In 1994 Warner Brothers Records released Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and this year, now that the tracks are of legal drinking age, the ones that were omitted when the album was scaled back from a double album to a single disc will be released under the title Wildflowers – All The Rest. The album’s first single, Somewhere Under Heaven, was just released to coincide with the premiere of the film Entourage in which it’s included.
I met Tom through Dave Stewart while working on Dave’s project, Beyond The Groove.
Following that introduction I worked with Tom on his first solo album, Full Moon Fever.
I continued to collaborate with Tom on several projects leading up to a period that would prove a pivotal time for the entire Petty camp including myself. Tom’ s longtime obligation to his label, MCA, would be fulfilled with the release of his Greatest Hitspackage slated for the following year. Tom had been with MCA since the release of the album that changed everything, Damn the Torpedoes. As if the label change wasn’t enough, Stan Lynch, the Heartbreaker’s drummer risked altering the band’s chemistry with his acrimonious departure, Tom’s longtime art director was also out and Tom was working for the first time with producer Rick Reuben. To top things off, Tom’s marriage was ending. Personally, I had just returned from a job in Nashville to find out that the perfectly happy marriage that I had left in Los Angeles just the week before was over. My entire world changed dramatically in an instant. To quote Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” so I embraced the change, shaved my head and listened to a steady stream of Hank Williams while Tom coped by bingeing on old Woody Allen films.
I got the call to photograph the studio sessions for some bonus tracks the band was recording for Greatest Hits, I figured it was a one day gig, I think everyone did. The bonus tracks ultimately turned out to be a cover of Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air and Mary Jane’s Last Dance (which won Tom an MTV Spaceman for Male Video of the Year).
The vibe in the studio with Rick was really positive and it was clear that the guys were easily laying down a lot more tracks than were needed for Hits. As new songs just flowed out of the sessions I tried to disappear into the woodwork and returned off and on for a couple of weeks. From those prolific sessions Wildflowers emerged as Tom’s second solo album.
A track that I particularly liked, Girl On LSD, was omitted from the album but was released as the B-side of the single You Don’t know How It Feels which would prove to be the album’s biggest hit. To illustrate how times have changed since Wildflowers’release, I was on set with Tom during the filming of the video when we were informed that MTV wouldn’t air the lyric “joint” (but they had no problem giving their highest honor to the controversial story line for Mary Jane) . On the track Tom was syncing vocals to they had reversed the word to an unpronounceable “tnioj”. In the video you will see Tom, always the problem solver, move down so the mic completely obscures his mouth each time the lyric comes around.
Initially reviews were mixed but ultimately great songwriting combined with crazy-good musicianship and production stand the test of time and now Wildflowers is regularly heralded as one of the best albums of the decade and stands to this day as one of my all-time favorite albums.