by Julian Spivey
I’ve got The Best of Glen Campbell spinning on the record player playing softly while trying to think of the right words to say to tell another music legend goodbye – something that’s always hard to do, no matter how many times I’ve had to do it over the last few years.
And, the first thing that occurs to me is: Has there ever been such a smooth vocalist in country music history? This has to be the reason why Glen Campbell was such a crossover hit in the ‘60s with songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” the latter two becoming top five hits on the pop chart in addition to topping the country chart. In the ‘70s, Campbell would do something that’s incredibly rare for a country musician and top both the country and Billboard Hot 100 pop charts with “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975) and “Southern Nights” (1977).
A partnership and friendship struck up between Campbell and songwriter Jimmy Webb in the ’60s resulted in the trilogy of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (1967), “Wichita Lineman” (1968) and “Galveston” (1969), all becoming among the greatest ballads ever released in the genre of country music. I defy anyone to find a better singer-writer duo than Campbell and Webb. These songs have basically become part of the Great American Songbook.
Webb said of Campbell after his passing on Tuesday, August 8: “Just thinking back I believe suddenly that the “raison d’etre” for every Glen Campbell show was to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get ’em there. What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!”
It's almost unbelievable to think that potentially the smoothest vocalist in the extraordinary history of country music was known more for his guitar work – he’s considered along with artists like Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson and Jerry Reed as one of the best. He became a much sought-after session guitar player for such legends as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys working with the legendary Wrecking Crew. One of these albums Campbell played guitar on was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966), which multiple publications have called the greatest album of all-time.
I had the great pleasure of seeing Campbell perform in person in December of 2010 at the Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. where I attended college. Campbell being a native of Delight, Ark. used the performance as somewhat of a family reunion having multiple siblings and children perform on stage with him. He was in great spirits and it made for a fantastic show and a lifetime memory. I got to see the legend himself perform “Galveston,” my personal favorite” and “Wichita Lineman.” There were instances throughout the show were Campbell had trouble remembering some of his lyrics and I now realize this was because of Alzheimer’s disease taking over. Campbell would announce about six months after I saw him that he had been diagnosed right around the time I saw him perform. I believe that concert at Reynolds may have been the last time he ever performed in his home state. You can read my review of that great show: HERE
Campbell was always a music legend, but his struggle with Alzheimer’s being filmed in documentary form and shown to the whole world really made him heroic in that it gave those of us who have never experienced a love one with such a horrifying disease understand the pain of it. “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” was truly a moving film and garnered Campbell an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for the tragic “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which he co-wrote. The song would also win Campbell his 10th career Grammy Award when it took home Best Country Song in 2014.
We have known for years that Campbell’s days on Earth were coming toward an end and it’s one of those moments where you obviously feel sad, almost selfishly so, but you realize his suffering is over and he’s better off. He left us with so many truly incredible songs and performances that we’re never going to forget. To borrow a line from one of his greatest songs his music is something we need more than want and we’ll want it for all time.
Ed. Note: This review was originally published in December 2010
by Julian Spivey
Glen Campbell (and seemingly everybody who’s related to Glen Campbell) put on a fantastic show at the Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Sunday (Dec. 12).
Campbell, one of the finest vocalists in the great history of country music, performed all of his biggest hits, played some great guitar licks and entertained the audience with some Christmas tunes.
At times during the show, Campbell had a little trouble remembering all the lyrics to the songs (Editor’s note: we now know it was the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s), but his voice is almost at the level it was back in the ‘60s and his wonderful guitar playing hasn’t lost a step. Campbell is one of the greatest guitar players in country music history, right up there with Willie Nelson, Jerry Reed and Brad Paisley.
Campbell opened his set with his 1967 hit and first big career single “Gentle On My Mind.” Hit after hit followed including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (1967), “Galveston,” a number one hit from 1969 (and personal favorite of mine) and “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.).
Campbell also performed one of his lesser known hits “Where’s the Playground, Susie?” from 1969, as well as “True Grit” the theme song to the 1969 film that Campbell co-starred in with legendary John Wayne.
Campbell filled in his set at Reynolds with many Christmas tunes, including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Silver Bells” among others. His daughter, Debby, also added a Christmas song of her own, singing lead on “Blue Christmas.”
As previously mentioned, Campbell’s concert at Reynolds turned into somewhat of a family reunion. His daughter Debby performed a few songs with Campbell and sang back-up for the rest. She also performed the Fleetwood Mac classic “Landslide” with her half-sister, Ashley, who also sings back-up, plays keyboard, banjo and guitar in Campbell’s band. Ashley also thrilled the crowd with a spot-on cover of KT Tunstall’s 2005 hit “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”
Two of Campbell’s sons, Shannon and Cal, also perform in his band. Shannon plays guitar, while Cal is the group’s drummer.
Campbell was later joined on the Reynolds’ stage by his sister and friends to perform his hit “Try a Little Kindness.” His brothers, Gerald and Shorty, also joined him on stage. Gerald performed a rather nice version of the country standard “Hadacol Boogie.” Shorty performed the Western swinger “Right or Wrong,” which has been recorded by numerous artists like Bob Wills and George Strait. The three brothers then performed Brenda Lee’s “I Want to Be Wanted.”
Campbell finished up his set with three of his biggest hits and number one records: “Southern Nights” (1977), “Wichita Lineman” (1968) and “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975).
Campbell returned to the stage soon after for an encore of the Righteous Brothers’ classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Campbell said that he performed as a studio musician with the Righteous Brothers and that he always loved this song.
by Julian Spivey
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers embarked on a nationwide tour in April that includes over 50 shows in 25 states with the occasional show in Canada and the United Kingdom to celebrate the group’s 40th anniversary. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers will wrap up their tour in late September with three shows at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The group has become one of the most popular classic rock bands in America with 13 studio albums, three Petty solo albums and almost 70 singles.
Tom Petty once told The Telegraph: “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things. It’s been so good to me that I want to be good to it. I want to make music that’s worth making.”
For 40 years Petty has made music worth making and his music has been pure and real. It’s moved and it’s healed. It’s made people scream at the top of their lungs in concert and with the windows rolled down on the highway. It’s made the lives of all of us graced with its presence just a little bit better and that’s something that honestly just can’t be appreciated enough.
