S1E3 Hometown Blues

               
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Breakdown
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Detail

Length: 10:52 - Release Date: September 1, 2021

Hey friends, we're now fully up and running and getting into the songs! First up is the lead track from the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Rockin' Around (With You).

Go listen to the song, then come back and listen to the episode.

"The first few times I heard this song, it was never really one of my favourites, but sitting down and really digging into it has definitely given me a better appreciation for it! There’s some neat stuff in there when you pay attention."

 

Transcript

(* Note - the transcript is as-written before recording. I usually change a few sentences or words here and there on the hoof as I'm speaking.)

Hello, hello, hello and welcome to the Tom Petty Project Podcast! Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, as required. I hope everyone is staying safe and I wanted to give a quick shout out to anyone listening down in Louisiana who may be affected by Hurricane Ida and the devastation it’s causing down there, especially to the power grid. I hope you’re all back to something approaching normal sooner rather than later. 

In today’s episode I’m talking about track three from the debut Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album; Hometown Blues. As always, if you haven’t done so already, go to the official Tom Petty youtube channel and go listen to the song. To make it easier, I’ll start putting links to any songs I’m talking about or recommended listening in the episode notes, so that you can access the song from the episode. Once you’ve listened to it, and it’s a short little tune, come back and we can settle down to chat about it. Oh, back already! Excellent, then let’s dig into it.

Hometown Blues started life as one of the songs intended for a Mudcrutch release and features Mudcrutch members Charlie Souza on sax and Randall Marsh on drums. The song had been written and recorded while Tom was house sitting for Leon Russell in his Encino mansion, which had a recording studio in the building. Tom had negotiated that the band would be able to use the studio while he was house sitting and Hometown Blues was the track that came out of those sessions. 

Denny Cordell would subject the Heartbreakers to hours of listening sessions - where he’d play the band different songs by classic artists and point out things they were doing; accenting certain phrases or ways of playing different passages. He also wanted them to listen to great rhythm sections like Duck Dunn and Al Jackson (Booker T and the MGs) and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of The Stones. One night while working at Sound City Studios, Denny Cordell played the track for Donald Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper, who were both members of the MGs and the legendary Stax Records house band. That band recorded hundreds of records throughout the sixties, working with artists like Otis Redding and Albert King. Tom is quoted in Conversations with Tom Petty as saying, “They loved the track. So Duck sat down and got his bass out to do the bass part and Cropper kind of guided him through it with these weird code things like Turn! Walk!” The encounter saw Petty and Dunn become firm friends. Tom would have Duck play on You Tell Me from Damn the Torpedoes and on Stop Draggin’ My Heart around, for Stevie Nicks.

Hometown Blues is the shortest track on the record, coming in at a tight two minutes and fourteen seconds. The song feels like an homage to early influences and is a really swinging old time rock n roll song. You could almost imagine it being played in a barn someplace in middle America with haybales strewn about the place and oil lamps lighting the night. It has that really rustic, old-school feel to it which kinda sets it, along with maybe Mystery Man, apart from most of the rest of the record, which has far more edge and attack. Marsh and Dunn’s rhythm section is strikingly different to the Lynch/Blair combo and it would be somewhat difficult to imagine the song working as it does with latter two laying down the beat. The bass in the intro is really simple, but super cool, playing a straight octave-separated A with a little slide up to the higher note, which just gives it so much character. The swing comes entirely from that bass line (and eventually the guitar) as the drum part is a really straight, steady pattern that provides a clean palate for the bass and then the guitars to move around over top of. The drums are so stripped down, there aren’t even any hi-hats on there. The snare is complemented by hand claps to give it even more of a sixties feel. Mike Campbell puts down a really cool guitar groove and as always the tone is immaculate and fits the part perfectly. This is another motif that will run through this podcast I think; Mike Campbell’s wizardry in finding exactly the right sound for every part of every song.

Those uncomplicated Charlie Souza sax stabs give the verses just a little bit of punch and are understated in the chorus, just adding that bit of texture, especially to the minor chord. I could imagine a full horn section being super cool in this song and I’d love to hear someone like Joe Bonamassa tackle it with his full band and just rock the hell out of it.

