S6E1 Rebels

Long After Dark (with John Paulsen)« PREVIOUS EPISODE   It Ain't Nothin' To MeNEXT EPISODE »


Length: 25:05 - Release Date: November 30, 2022

"I suspect that it’s the last verse that is appropriated by Confederate sympathizers and used out of context of the rest of the song. The last three lines of this verse though are sheer poetry of the very highest calibre. “I can still feel the eyes of those blue-bellied devil. Yeah when I’m walking ‘round at night through the concrete and metal” And all over the world, there are parochial attitudes like this that like to churn up simmering resentment and use it justify all manner of behaviours."

Check out the song here: https://youtu.be/3jBi8XfKzk0

Here's the alternate version, from the "An American Treasure" compilation; https://youtu.be/uh8xy58dOV4

I talked about a live version fro 2014 and you can find that here; https://youtu.be/AmmZ0MQ5I78

And lastly, if you want to hear Tom and Mike Campbell play with JJ Cale, you really should check this out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xp5cqDRDM8


(* 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.)

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, my fine friends. Welcome to the first episode of a brand new season of the Tom Petty Project Podcast! I am your host, Kevin Brown. This is the podcast that digs into the entire Tom Petty catalog song by song, album by album and includes conversations with musicians, fans, and people connected with Tom along the way. Hard to believe that I’ve covered five full albums already. It feels like only yesterday I was trying to figure out how the format should work, how the heck I was going to find people who would want to listen to it, and whether anyone would care if they did. So I did just want to give a big shout out to a few people who have been incredibly supportive of the show and of what I’m trying to do. First off, the wonderful Pete Nestor, who connected with me really early on before I’d actually released an episode even I think, on the Tom Petty Nation Facebook group. Pete also hosts a fantastic podcast of his own, called Honest and Unmerciful, a record review podcast. It’s a never-miss show for me so I hope you check it out. Another massive thanks to Gwen Jones, who created the Tom Petty Fans Forever Facebook page and runs one of the friendliest corners of the internet that you’ll find. Gwen also features prominently in this episode and I think you’ll enjoy the reason why. Thanks also to Dallas Hellicker for reaching out to me within the first four or five episode I think, to ask about being a guest on the show. He’s a class act and was a brilliant first guest. HUGE thanks to Jon Scott and Paul Zollo, whose books really help to reveal who Tom was as a musician as well as a human being. To the mercurial and infinitely talented duo of Jake Thistle and Jeff Slate for not only joining me as guests but also for flying the flag by playing Tom’s music live whenever they can. Thanks also to listeners Bob Reidy, the Springsteen die hard, Historian and educator Mary Beth Donnelly, the supremely wonderful Janet Lovell, whose passion for Tom’s music spans the decades, and to Paul Roberts for being there basically being there from the start and introducing me to Dog on the Run, which I’d never heard. Thanks also to Pam McMonigal, Cheryl Blacquire, Carol Rosenberg Shapiro, and fittingly for this episode, @umrami, who’s Twitter name is “Born a Rebel”. Thanks to Lisa Kelly Pennington for always trying to guess my ratings and for being almost always in tune with what I’m thinking! And last but not least, to my fantastic co-host John Paulsen, who joins me once a season to wrap up the album I’ve been covering. His passion for Tom’s music is infectious and he is the undisputed king of Heartbreakers playlists! I’ve probably missed a bunch of people I really ought to thank, so I’ll go back onto the interwebs and make sure I shout you out in the episodes to follow. Anyway, I just wanted to say a few thanks because this project has been one of the most incredibly positive things in my life over the last twelve plus months and it’s mainly in part to the relationships I’ve forged over the love of Tom’s music.

Alright, today’s episode kicks off the schizophrenic Southern Accents as we listen to the epic opener, Rebels. If you’re new to the podcast, I don’t actually play the song in the episode itself out of respect to Tom’s estate and because copyright is a legal minefield to tread through. I’ve left a link in the episode notes so that you can go listen to the track before we start and once you’ve refreshed your memory, we can get started!   