Here are the 40 greatest Tom Petty songs of all-time:
40. "Scare Easy"
Before the Heartbreakers was Mudcrutch. And, Mudcrutch could’ve been one of the greatest country-rock bands there ever was. Petty formed the band in the early ‘70s in his hometown of Gainesville, Fla. with Tom Leadon, brother of original Eagles member Bernie Leadon. The band also consisted of guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, both of whom would later join Petty’s Heartbreakers. Mudcrutch broke up in the mid-70s, but reformed in 2008 with a self-titled debut featuring the rootsy “Scare Easy,” kind of an “I Won’t Back Down” with a twangier vibe.
39. "It's Good to Be King"
“It’s Good to Be King,” from Petty’s solo 1994 album Wildflowers, is the 66-year old artist’s go to jam song in concert. It’s a laid-back vibe with Petty dreaming about how he’d run the world if he could be king. It sounds like a blast, but as Petty relents, “Can I help it if I still dream from time-to-time?” “It’s Good to Be King” features one of the best guitar solos in Petty’s discography, likely played by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, and showing some beautiful maturity wraps up with an orchestra of strings conducted by Michael Kaman.
38. "The Apartment Song"
Sometimes you just want something fun and mellow to jam along with and Petty hit that perfectly with “The Apartment Song,” off his first solo release Full Moon Fever in 1989. It sounds like a fun little two-and-a-half-minute pop song, but if you listen to the chorus: “Oh, yeah, I’m alright/I just feel a little lonely tonight/I’m okay, most of the time/I just feel a little lonely tonight” you realize it’s not all that fun, just catchy. Good pop-rock songs can almost trick you into enjoying loneliness with a bouncy groove.
37. "Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid)"
I’ve never heard Tom Petty referred to as a punk rocker, but some of his output from the late ‘70s when he was first hitting the scene comes off that way to me. It’s in the sneering growl he has in his voice when he sings stuff like the chorus: “Yes, she likes to keep me guessing/She’s got me on defense/With that little bit of mystery/She’s a complex kid/And, she’s always been so hard to figure out/Yes, she always likes to leave me with a shadow of a doubt.” I don’t believe this song off 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes would’ve sounded foreign on an Elvis Costello album of the same era.
Tom Petty could’ve been a legend at any specific genre whether rock, pop, country or blues – he’s proven that with a wide variety of songs throughout his illustrious career. “Melinda,” which appears on his The Live Anthology release from 2009, shows Petty’s blues prowess. The song recorded live in August of 2003 in New Orleans about going down to see this mysterious Melinda is one of the great deep cuts never released on any Petty studio album. It turns into an eight-plus minute jam session on the live record featuring terrific piano playing from co-writer (with Petty) Benmont Tench.
35. "Friend of the Devil"
I realize that it’s unusual and probably not the “cool” thing to do to include a cover on such a list, but dammit Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ live cover of the Grateful Dead classic “Friend of the Devil” from The Fillmore in San Francisco (Grateful Dead territory) in 1997, which appears on The Live Anthology, is one of the all-around best covers I’ve ever heard. It’s a typical Dead story/travel song written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and John Dawson and the Heartbreakers get the jam-band, hippie feel down pat. I believe Deadheads everywhere would be pleased.
34. "A Thing About You"
Already on this list I’ve compared Tom Petty’s brand of rock to punk music and country music and said he could’ve done any genre he set his mind to do, and honestly, he has. “A Thing About You,” from the Heartbreakers’ fourth studio album Hard Promises in 1981 is terrific proof of this. Petty’s version is hard-charging, especially in the chorus that can come off punkish with his Southern drawl. Country band Southern Pacific with a little help from the legendary Emmylou Harris took a slowed down, countrified version to the top 20 on the country charts in 1985.
Sticking with the Petty as a country singer theme there’s my favorite Mudcrutch song “Trailer” from 2016 (the most recent song to appear on this list). I was happy to see Petty’s original group Mudcrutch return last year with Mudcrutch 2, eight years after the band’s debut. “Trailer” is a nostalgic country-rocker about falling in love with a girl and giving everything to her, even the titular home, where they spend their years together. Petty evidently had been holding on to this one for a while, as “Trailer” was intended for his 1985 Southern-themed album Southern Accents before failing to make the album.
32. "A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)"
Tom Petty did moodiness very well in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, which really set his rock music apart from some of the other popular acts of the time. The almost noir-ish moodiness of “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” off 1981’s Hard Promises, really comes off in the spoken twangy drawl of the verses about a woman who used to love our narrator and is in love once again – but with someone new. It’s a very cinematic track and one pianist Benmont Tench calls “brilliant.” He told Songfacts: “I like the way the track breathes. There is a lot of space, there are a lot of places where there’s only drums, bass and one guitar playing with a vocal. I like the air in that song. I like the way that the beat picks up a little and then drops down in tempo and picks up for the chorus and then drops back down for the verses. I really like that. I thought it was a brilliant song.”
31. "Listen to Her Heart"
One of Tom Petty’s obvious heroes is the legendary Bob Dylan and the two would become friends as members of the ‘80s supergroup Traveling Wilburys (along with George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne). One thing Petty seems to do as well as Dylan is the kiss-off song. “Listen to Her Heart,” a short, catchy rocker from 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It!, is a song about a man trying to steal the narrator’s woman and how he’s irritated by this, but knows she’ll remain with him. Petty reportedly said during a radio interview that “Listen to Her Heart” was in response to musician/songwriter Ike Turner making advances upon his then wife Jane Benyo.
30. "I Should Have Known It"
Tom Petty and Mike Campbell always loved the sound of bluesy-rock and finally set out to make a blues-rock record in 2010 with Mojo. Petty told Rolling Stone the album wasn’t music for radio or big arenas, but “for the band to play.” Though, having seen the band perform “I Should Have Known It,” the best of Mojo, twice in concert it goes over swimmingly in big arenas. It’s a sound of the Yardbirds era, another influence on the Heartbreakers, and shows the band can still get loud and raw into their fifth decade of performing together.
29. "The Waiting"
“The Waiting,” off Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1981 album Hard Promises, was one of the group’s biggest hits topping the newly-founded Billboard Rock Tracks chart for six weeks and making the top 20 overall on the Billboard Top 100. It’s easy to see how it became one of the group’s biggest hits being a catchy, sing-along type with its chorus. Petty said to Rolling Stone: “It was about waiting for your dreams and not knowing if they will come true. I always felt it was an optimistic song.” He may have also borrowed the title from the famous Janis Joplin quote: “I love being onstage, everything else is just waiting.”
