Monday, May 17, 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star

I can remember it like it was yesterday, but it was 1979. I was listening to WHPW – the third station in the West Virginia Public Radio network. The call letters as it was rumored were hoped to be WHPR for Huntington (WV) Public Radio, but WHPR was unavailable and someone with a sense of humor suggested WHPW for Huntington Public Wadio. Since it was available, it apparently stuck. Well at least until 1985 when the call letters were changed to WVWV to fall in line with the network’s penchant to have as many call signs that started with WV. The station was new to Huntington and I was a Marshall University grad student at the time.

Typically, I was out and about during the mid afternoon taking a break from the classes I taught and the classes I was taking during the evening. Normally at this time, I caught the afternoon show that was hosted by Dave Alley. I loved Dave’s musical choices as well as his insight to the sounds of the various artists he featured. Several years later, I had a chance to work with him ever so briefly in 1985 when I hired him to cut some voicers for me at WOAY-FM.

On one afternoon, Dave was alternating the recordings of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers with those of The Byrds. I hadn’t thought of it, but he made a good case that the Heartbreakers, with the 12 string Rickenbacker Guitars of Mike Campbell and Tom Petty, were the musical descendents of The Byrds. So, it makes perfect sense that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would do a Byrds’ song live – and hence, our Monday cover of “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” is apropos.

The Byrds’ Original

The song was inspired when Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman were thumbing through teeny bop magazines that were promoting the latest and greatest rock stars. Rumor has it that it was the Monkees that particularly caught their attention in this regard. So Roger & Chris decided that if someone wanted to be a Rock ‘N’ Roll star, they needed to have a kit to help them reach their goals.

Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
and learn how to play
And with your hair swung right
And your pants too tight
It's gonna be all right

Chris Hillman’s driving bass was developed while he was doing some session work for a Hugh Masekela recording. Masekela, by the way, is playing the trumpet part on The Byrds’ recording from the album “Younger than Yesterday.” The single peaked in the U.S. at #29 in 1967.

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