The danger of writing a concept album about The American  South, is that it could be really easily misinterpreted. In my conversation with Megan Volpert, she talked about how people got completely the wrong end of the stick about the lyrics in You Got Lucky and how they’re not a misogynistic tirade, but a parody of that particular failure of character. Rebels falls even more squarely into this bracket, with Tom telling the tale of a guy down on his luck and fighting a losing battle against his own demons. This guy’s inner narrative is that it isn’t his fault, because he’s only a product of his Southern heritage. 

Rebels is also a recording that Tom was never completely happy with. In Conversations with Tom Petty, he tells Paul Zollo "It’s another one that Bugs won’t listen to”. He’s talking of course about Bugs Weidel, who was the Heartbreakers roadie and Tom’s driver and confidante for four decades. When Paul asks why, Tom explains “Because we worked on it for a year. I was never happy with it.” He goes on to say that “I have a demo that’s much better than the record.And I think we were taking cocaine. It was one of the only times in the studio that we were on drugs… and I think it affected my judgment”. 

This may be another example of Tom having exceptionally high standards. Yes, the live versions of Rebels are almost always better than the studio recording and I always prefer the more stripped down and immediate urgency of the alternate take on American Treasure, but the version of this song on Southern Accents always gives me goosebumps as soon as the chorus kicks in! That big switch the minor key works in any arrangement. Tom felt that his vocal wasn’t the best he could do on the record, but holy cow, that’s a perfectionist taking his craft to the extreme because he still wrings every ounce of emotion out of that lyric to my ear.

The other thing of course that we have to talk about when we talk about this song is Tom almost ending his career as a guitarist in a fit of rage. As has been recounted several times, Tom was recording the album initially at his house and there was a big party scene developing and he couldn’t get the songs to where they needed to be, so he called Jimmy Iovine to help. The first thing the producer did was to haul Tom out of the house and into Village Recorder. After adding horns and mixing and re-mixing and changing production, Tom listened back to his demo and felt it was so much better than anything they’d recorded that he punched the wall out of sheer frustration and shattered his hand. Tom tells Paul Zollo that at the hospital people said “He’s broken his hand and he’ll never play again. And I didn’t buy that. I thought, I will play again” After eight months of therapy including electro shock therapy, Tom was ready to return to Southern Accents, clean, re-focused and ready to finish the project.

I want to start this one off by talking about the lyrics, which is something I usually do at the end of the episode. But this whole song hangs on that lead into the first line of the chorus. When Tom sings “HEY HEY HEY!” as the minor chord hits, it’s an emotional scream of desperation that cuts right down to your primitive human instinct.  But let’s back up a little. Tom Petty is fairly widely recognized as having a gift for writing a killer opening line. “She was an American Girl. Raised on Promises.”, “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks”, “Let me run with you tonight, I’ll take you on a moonlight ride.” and on and on. But those two opening lines of Rebels, for me, are possibly the strongest he ever wrote. The set up the entire premise of the mini-play that is about to unfold in front of us. The first verse really gives us a portrait of a despondent, broken man who has trouble connecting with the world around him. He’s a slightly pathetic figure who’s pleading with his partner and assuring her that she’ll feel differently in the light of a new sun. But there’s also vulnerability there and something that makes you feel a little empathy for him, “maybe a little rough around the edges Or inside, a little hollow”. That’s someone struggling with the identity and self-belief.  But the chorus then shows that he also has a cowardly inability or unwillingness to face up to his own failings as he blames his upbringing for how he’s emotionally built. The second verse is much more specifically narrative. His partner bails him out, possibly literally, and then kicks him out of the vehicle. “Then she screamed in the car, left me out in the thicket.” So this is clearly not an isolated incident, but it doesn’t stop the petulant childishness of the next line “Well I never woulda dreamed that her heart was so wicked”. Again, everyone else’s fault but mine. Always looking for someone else to blame - so, back to the chorus and that DNA that’s holding him back.