28. "You Got Lucky"
“You Got Lucky” was the first single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1982 release Long After Dark and became a hit in the MTV era with a “real groundbreaker” of a video, according to Petty, that was influenced by the hit 1981 film “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.” Like “The Waiting” the year before, “You Got Lucky,” a perfectly and arrogantly machismo romp about how a woman got lucky when she found the narrator and giving him up would be her mistake, topped the Billboard Rock Tracks chart and went top 20 overall on the singles chart. The song would feature a synthesizer, which Petty would tell an interviewer that Benmont Tench was angry about having to play. The synth would come in handy a few years later …
27. "Don’t Come Around Here No More"
Tom Petty set out to sort of record a concept album about living in the South with 1985’s Southern Accents, but when he also set out to record “a single that sounded like nothing anybody had ever done” he ended up with “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (reportedly taken from a breakup line Stevie Nicks used on Joe Walsh) and the concept kind of went out the window. Petty and the band did accomplish something that sounded completely new with the synth-y, sitar-aided (played by producer and Eurythmics member Dave Stewart) track that became a huge hit with its Alice in Wonderland inspired music video that would become one of the most famous in MTV history.
26. "You Wreck Me"
Tom Petty went solo for his mid-‘90s hit Wildflowers, but the terrific track “You Wreck Me” sounds completely Heartbreakers-ish and rightfully so as it was co-written with Mike Campbell and featured every member of the Heartbreakers, except for drummer Stan Lynch. The drummer on the track was Steve Ferrone, who would soon replace Lynch in the Heartbreakers. The song as Petty has stated sounded like it could’ve come straight out of 1980 for the Heartbreakers, though as Rolling Stone pointed out its “ragged riffs fit with the alt-rock ‘90s too.”
25. "Anything That’s Rock & Roll"
You’ve got to go all the way back to the debut of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and their self-titled album, released at the end of 1976, for “Anything That’s Rock & Roll” (the group’s second single after “Breakdown”). Petty and the Heartbreakers were as American rock as you could be coming from Florida with a Southern twang, but surprisingly made a name for themselves initially on the charts in the United Kingdom with this track (one that was never released in the U.S.) – a quick romp about any kind of rock ‘n’ roll music being just fine by them. We know that the group was inspired by acts like The Byrds, but this track was sort of New Wave-ish and sounded like it could’ve been right at home in the discography of another great American rock band debuting around that time The Cars.
24. "I Need to Know"
Kind of keeping with that New Wave rock sound of the late ‘70s comes 1978’s “I Need to Know,” the lead single off the group’s second album You’re Gonna Get It!. It’s another simple, short rocker (actually the same length as “Anything That’s Rock & Roll”) about the narrator needing to know whether his lover is going to skip town on him. Petty’s vocal intensity on the record with the narrator’s impatience really gives the song a needy drive to it. The group fresh off their first American top 40 single, the re-release of “Breakdown” from their debut album, wanted to get something out hot and succeeded with this one.
23. "Yer So Bad"
“Yer So Bad,” off Petty’s solo effort Full Moon Fever in 1989, is one of the artist’s more fun tunes, even though (especially because?) of its black humor that sees the narrator talking of things such as his “sister’s ex-husband who can’t get no lovin’” and the incredibly catchy chorus. It’s incredibly simple – just two verses and a chorus – but didn’t catch on with fans as well as “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” when released as a single. Still, it’s one of the more fun tunes in Petty’s repertoire to sing and he frequently breaks it out in concert to this day.
22. "Square One"
In 2006 Tom Petty released Highway Companion, which saw him reunite with producer and Traveling Wilburys compadre Jeff Lynne who had produced his most successful solo release Full Moon Fever nearly 20 years prior. The album featured the contented “Square One,” which had debuted on the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe’s film “Elizabethtown” the year before and earned Petty a Grammy nomination for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. The softly performed track sees Petty in a happier mood than we had seen in the years prior after his marriage ended and he battled drug addiction, “I’ve gotten through the dark tunnel and come out the other side” he remarked at the time of its release.
21. "Down South"
Also appearing on Highway Companion was “Down South,” which I like to think is somewhat of a sequel to his brilliant “Southern Accents” from 20 years before in that it expertly captures the essence of Southern life. The album had a great listen-while-driving vibe to it with its heartland rock and sing-along qualities and “Down South” includes terrific lines like “impress all the women/pretend I’m Samuel Clemens/wear seersucker and white linens” along with an extremely catchy chorus. In 2005, Rolling Stone named it the third best song written about the South.
20. "Saving Grace"
I didn’t intentionally place three songs from Highway Companion consecutively on this list, but that just goes to show how great of a sound Tom Petty had on that album. “Saving Grace” is a terrific driving song. It just feels like the kind of track you want to put on while going over the speed limit with the windows down and wind whipping through your hair. “Saving Grace” has a nice rockabilly feel to it, while also throwing in some John Lee Hooker “Boom Boom”-esque riffs. Next time you’re driving put this one on and let it be your highway companion. Just keep an eye on that speedometer.
19. "Here Comes My Girl"
I totally wanted the chorus of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Here Comes My Girl,” from their stupendous 1979 Damn the Torpedoes album, to play at my wedding when my wife walked down the aisle. It was a Catholic wedding though, so that didn’t happen. It’s such a badass song about how awesome the narrator’s girl is – simple, but perfect in its simplicity. Petty has said the chorus was inspired by one of his favorites, The Byrds, but guitarist Mike Campbell said Petty had trouble with the verses – singing them at first before eventually going with a Shangri-Las influenced spoken word.
18. "Crawling Back to You"
Tom Petty has said a few times in interviews that he’d love to tour the Wildflowers album after he and the Heartbreakers are done with their 40th anniversary tour. It’s such a damn good album I hope he gets his wish. “Crawling Back to You” feels like one of the most open songs on the album. Petty’s marriage was falling apart around this time and it really comes through in the vocal. Before recording Wildflowers, Petty’s cousin had sent him a book of great phrases. One such phrase Petty really liked, “Most things I worry about never happen anyway,” which he worked into this song. In a 2016 readers’ poll conducted by Rolling Stone this was named the greatest Tom Petty deep cut by fans.
17. "Don’t Do Me Like That"
Believe it or not, “Don’t Do Me Like That” is the highest charting hit for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (his solo “Free Fallin’” would chart higher in 1989). That’s probably because its brisk pace and rapid vocals by Petty make it perfect for radio consumption. “Don’t Do Me Like That,” the first single off Damn the Torpedoes, topped out at No. 10 in 1979. As these things often go, Petty thought it was kind of a lightweight track and producer Jimmy Iovine even initially dismissed it. The title came from something Petty’s father used to say. “I thought it was humorous,” Petty would later say.