I love the vocal performance on this one too and it feels like Tom is just having fun, after the frenetic energy of Rockin’ Around with You and the intensity of Breakdown. He still cracks into that snarled delivery a few times but it never feels dangerous or strained. The harmonies are really low in the mix, butI’m fairly certain that it’s Tom singing those parts too as they definitely don’t sound like Stan Lynch and I don’t think anyone else in the band was really singing backing vocals on those early tracks. Like the rest of the song, the harmonies are kept fairly spare and are only used on a few lines in the chorus and then into the bridge. The Bridge has a really familiar rock n roll feel to it and even the lyrics have that nostalgic 60’s vibe “Baby, save me, save me, save me with your sweet smile”. Coming out of the bridge, a lot of drummers would have added a fill, but sticking to the simple, driving beat, Randall Marsh avoids falling into the trap of getting too fancy and lets the harmony drive us back into the last verse.  Lyrically, the song is very simple and is about taking your chances when they come along, whether that’s the girlfriend in the first verse taking a shot at stardom, or the girls taking their chance at being a someone in their hometown in the last verse. They’re all just “Tryin to make the best of the Hometown Blues”. I never really had that small-town-gotta-get-out angst when I was growing up, but I also did leave home at 16 to join the army, so maybe if I’d stuck around and got a job in a factory, I’d feel that sense of longing for something better. I really like first line in the chorus of this one too, “Don’t really matter if she don’t or if she do”. It’s a neat little inversion of typical will-she/won’t-she or do-or-don’t that I like in that it puts the negative proposition before the positive and when it’s coupled with that vernacular phrasing “she do” it makes it a really fun, bouncy, line to sing. 

Time for some Petty Trivia.

How did everyone do with last week’s quiz question? I asked you which 27 year old pop diva The Heartbreakers followed at Live Aid, in 1985? It was of course the queen of pop herself, Madonna. That four -song set was arguably the strongest that any artist performed in Philadelphia that day. American Girl, The Waiting, Rebels, and Refugee. 

So, today’s trivia question is one for the hardcore fans! If you were at any of the early tour shows, you should have a good shot at remembering this, or if you’re just a big old Petty nerd, you may just know this! Which song was the opening number for the Damn the Torpedoes tour in 1979/1980? 

This is another track that seems to have been very rarely played live, which again surprises me somewhat as I could imagine a crowd really bouncing to this one and singing their hearts out. Of course, especially in later years, with the catalogue Tom had, what song would you dropp to make room for this one!? At 2 minutes fourteen, it’s the second shortest Tom Petty album track, if you don’t include the couple of interstitial instrumentals from She’s the One. It gets in, rocks, then gets out again. Quick, fun, and upbeat.

It’s one of those songs that I wouldn’t necessarily throw at people to turn them onto Tom Petty, but it’s one of the ones I always look forward to when I’m listening to the first album. It has a sort of innocent charm to it that I find really appealing. As I say, I think that if the song had been given a little more production, like a fuller horn section or something, I think it could have been even bigger and more fun and I’d love to have heard a live jam version of it. As a score, I’m going to give Hometown Blues a solid 6 out of 10. It’s a fun, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin romp that lifts the album back up again coming off the back of Breakdown. I really enjoy it and it’s a great song to sing along to in the shower!

Well that’s a wrap for episode three folks. Don’t forget to go back and listen to the song again and listen out for that super groovy Duck Dunn bass lone. Next week’s episode will cover fan favourite, The Wilde One, Forever. 

Thanks again for hanging out with me folks. Go back and listen to Hometown Blues and maybe check out one or two of the live performances. I did find an interesting live cover of the song by a young girl named Isabella Rosa, that was a part of the November 19, 2017 WhyHunger benefit concert that was dedicated to Tom Petty. She sings it basically solo acoustic and with a more bluesy feel but she has a good voice and does a solid job with it. I’ll add that into the episode notes too! If anyone knows of any bootleg live performances of this song, I’d be really keen to hear them, so let me know in the comments if something like that exists.

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Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Today’s trivia question is one for the hardcore fans! If you were at any of the early tour shows, you should have a good shot at remembering this, or if you’re just a big old Petty nerd, you may just know this! Which song was the opening number for the Damn the Torpedoes tour in 1979/1980? 

ANSWER:  The answer is, Shadow of a Doubt (A complex kid), which was a staple until 1981 and revived in 2002 for The Last DJ tour.

Lyrics

Baby, can't wait, baby, gotta go
Got do a number on the late night show
Do a little song, do a little dance
Gonna make the best of her big chance

Don't really matter
If she don't or if she do
Just tryin' to make the best of
The hometown blues, blues

I got a friend, got a little girl
Said she's the best thing in the whole wide world
Said it so good, said it's unreal
It might not last but it's no big deal

Don't really matter
If she don't or if she do
Just tryin' to make the best of
The hometown blues, blues

Baby, save me, save me, save me
With your sweet smile
Honey, I really need your love
To help me kill a little bit of time

All of the girls run with the crowd
They go wild when the lights go down
They got a little money, live in a dream
Wanna be the queen of their little scene

Don't really matter
If she don't or if she do
Just tryin' to make the best of
The hometown blues, blues, blues, blues

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