The third verse then really expounds on where this paranoid reluctance to accept responsibility comes from and contains some sensational imagery. “Even before my father’s father, they called us all rebels”. Yet again a brilliant lyrical choice. He could easily have gone with “grandaddy” or “grandfather”, but “father’s father” has an almost biblical sense of destiny in its implication. And “they called US ALL rebels”, so here he’s finding solace within this group he feels connected to. Us against them. Not our fault. They’re against us. “As they burned our cornfields and left our cities leveled”, which Tom points out is accurate and again so easily visualized in the mind’s eye. I suspect that it’s this verse that is appropriated by Confederate sympathizers and used out of context of the rest of the song. The last three lines of this verse though are sheer poetry of the very highest calibre. “I can still feel the eyes of those blue-bellied devil. Yeah when I’m walking ‘round at night through the concrete and metal” And all over the world, there are parochial attitudes like this that like to churn up simmering resentment and use it justify all manner of behaviours. And of course the chorus. Hey hey (minor key) hey! I was born a (major key) Rebel. Paul Zollo says to Tom “It has some beautiful lines in it” and Tom highlights “one foot in the grave, one foot on the pedal”. Another line that is economical in saying a hell of a lot. In the grave vs on the pedal; mired in the past, but trying to move forward. Blaming history, but living in the modern world. It’s just fabulous.

Well, that’s deeper than I’ve dived on any lyric so far, but I had all those thoughts swirling around in my brain so I thought I’d pour them out into your ears as food for thought. I think that reading Megan Volpert’s book has really made me more conscious of finding deeper meanings in songs like this so I’m curious how long the episodes are going to be when we get to Wildflowers! 

Alright folks, It’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Your question from the end of last season was this; The latest release from the Fillmore 1997 album is a cover of Call Me The Breeze, but which act wrote and originally released the song in 1971? Was it a) Lynyrd Skynyrd, b) Chuck Berry, c) JJ Cale, or d) The Everly Brothers. The Twitter poll yielded 32 votes and the majority of you correctly identified that it’s a JJ Cale song. Of course, it was popularized by Lynyrd Skynyrd and there’s an obvious connection between Tom and Skynyrd, as they played on the same bill numerous times when Tom, Mike, and Benomont were still in Mudcrutch. Mike tells Steve Newton in a 1999 interview that he and the rest of the Mudcrutch boys would share a bill with Skynyrd, with each band headlining in their respective hometowns of Gainesville and Jacksonville and the other opening. Of course, Tom was also a huge fan of JJ Cale and played with him several times (I’ll leave a link to it in the ep notes) but when the Heartbreakers played this song during their Fillmore residency, Tom specifically namechecks Skynyrd in the intro to the song and they play the same basic arrangement but with a blistering piano section from Benmont. 

Your question for this week is this: Three of the following states are the only ones in which the Heartbreakers bever played a live show, but which is the State in which they did play? Is it West Virginia, Alaska, Utah, or Vermont?

OK, back to the song. 

Musically, Rebels is actually quite straightforward in many ways. Certainly that opening  chord progression, Maj 1st, Maj 5th, Min 6th, Maj 4th has been used about a gazillion times in rock and pop songs for decades. But as with every well-worn progression, it’s how you play that counts.  It opens, as so many Iovine era Heartbreakers songs do, with Stan Lynch’s bombastic drums. Then we get that muted guitar for four bars and then Benmont coming in on the organ for four more, before the drums fill into the full band, with Mike also crunching into the mix with his guitar part at the same time and adding that incredible riff. Stan is keeping a great little beat going on the drums. So the snare is on the straight backbeat, on the twos and fours. So if you count out one two three four one two three four, the snare hits on those one TWO three FOUR, while the kick is sitting on and around the ones and threes. In those first eight bars, he’s only hitting that snare on the four, to let the rest of the bar hang really wide open rhythmically. Again, pretty standard stuff for the most part, but it’s about putting all the parts together, and I’ll come to that later. So after a 16 bar intro, we drop back into that muted guitar tone, with no organ, Stan sitting on the fours again on the snare and leaving lots of wide open space for the vocal. On this track, it’s actually Mike Campbell playing bass and I’d love to know why that was. Remember this was only the second album recorded after Howie joined, but he actually only plays bass on four of the nine tracks, as well as providing vocals on seven. The bass is really simple 5th, 1st pattern around the chord progression and I really have the sense that everything about the arrangement of this song was to give as much sonic space as possible to Tom’s incredible vocal performance (and remember, he wasn’t happy with THIS vocal! Are you kidding me?!)

