Tom Petty talks about compiling a four-disc "Live Anthology"

Friday, December 4, 2009
Tom Petty performs with The Heartbreakers during a 2008 show at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Associated Press file)

LOS ANGELES -- Tom Petty has grown up, but not too much.

The 59-year-old spent a year going through thousands of hours of live concert recordings covering Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' tours across three decades.

The result is "The Live Anthology" -- not a greatest hits album, but a multiple-disc set. There are no overdubs, and the notorious perfectionist can now see why his hard-driven mates were "a good little rock 'n' roll band."

The Associated Press: What made you want to pull out hours and hours of tape?

Tom Petty: Well, it seemed like a good time to do it, and I thought it would be a chore in a way. I started to do it and I just fell in love with the project. ... I spent a year digging out stuff and mixing it. It was great. It was like looking at a photo album, but you can all be in the picture.

AP: Did you ever get overwhelmed?

Petty: Well, you can. But we knew we had plenty of time to do it. So we just went bit by bit and pretty soon into the project, we told them that this wasn't going to fit on two CDs. ... To get an idea of what the band was and is, there is a lot of stuff you have to hear to take in an accurate document of all those years.

AP: Did you find anything that surprised you about yourself going through all that footage?

Petty: I was surprised that we were as good as we were. I really didn't listen to us when we were back in our 20s and starting out. It was a really good little rock 'n' roll band. I see why it caught on.

AP: What inspires your writing?

Petty: I always did really well in English in school. ... I like language. I like words. ... For the longest time, I think, everything I did I wrote the music, and the words just kind of flowed in at the same time. As time went by, I started to concentrate more and more on the lyric and try to make that better and better.

AP: Your videos are iconic. Did that come from your love of film?

Petty: I probably watch three or four movies a day. ... I love film. It wasn't hard to make something better than everyone else. ... I was amazed at just how bad MTV was. ... Terrible videos and terrible songs, and most people made them almost all the same. ... I thought let's just get out of the box here and do something different.

AP: What do you think this all means? This album, this life that you have been handed?

Petty: It was a gift I was given, and what it means I don't know. Johnny Cash once told me, he said, "It was a noble job." And I said, "Really?" And he said, "Well, it makes a lot of people happy." ... It does. It makes a lot of people happy. You can lose sight of that. People come to me and stop me on the street and tell me how some song played some role in their life or how it got them through a hard time or this and that and I just think, "Damn, that's what it is about."

-- The Associated Press

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