16. "Learning to Fly"
“Learning to Fly” was written by Tom Petty and producer/collaborator Jeff Lynne after Petty was inspired by a televised interview with a pilot who said, “There’s not much to learning to fly; the difficult thing is coming down.” It’s a pretty good metaphor for life. The song, which would become a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Rock Tracks chart, is one of Petty’s more reassuring and inspirational song. “I wanted that song to be a kind of redemptive song,” he told Rolling Stone. Guitarist Mike Campbell lauded the simplicity of it: “That’s the miracle of the song. There’s really not much to it. It’s really simple music, simple lyrics.”
15. "Into the Great Wide Open"
Tom Petty really isn’t known for story songs. He just doesn’t write many songs that would be considered as such, but “Into the Great Wide Open,” from the 1991 album of the same name, ranks as one of the best in rock history. “Into the Great Wide Open” is the tale of Eddie, a guitar slinging “rebel without a clue” who goes to Los Angeles and experiences a rather quick rags-to-riches-to-rags story in the music industry. The song is one of Petty’s most notable music videos and features two Hollywood superstars Johnny Depp, playing Eddie, and Faye Dunaway. Petty portrays four different characters in the video, including Eddie’s roadie named Bart. “Into the Great Wide Open” is likely the story of many one-hit wonders who’ve gone through the music industry ringer.
Tom Petty isn’t really known for sweet songs – ones that will tug at your heartstrings, but “Wildflowers,” the title track from his solo 1994 album, will hit you in the feels. “Wildflowers,” a gentle folk-influenced tune has Petty singing to someone close in his life – potentially a child (the song has become a popular father of the bride dance number at wedding receptions). Like with many folk songs, it’s beautiful in the simplicity of its lyrics like, “you belong among the wildflowers/you belong in a boat out at sea/run away, kill off the hours/you belong somewhere you feel free.”
13. "Louisiana Rain"
“Louisiana Rain,” the final track off Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ breakthrough 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes, is definitely one of my favorite Petty deep cuts. A Rolling Stone readers’ poll conducted in 2016 had it ranked as his fourth greatest deep cut behind “Luna,” “Straight Into Darkness” and “Crawling Back to You” (No. 18 on this list). It’s so deep a cut Petty has played it fewer than 10 times in his touring career, though a live version from London’s Wembley Stadium in 1982 did make The Live Anthology release. Producer Jimmy Iovine scoured through every bit of Petty’s vault when recording the album to make the cut. He came across this Mudcrutch-era song and loved it. The emotional ballad is a great way to finish out a breakthrough release of triumphant songs.
12. "Even the Losers"
“Even the Losers” is one of those triumphant songs off Damn the Torpedoes. “Even the losers get lucky sometimes” is one of the most stellar lyrics ever when it comes to someone who isn’t maybe the most popular person in his class or world still being able to fall in love. Like in the song, though, unfortunately it doesn’t always last. The first verse, in particular, is so perfectly cinematic it showed Petty was going to be a songwriter for the ages: “It was nearly summer, we sat on your roof/Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon/I showed you stars you never could see/It couldn’t been that easy to forget about me.”
“Walls” is one of the most beautiful songs Tom Petty has ever written. And as Petty once said, “It probably should have been a hit.” The song was written for the Edward Burns movie “She’s the One,” for which Petty did the soundtrack. Part of the reason why it probably wasn’t a hit or released as a single is there are multiple version of the song that appear in the film: “Walls (Circus)” and “Walls (No. 3). My favorite version is “Walls (No. 3),” which has a more beautiful melody and vocal and is the version played by Petty live to this day. The song was based on something Johnny Cash said to Petty that ended up as a lyric: “some days are diamonds and some days are rocks.”
10. "The Last DJ"
I love artists when they have something important to say or get off their chest. Tom Petty’s 2002 release “The Last DJ,” from the studio album of the same name, really seems to have that going for it. On its surface “The Last DJ” seems like an anti-radio establishment song about a DJ who doesn’t want to go corporate and wants “to play what he wants to play and say what he wants to say.” This got the song banned from stations owned by Clear Channel Communications (which seemed to really like to ban songs – Petty’s “Free Fallin’” was among many songs banned briefly following 9/11). Petty told Mojo magazine in 2010 that the song was often misunderstood as “Radio was just a metaphor. [The song] was really about losing our moral compass.”
“Refugee,” from 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, is one of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hardest rocking songs and still one of their most popular today among fans – believe me I saw the reaction firsthand at Little Rock’s Verizon Arena in April. Around the time of the songs release traditional rock music was struggling – it was under siege from subgenres like punk rock or new wave (both of which Petty and the Heartbreakers had been considered and often with good reason), but Petty wanted to show people that the group was an old-fashioned rock band and did so with this track that reached No. 15 on the Billboard singles chart. Doing so took a lot of recordings though – guitarist Mike Campbell says 100 takes were recorded; Petty says it could have been as high as 200. In 2014, Rolling Stone ranked it as Petty’s second greatest song of all-time, behind “American Girl.”
8. "You Don’t Know How It Feels"
“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” from Tom Petty’s 1994 solo album Wildflowers, was his last top 40 hit – reaching No. 13 on the Billboard singles chart. It also made it all the way to the top spot on Billboard’s Rock Tracks chart. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” is a laid back rootsy song with a terrific harmonica solo that has one of my favorite snarky Petty lyrics of all-time: “My old man was born to rock/He’s still tryin’ to beat the clock/Think of me what you will/I’ve got a little space to fill” before breaking into a small guitar solo. It’s the greatest way to finish a verse when you don’t have a rhyme.
7. "Southern Accents"
“Southern Accents,” from the 1985 album of the same name, is without a doubt my favorite Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers deep cut and it has always felt like one of the more personal and maybe biographical songs in his discography. It’s one he doesn’t play very often in concert. The song is about being proud of who you are and where you come from. “I came from a real Southern family, and I wanted to address that world,” Petty, a native of Gainesville, Fla., said. Fellow Southern musician Johnny Cash liked the song so much he recorded it for his 1996 Unchained album, which featured Petty and the Heartbreakers as his studio band. Cash told Petty the song was so good he could see it replacing “Dixie” as the region’s unofficial anthem. I believe it’s the greatest song ever written about the South.