The chord progression in these verses is again super simple. C - Am - C - Am. Those are the imploring lines in that first verse. F - G - F - G, major key and a little more conciliatory or introspective. Then out to F - G  and that ferocious minor key on that tortured scream of “HEY!”

The major key switch back to C on the word Rebel in the chorus then roots us back in this fantasy of oppression that the protagonist has. It’s just so beautifully crafted. As we head into the chorus, we also get those sublime choral harmonies from both Stan and Howie. I’m not sure how many songs both of them sang harmonies on but I’ll do a little digging to see if I can find out. I don’t think that Tom is singing those “Hey Hey Hey!” lines either. I think they’re left to the rhythm section and it’s almost like it’s those Confederate ghosts of the storyteller’s past responding to, or affirming his pleas. Through that C - Am section, Benmont’s organ adds that chill to the minor keys and fills out that treble space before dropping lower, both in volume and octave through the, “One foot in the grave, one foot on the pedal” section before the next time the word “Rebel” comes, it’s now paired with a minor key change. So again, there’s all kinds of emotional gymnastics that Tom is putting us through here to really leave us unsettled and off-guard. The last “I was born a Rebel” though resolves again back to the major key, so it’s almost like we’re seeing this character ripping himself apart between his present reality and the reasons he finds himself in it.

In the second verse, we get a little more organ, to fill out the sound a little. It’s more of a movie soundtrack now as we’re heading into this narrative section, where the first verse was almost that internal monologue that needed a lot more space to breath. The second chorus then plays out much as the first did, with Mike starting to add more guitar fills in, of course finding all the right spaces in between notes to do that. I’ve seriously come to believe that Mike Campbell might be the best guitarist ever in terms of understanding a song and playing exactly what it needs every single time. For over four decades now. His ear is unbelievable. And he’s never really breaking moulds or treading overly new ground, but he’s taking every single thing he’s ever heard and using all of it perfectly in service of the song. Click to 1:54 and listen to the lead guitar. It sounds super simple, but he takes that fill past the gap and into the line “Down in Dixie”, landing on that root minor note. There’s a sonic change on the last minor key Rebel of “born a rebel” in this chorus. Heading out of this chorus we hit the middle eight. Now this is where I’ll differ from my friend Nic Apostoleris, who commented on social media that he loves the horns being mixed much higher on the alternate version. And on this album and the next we’ll likely be talking a bit about horns and I might be in the minority, but I don’t think this song needs them. I would have actually preferred a Mike Campbell guitar solo here. Don’t get me wrong, I like a horn section. I think it suits Springsteen and E-Street band. But to me, it’s never quite gelled with the Heartbreakers. It always feels a little more like an afterthought and something added, rather than something that was always intended to be there. I’ll post a link to a live version from 2014 where it’s stripped right back to its bones and it actually has more impact for me. The horns kinda feel out of place. I know they add a layer of grandeur to the song but for me, it’s just not needed. It’s also a fairly straight bridge and I’m not sure it really moves the song forward significantly. 

Out into this last verse, it’s all about Tom’s vocal delivery again. It’s been superb throughout but the anguish, fury, and resentment in how he delivers the pain and accusation that the character feels is pure theatre. Listen to how he sings “Burned down the corn fields and left our cities levelled”. You can almost see the character shaking with anger. And again we get a super tasty trademark Mike Campbell after the word devils, to just accentuate that line. Then we get a killer melodic choice from Tom. In the line when I’m walking around at night”, listen to the note he chooses for the word night. He’s actually singing that “around at night” in the minor key over top of the major chords. So again it gives that nostalgic line a whole different feel to the way that phrase is delivered in the other verses.

We then hit the chorus again and you’ll hear Tom harmonizing himself before we have the intro lick again leading back into that huge ending, which lasts almost a minute and a half. But Tom has one last little trick up his sleeve before going into the main body of the outro. That progression goes C - G - Am - F, but at the end of this last repetition, it goes to G for two bars before heading into the Hey Hey Hey, which it’s not done at any other point in the song. Just a last little bit of suspense before the cast comes out to sing the refrain to the musical and waits for the curtain. 

