Radio led the way, airing 24 hours of Petty’s music, from well-known classics to obscure outtakes and live tracks plus quite a few Petty covers by a wide variety of artists. The capper was a 7 p.m. broadcast of Petty’s 2006 ACL Fest headlining set, in its entirety.
Around the time that broadcast was winding down, live tribute shows in two Austin clubs were gearing up. At One-2-One Bar, the Damn Torpedoes, an Austin band that has been playing Petty’s songs for years, held forth with special guest Patricia Vonne. We headed over to Hole in the Wall, where Petty Thieves, who formed around a year ago, were holding forth with a half-dozen guest singers sitting in. Check out the video above for a dozen highlights from two-plus hours of Petty classics.
As fate would have it, we began our Tom Petty Day on the phone with Chris Hillman, the Byrds co-founder and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer whose new album “Bidin’ My Time” was the last record Petty ever produced. Hillman will perform Nov. 10 at the Texas Union Theater with his longtime cohorts Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson. We’ll have more of that interview in the American-Statesman soon, but here’s a brief excerpt:
“Tom was a good producer, and a good man. I’ve known him sort of since 1978, but I really got to know him in the first couple months of this year” (while making the record). “It was hard to look at Tom Petty as a rock star. He was so humble; I never saw that in him. And I have very little tolerance for that rock star thing. They did this article in Mojo magazine, and they interviewed Tom, and he said, about me, ‘You know, Chris, he’s just a consummate musician, I don’t think he ever liked show business; he didn’t really want to be around it.’ And I looked at that, and I said, he’s absolutely right. That’s right, I just never cared much about that. And I don’t think he did either. He was totally into the music.”
Fastball’s Miles Zuniga, who closed out Friday’s Hole in the Wall show just past midnight with Petty’s heartfelt ballad “The Best of Everything,” echoed those sentiments as he noted how personal Petty’s death seems to have been. As hard as fans may have taken last year’s deaths of Prince and David Bowie, it was different with Petty precisely because he always seemed so approachable and un-godlike.
“You couldn’t be Prince. You couldnt’ be Bowie,” Zuniga summed up. “But you could be Petty.”