6. "Runnin’ Down a Dream"
Even though 1989’s Full Moon Fever was billed as a Tom Petty solo release every member of the Heartbreakers would play on it except for drummer Stan Lynch and it’s Mike Campbell’s heavy opening guitar riff that really makes “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” the album’s second single and a top 25 Billboard hit, stand out. It’s likely one of the most memorable rock guitar riffs of all-time. “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” like much of Petty’s heartland rock-sounding tracks, makes for a perfect driving song as it makes you want to roll down the windows and break the speed limit like the narrator in the song. The song includes a lyrical tribute to Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” a No. 1 hit in 1961, that Petty loved as a kid.
“Breakdown” was the very first single Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ever released when they made their debut in 1977 with their self-titled album. It didn’t go anywhere. But, one year later when the band re-released the song, after “Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “American Girl” had success in the U.K., it became the group’s first Billboard Top 40 hit. One of the group’s greatest jams the single features one of Mike Campbell’s best guitar licks and one of Petty’s most passionate and even somewhat menacing vocals. The version you’ll hear on the radio is barely over two-and-half-minutes, but when performed in concert the group turns it into the seven-to-10-minute jam session it was originally meant to be – which can be heard on The Live Anthology. The song was inspired by R&B songs of the early ‘60s and Petty will often incorporate Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” into performances.
4. "I Won’t Back Down"
“I Won’t Back Down,” a No. 12 charting single off 1989’s Full Moon Fever, is Tom Petty at his most defiant and straight-forward. This bugged him when he finished the song. “That song frightened me,” he told Rolling Stone. “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing. It’s just blatantly straight-forward. I had a lot of second thoughts about recording that song. But everyone around me liked [it], and it turns out everyone was right.” Because there really isn’t a culprit of what’s trying to get the narrator to back down the song really works for anyone trying to stand tough in a bad situation. Maybe straight-forward, but that bit of vagueness was brilliant, as it leads to it meaning different things to different people. One of the most emotional performances of the song came after 9/11 when Petty performed a quieter version of it on television’s “America: A Tribute to Heroes” just two weeks after the tragedy.
3. "Mary Jane’s Last Dance"
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ greatest rockers are owed just as much to Mike Campbell’s fantastic guitar licks as they are to Petty’s songwriting and vocal performances. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” a single tacked onto 1993’s Greatest Hits compilation, is a great representation of this. It wasn’t even a new song and we almost never got to hear it. Petty’s record company wanted him to record new songs for the compilation, against his will, a practice often done to entice fans who may already have all an artist’s recordings, to spend their money. Petty had producer Rick Rubin go through old demos from his Full Moon Fever sessions and this one was the winner. According to Rolling Stone, the song’s “haunting chorus and bluesy guitar” were added and Petty had his first top 20 hit of the ‘90s.
2. "Free Fallin’"
Even if you’re not a fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or hell even if you’ve never heard of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (you have serious problems, but still) you’ve heard “Free Fallin’.” “There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t hum ‘Free Fallin’’ to me, or I don’t hear it somewhere,” Petty told Rolling Stone. The song off his 1989 solo release Full Moon Fever is the highest charting release of his career peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard singles chart (if you don’t include “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” his duet with Stevie Nicks). The song pulls from what Petty witnessed on his frequent drives through Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley of California, but it was meant as a joke between him and producer Jeff Lynne until Lynne, liking the riff and verses, said randomly the words “free falling,” according to a Billboard interview with Petty. The rest is history.
1. "American Girl"
It’s incredible to think that a band’s greatest song could come off its very first album, but that just goes to show what kind of songwriter Tom Petty has always been and what kind of a kickass band the Heartbreakers have always been. Now a classic radio staple and considered to be one of Petty’s greatest hits the song got little airplay when released in 1977, but after appearing on an episode of the BBC’s music series “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” the song charted in the United Kingdom. Petty and the Heartbreakers took a fast-charged jangling guitar riff and rapid vocals and made a song that sounded almost like a punk rock track while mixing ‘60s rock of The Byrds with a New Wave energy, according to Rolling Stone. It’s a song about trying to escape the monotony of daily life in a small town and trying to find something greater in the world. “The American Girl is just one example of this character I write a lot about – the small-town kid who knows there’s something more out there, but gets fucked up trying to find it I always felt sympathetic to her,” Petty told Rolling Stone. The song, which was fittingly recorded on July 4, 1976, is one you just can’t help but bob your head to and sing at the top of your lungs every time you hear it. It’s not Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ only masterpiece, but it’s their best one.
by Julian Spivey
For his latest album So You Wannabe An Outlaw, Steve Earle set out to record an old-school outlaw country album like he had at the beginning of his career. He was inspired by the great 1973 Waylon Jennings album Honky Tonk Heroes, penned almost completely by Billy Joe Shaver.
On Saturday, July 8 at Memphis’ Minglewood Hall, Earle showed the packed room that he had achieved his mission well.
For the last decade or more Earle has proven himself to be a fantastic folk troubadour, but some of “us” have always longed for the outlaw country-rock of “Copperhead Road” or “Guitar Town” from the late ‘80s that put Earle on the map. The Steve Earle of this album and the one on the stage in Memphis on Saturday night was everything “we” wanted.
Earle opened his show with many consecutive performances from the new release including the excellent title track (which he does with Willie Nelson on the album), “Lookin’ for a Woman” (maybe one of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear this year), “The Firebreak Line,” “Walkin’ in L.A.” (which brings some nice Western swing to the album and live show) and “Sunset Highway.”
Earle then completely made my night by breaking into my favorite song of his “Guitar Town,” from his 1986 debut album of the same name. It’s quintessential heartland country-rock and really helped save the genre of country music during its era that was being dominated by the pop-influenced ‘Urban Cowboy’ movement.
Earle has never been a shy one when it comes to sharing his opinion and he’s certainly known to be a cantankerous personality and it wasn’t any different on the stage Saturday night. Though, I will say he was incredibly gracious with his fans from the stage and signing autographs for them afterward. Earle can get political and his politics don’t always mesh with some in his fan-base. He’s staunchly liberal, maybe as much as half of his fan-base is conservative. This led to somewhat of a slightly awkward feel in the room occasionally through the night when he sang the pro-immigration song “City of Immigrants,” when he performed the anti-George W. Bush tune “Little Emperor” and when he referred to President Donald Trump as “that asshole trying to build a wall.” I understand that some people don’t like for musicians to get political in song or from the stage, but if “we” have rights to our opinions than why shouldn’t “they.” I was somewhat disappointed in the reaction of about half of the audience when it came to the applause level for “City of Immigrants,” especially; for the life of me I don’t understand how anybody could be offended by such an arm-opening sentiment. After all, as the song states, “all of us are immigrants.”
While Earle really got revved up with the outlaw country toward the middle to end of his show he did manage to sneak some folkies or more traditional sounding country tunes in his set that were just as stunning and entertaining as anything else throughout the night like the country waltz-ish duet “I’m Still in Love With You,” with Eleanor Masterson, the fiddle player for his terrific backing band The Dukes and the folk-blues of “You’re the Best Lover That I’ve Ever Had” and the Irish-influenced folk of “The Galway Girl,” definitely one of my favorite performances of the night.
One of the most touching performances of the evening was Earle’s tribute to one of his songwriting heroes and mentors Guy Clark, who died last year. The track “Goodbye Michelangelo,” which appears on So You Wannbe An Outlaw, was enough to bring a tear to the eye and was preceded with a great story about how Earle, Terry Allen, Rodney Crowell and others took Clark’s ashes out to New Mexico to end up in one of Allen’s sculptures.
While every performance throughout the night was stellar you could just feel the intensity of the show ramp up around the midway point when Earle brought the outlaw country-rock to the forefront and this started with fan-favorite “Copperhead Road,” which probably gets more airplay to this day on classic rock radio formats than classic country formats. The performance got people on their feet, realty for the first time all night, and even led to a bit of slight mosh-style dancing up toward the front of the stage.
The outlaw attitude would continue for the remainder of the set with great performances of “Acquainted with the Wind,” “Taneytown,” “Hard Core Troubadour” and another fan-favorite of the night in “The Week of Living Dangerously.” The hardest rocking tune of the night was “Fixin’ to Die,” about shooting down a cheating lover and being put to death for the crime, which was followed by a hard-charging rocking cover of Jimi Hendrix’s similarly themed “Hey Joe,” my favorite Hendrix track. This fantastic cover ended Earle’s set, but he wouldn’t leave the raucous crowd waiting long.
Earle returned to the Minglewood Hall stage and slowed it down a bit with the bluesy “My Old Friend the Blues,” before immediately amping it back up again with “The Devil’s Right Hand” and slowing it down once again with the show closer of “The Girl On the Mountain,” a plaintive tune of lost love that never really was, that seems like one of the more personal songs Earle has ever written and appears on the new album.
All in all, it was a badass night of music and I couldn’t be happier that Earle has gone back to the outlaw side of life.
by Julian Spivey
Up-and-coming Americana singer Parker Millsap put on an incredibly energetic and entertaining show for the packed room at The Outland Ballroom in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday, June 10.
Though he’s only released two albums as a solo artist the Oklahoma native has already made quite the name for himself in the Americana genre, having been nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors & Awards in 2014 and for Album of the Year last year for his terrific sophomore release The Very Last Day.
Millsap can seemingly do it all, mixing country, folk, bluegrass, gospel, blues and rock to form a unique sound that makes him perfect for the catchall that is Americana music. The mid-20s performer is also one of the best up-and-coming songwriters in the music industry and plays with an intensity and energy that you don’t see too often on the stage. By the time he’s through with his performance his shirt is nearly drenched with sweat proving that he left everything he had on the stage for his adoring audience that hopefully (and should be) growing with each passing show.
Millsap opened his Outland show on Saturday night with the fantastic “Pining,” off The Very Last Day, and never let up for the rest of the evening. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand all night long with terrific performances of “Truckstop Gospel,” off his self-titled debut solo album in 2014, “Quite Contrary” and “I Hope I Die,” from a 2012 release Palisade with Michael Rose.
A lot of Millsap’s music features gospel or religious themes, even though Millsap admits on his website’s bio to not being very religious these days. The themes were engraved upon him growing up in a Pentecostal church with his family and that experience has given him a unique view on religion in music. One such of these songs is last year’s “Heaven Sent,” which ranked as the No. 1 song of 2016 on this very site. The song tells the story of a young gay man struggling with the fact that his preacher father can’t accept him for who he is, even though his father always told him Jesus would love him through the flame.
“The Very Last Day” is another song with a unique take on religion with Millsap realizing that the end times are much more likely to come via a nuclear holocaust, rather than a Biblical rapture – but nevertheless he’s going to welcome that day. “The Very Last Day,” isn’t exactly a fun topic, but the way Millsap performs it with such vigor makes you welcome that very last day on Earth, as well. It’s definitely a highlight of his show.
Millsap debuted three new songs consecutively toward the end of his set on Saturday, which is a good way for an artist to lose an audience, but he never did – meaning these songs must be keepers and ones we’ll look forward to seeing on an upcoming album. Two of these songs, “Fine Line” and “Some People” feature a harder sound than Millsap fans may be accustomed to hearing, but aren’t much heavier than say the fantastic “Hands Up,” off his last album, which was another stellar performance on Saturday night, by the way.
Millsap’s stellar voice and guitar playing was extra noticeable on more bluesy tunes like “Hesitation Blues,” “Morning Blues” and “Jealous Sun” – all which left the audience in awe.
He would finish his set with the rip-roaring performance of “Hades Pleads,” about the king of the underworld looking for love, before his loyal crowd of fans begged him to return to the stage for a great encore of the blues tune “You Gotta Move.”
by Julian Spivey
I was thrilled when I found out that Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives would be opening for Chris Stapleton during his fall tour that makes a stop in my home state of Arkansas.
Few, if any, acts represent country music and everything the genre means more than Marty Stuart and his incredibly talented band. I had the honor of seeing Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives for the first-time last fall in the small town of Cotter, Ark. But, that was before the group released one of the best country and Americana albums of this year Way Out West. I look forward to hearing parts of the record live.
I believe that Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are a terrific opening act for Stapleton, who also has released one of the best country/Americana albums of the year in From A Room, Vol. 1, as the mix of someone helping get the country genre back to the sound it should have (Stapleton) and a veteran who’s always done country the way it’s supposed to be (Stuart) makes for a statement, as much as it does for a terrific night of music.
Not everybody felt that Stuart was a good opener. Some people were probably scratching their heads wondering who the hell Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives are. If so, that’s incredibly disheartening, but in no way surprising. I don’t worry so much about these fans, but I do hope they enter the tour with an open-mind and open ears and come away with a new favorite act and further knowledge of the country music genre. I hope they pay attention and don’t use the opening set as an extended beer run.
The fans who I’m a little more perturbed by are the ones who are fans of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and don’t believe he should be opening for Stapleton. These fans believe Stuart, a legend in their eyes and rightfully so, shouldn’t be opening for an up-and-comer (also in their eyes) like Stapleton. It’s a matter of disrespect to them, but they fail to see how great of a thing it is for one of their favorite artists.
After seeing Stuart’s official Twitter handle tweet about him supporting Stapleton in October and November a few days ago I saw a response that said: “I can’t hold it in any longer … Marty better not be OPENING for him. Marty Stuart does not open shows for anyone. I hope I misunderstood that.”
I responded to this person and we had a delightful debate, though he never did fully come around to my point of view. I told him that Stuart opening for Stapleton was a good thing because the arena sized crowds would be the biggest venues Stuart has played for in many years, meaning his music and newest release would be heard by many more people than on one of his tours. And, unlike a Marty Stuart tour his music would be new to many among the Stapleton fan-base, especially many younger fans who are excited by Stapleton’s resurrection of what country music should be. If these fans are open-minded and willing to listen to Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives I have no doubt that they’ll became attracted to his brand of music and it would not only be a winning situation for Stuart, but for the genre in general and a growing batch of music lovers.
I’ve seen this work before. A few years ago, one of my all-time favorite artists Dwight Yoakam was opening shows for one of my favorite modern day country stars Eric Church. Yoakam was an act I had always wanted to see in concert, but had never had the chance. Church brought him to Little Rock’s Verizon Arena and gave me that chance. He also introduced many of his young fan-base to Yoakam’s Bakersfield, honky tonk sound and I know some in the audience became Yoakam fans that very night. I expect the same exact thing to happen with Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives opening for Stapleton and I look forward to it.
by Julian Spivey
Up-and-comer Aubrie Sellers put on a fantastic show for the visitors of the annual Toad Suck Daze festival in Conway, Ark. on Friday, May 6.
Sellers has seemingly coined her own subgenre of music called “garage-country,” which fuses country music with a garage rock band sound and is absolutely fantastic, and certainly makes her standout from the crowd.
Talent obviously runs in the family as Sellers is the daughter of award-winning country songstress Lee Ann Womack and singer-songwriter Jason Sellers, who’s most noteworthy contribution is a co-write of the award-winning Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” You can tell she’s Womack’s daughter by looking at her, but her sound is completely different with a heavier atmosphere.
Sellers’ debut album New City Blues was released in early 2016 and drew rave reviews from critics and allowed her to make television appearances on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
She opened her Toad Suck Daze set, which would be around an hour-long, with “Light of Day,” the opening track from her debut, which shows off this “garage-country” style perfectly. “Light of Day” is one of the best songs off her debut, but there really aren’t any misses on the 14-track album.
Sellers would perform most of New City Blues on Friday night, including the terrific “Sit Here & Cry,” her latest single “Liar Liar” and my personal favorite from the record “Loveless Rolling Stone.”
“Loveless Rolling Stone,” which NPR called “the existential testament of heartbreak,” was written by the fantastic Brent Cobb and is the sad story of someone who can’t settle down and find love through their own fault.
Sellers’ debut album mostly features songs which you could describe as downers, even though many of them are great rockers, but she does have one nice love song in her early career repertoire in “Something Special,” which she delighted the crowd with.
Sellers peppered her set on the Main Stage at Simon Park, where the Toad Suck Daze festival is held annually, with covers that really won the small, but entertained audience over. Two of my favorite performances of her show were her cover of The Kinks classic “All Day and All of the Night,” which you could tell was a key influence on her “garage-country” style, and the lowkey beautifulness of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” which appears as a bonus track on her album.
She also entertained the crowd with fantastic covers of Emmylou Harris’ “Luxury Liner” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).”
Sellers has the makings of one of country and Americana’s next big stars, but her sound is likely not something you’re going to hear much, if at all, on country radio (which is a shame). If you ever get a chance to see her around your area you shouldn’t miss out.
by Julian Spivey
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers brought their 40th Anniversary tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Sunday, April 23 and showed the state of Arkansas would masters of rock & roll look like.
The show began at 7:30 p.m. with a terrific opening set by another rock & roll legend Joe Walsh who thrilled the crowd with performances throughout his career as a solo act, member of the Eagles and member of the James Gang. The most touching moment of Walsh’s set was when he dedicated the Eagles’ classic “Take It to the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate” Glenn Frey, who died last year. Walsh would also treat the crowd to the epic one-two-three punch of finishing his set with “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” showing off his epic guitar skills throughout.
Petty & the Heartbreakers made their first appearance at Verizon Arena since 2012 with a well-oiled performance being the group’s third show in four nights and second in back-to-back days.
The group uniquely opened the set with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which had you purchased their self-titled debut album 40 years ago would’ve been the first ever song you heard from them. From there on out the group mixed greatest hits and album cuts splendidly throughout their two-hour set.
While many fans may not have known the set opener, they sure as hell got up on their feet and grooved to the second performance of the might “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” before Petty & the Heartbreakers launched into a terrific version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” – hitting the crowd with a great back-to-back highlight of the group’s early ‘90s years.
Petty told the crowd on Sunday night that he hoped to hit on a bit of each era of the group’s work and showed he meant it with a performance of “Forgotten Man,” off the group’s most recent album Hypnotic Eye in 2014.
Petty and the band gave the crowd a good bit of the Wildflowers album, which seems to be one of Petty’s favorites based on interviews I’ve read and heard and he would like to tour the 1994 album from start-to-finish on the band’s next tour. The group performed the title track, “Time to Move On” and an excellently elongated version of “It’s Good to Be King” from that album. “It’s Good to Be King” showed off how truly underrated guitarist Mike Campbell is; anytime you see a list of “greatest rock guitarists” he should be on it.
A few of my favorite performances of the night were not necessarily greatest hits, but underrated Petty songs in “Walls,” “Yer So Bad” and the hard, bluesy-rock sound of “I Should Have Known,” coming off the band’s blues-infused 2010 album Mojo.
Petty covered the late ‘80s Full Moon Fever portion of his career with back-to-back performances of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” which were obviously crowd favorites with the arena singing along loudly in unison. They would later sing along again to “Learning to Fly,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which the band would end their set with.
The band was serenaded with uproarious applause before returning to the stage a few minutes later with a terrific and hard-charging encore of “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl,” my personal favorite Petty track and the song that truly kicked their career off 40 years ago. It was a magical way to end an amazing night of wonderful rock music.
by Julian Spivey
Hayes Carll and Band of Heathens put on one helluva show at The Rev Room in Little Rock on Thursday, April 20. The mix of Carll and Band of Heathens previously put on a great show at The Rev Room in December of 2014.
Band of Heathens, hot off the release of their sixth studio release Duende, showed The Rev Room crowd what great American roots-rock-country sounds like. Band of Heathens performed five of the new album’s 10 tracks during their 10-song set on Thursday night, including the awesome sounding “All I’m Asking” and “Green Green of California,” with band member Gordy Quist wishing the crowd a happy 4/20 day, saying the only thing he’s seen in this country that brings everybody together like music is marijuana. Ed Jurdi added the nice “Last Minute Man” to the set off Duende.
Band of Heathens also exited the crowd with previous albums cuts like “Jackson Station” and crowd-pleaser “Hurricane,” which I remember perfectly from seeing them in 2014. It was the performance that made Band of Heathens stick in my head all these years. The group would finish their opening set up with the rocking “Trouble Came Early” off their recent album.
The great thing about Band of Heathens touring with Hayes Carll is that after they’re finished with their opening set they return to the stage as Carll’s backing band, making for one terrific combination of musical talent.
Carll opened his set with “Grand Parade” off his 2011 album KMAG YOYO (& other American Stories), before launching into the softer sound of his newest release Lovers and Leavers from last year with the terrific “The Love That We Need” and “My Friends.” Carll would also perform the new tracks “Sake of the Song” and “Jealous Moon” later in his set, with the faithful crowd singing along. Some thought that fans of Carll wouldn’t adapt to the softer singer-songwriter sound of his most recent album, but the reaction to these performances proved otherwise.
Carll also debuted a couple of new songs on Thursday night, which he said he’s selling as singles on Patreon, releasing one a month. These songs were “Things You Don’t Wanna Know” and “Different Boats,” which he said would be available on Patreon soon. It’s an interesting way of releasing new music, though not one I particularly like.
As many who follow Carll know he has ties to Central Arkansas, as he attended college at Hendrix University in Conway, Ark. about 30 miles north of Little Rock. For this reason, his Rev Room shows always draw a healthy crowd and he seems to enjoy performing in an area he once called home for a few years. He performed “Little Rock” and “Faulkner Street,” about a place he used to live at in Conway, much to the crowd’s delight.
Carll’s raucous, upbeat tunes are always the ones that really get the Rev Room crowd grooving and there certainly wasn’t any shortage of these during the evening, even with some of the softer tunes from Lovers and Leavers in the set. Among the foot stompers were “I Got a Gig,” “KMAG YOYO,” “Hard Out Here” and the set ender “Bad Liver and Broken Heart.”
I think my four favorite performance of this terrific show were all played consecutively. Carll performed “Beaumont” and “Girl Downtown,” both from his excellent 2008 release Trouble In Mind, solo with just his guitar as Band of Heathens took a short break backing him. Carll must have felt particularly good on this night, because I could see his setlist from where I stood and “Girl Downtown” was ad-libbed. Band of Heathens then rejoined the stage for rip-roaring performances of “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Bible on the Dash,” a song he co-wrote with Canadian country singer Corb Lund, which appears on Lund’s terrific 2012 album Cabin Fever as a duet.
Carll’s fantastic encored included “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” from his 2005 sophomore album Little Rock, and the hard-charging “Stomp and Holler,” from 2011’s KMAG YOYO, which was a perfect way to end his rocking show and includes one of my favorite lyrics: “I’m like James Brown/only white and taller/and all I wanna do is stomp and holler.”
by Julian Spivey
CMT aired “Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” on Friday, April 7. The two-hour concert special was taped live on July 6, 2015 at Austin, Texas’ The Moody Theater and featured some of the country music genre’s finest artists paying tribute to the legendary Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64.
It’s somewhat surprising it took this great night of Waylon Jennings music almost two years to see its television broadcast and CD/DVD release, which also happened on April 7. I hope the Merle Haggard tribute that took place last week, also taped for possible future television broadcast, doesn’t take that long to be seen.
Waylon Jennings is one of the most important, influential and greatest performers in the history of country music and no doubt had numerous hits to choose from when the artists performed on his tribute. It was surprising that some deeper cuts from his discography were chosen like his son Shooter Jennings performing “Whistlers and Jugglers,” Sturgill Simpson choosing “Memories of You & I” and Willie Nelson’s selection of “’Til I Gain Control Again.” All were good selections and great performances, but it was interesting not to have Waylon classics like “Good Hearted Woman” or “Good Ol’ Boys” performed during the special.
The two-hour televised special began with a terrific performance of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane. The song, written by Rodney Crowell, is one of Jennings’ rowdier hits and one of my favorites, though I do prefer Crowell’s original slightly.
Just about every performance throughout the entire special was a highlight, so ranking performances would be a hard task and waste of time. Some of my favorites performances though included Texas country legend Robert Earl Keen’s take on my personal favorite Waylon song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” the beautiful, angelic takes on “Dreaming My Dreams with You” and “The Wurlitzer Prize” by Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves respectively and Eric Church’s perfect choice of “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean.”
One of my favorite things about the televised tribute to Waylon Jennings is it allowed actual country music to appear on television, especially on a network that was once dedicated solely to country music. Seeing artists like Keen, Simpson, Ryan Bingham and Lee Ann Womack on TV really put a smile on my face. I can’t recall the last time I saw that much real country music on television – it sure hasn’t been any of the recent country music award shows (even though there’s at least four annually).
Other great selections from the tribute included Womack’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” Kris Kristofferson’s “I Do Believe,” Bingham’s “Rainy Day Woman” and the emotional “Mona,” performed by Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter, who wrote the song specifically for him.
One of the more interesting performances of the special was Toby Keith doing “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Keith is an artist that has sort of lost his way in the last decade or so, but the performance showed what kind of talent he is when performing good, well-written music.
Keith would also duet with Willie Nelson on the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Stapleton would join Nelson for a nice cover of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Another interesting performance was the sort of Highwaymen reunion with Nelson and Kristofferson joined by Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings (naturally doing his daddy’s verse) on “The Highwayman.” The special made me really want to see a modern-day Highwaymen-esque supergroup featuring Simpson, Stapleton, Johnson and Jason Isbell (who wasn’t a part of the Waylon tribute).
“Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” ended with an all-star singalong, as these specials and tributes so often do with everybody taking turns singing “Luckenbach, Texas.”
The CD/DVD of this great event can be purchased on Amazon.