Alright folks, that’s all for this week. I mentioned in the intro that my friend Gwen Jones has a connection with this song and it’s something that has always made the song more personal for me since she relayed the story to me. Gwen was my second fan chat on the podcast and I wanted to just include the story as she told it to me here. It’s just under a couple of minutes but it puts this song into context so unbelievably well, that I think you’ll really enjoy it. 


How perfect a real-life story to mirror the type of situation that Tom was writing about, albeit to its excess. We’ll get into the background and intent of the album more in the episode wrap, but I’d say this is the most overt example of the concept Tom was likely building toward. But here, he's not championing manifest destiny or the cause of the Confederacy. He's singing from the viewpoint of a character who blames all his self-induced troubles on his heritage. He's blending imagery with narrative and blurring the lines through the perspective of this hopeless drunk who just doesn't want to be alone and can't get himself righted. It's not a battle cry. “I was born a rebel”. In other words, it’s not my fault, it’s in my genes. Maybe this one gets misinterpreted because of the fact that Tom was trying to write a love letter to the South. And in that, to the people of the South, not necessarily the political history of the South. There’s a culture in the Southern states quite distinct from the issues of slavery and separation and I always think that’s what Tom was tapping into. Whether it’s music, food, or a working-class identity, there’s much more to the Southern states than those “blue bellied devils” will often admit.

For me, Rebels is one of those perfect Tom Petty songs that has all the elements you want to hear from the Heartbreakers. It’s got a great big hook, a different middle eight that takes the band into new sonic territory, with the addition of the horns, and one of Tom’s top tier lyrics. It makes you feel some sympathy for a three-dimensional character who isn’t overly likable in his lack of self-awareness self-centredness yet relatable in his forlorn sense of displacement and lack of identity. I would say that I prefer the intro on the alternate version, where the drums are held from the first eight bars. I do agree with Nic that if you’re gonna use horns, you may as well bring them up in the mix, which this version does in the bridge. I also think the drums have a more interesting, natural sound in this section. So this one is a slam dunk 10/10 as far as I’m concerned. And yes, even though this is one of the few bridges that I find uninspiring, I think the lyrics and the vocal alone would make this track a 10. Add in the brilliant guitar playing and it’s just an iconic Tom Petty song.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Three of the following states are the only ones in which the Heartbreakers bever played a live show, but which is the State in which they did play? Is it West Virginia, Alaska, Utah, or Vermont?

ANSWER: Well, it might not be a huge surprise to learn that Tom and the boys never made it up to Alaska, but it’s surprising that West Virginia wasn’t a stop on a tour of the southern states. You’d also have been pretty confident in thinking that the band would have stopped in Vermont as they did that northeastern swing, but again, you’d be wrong. It was almost as much of a surprise to me that the band did play Utah when it didn’t play a couple of those other states. The Heartbreakers took the Dogs with Wings tour to Salt Lake City on August 10, 1995, and on November 5th 2002, the Last DJ tour made an appearance in  West Valley City.


Honey don't walk out
I'm too drunk to follow
You know you won't
Feel this way tomorrow
Well maybe I'm a little
Rough around the edges
Inside, a little hollow
I get faced with some things sometimes
That are so hard to swallow

Hey, hey, hey
I was born a rebel
Down in Dixie on a Sunday morning
Yeah, with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel

Well she picked me up in the morning
And she paid all my tickets
Yeah, she screamed in the car
And threw me out in the thicket
Well I never would have dreamed
That her heart was so wicked
Oh, but I keep coming back
'Cause it's so hard to kick it

Hey, hey, hey
I was born a rebel
Down in Dixie on a Sunday morning
Yeah, with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel

Even before my father's fathers
They called us all rebels
Burned our cornfields
And left our cities leveled
I can still see the eyes
Of those blue-bellied devils
When I'm walking 'round tonight
Through the concrete and metal

Hey, hey, hey
I was born a rebel
Down in Dixie on a Sunday morning
Yeah, with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel