New Live Box by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Is Triumphant Celebration of Rock & Roll

Live at The Fillmore (1997) is packed with covers and original tunes captured during 20-show run at storied San Francisco venue

In 1997, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played 20 shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Now Live at the Fillmore (1997), a long-anticipated box set that appeared on November 25, captures highlights from the band’s residency in the city by the bay. And what a truly amazing celebration of rock & roll it is!

“We’re musicians and we want to play,” Tom Petty told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the 20-show run, as noted in a statement on Petty’s website, which announced the box set back in September. “We’ve made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be.”

Six-LP format of the box set, which is also available in various other vinyl, CD and streaming configurations

Here’s more from the above press release: The shows at the Fillmore ended up being some of the most joyful, honest, inspirational and prolific experiences of the band’s career, creating a unique bond between the group and their fans. This album features more covers than originals, paying tribute to the artists and songs that shaped Petty’s love of music as he was growing up—before he became a legendary songwriter and performer in his own right.

Highlights include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and more from The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The collection also features special performances with The Byrds’ front man Roger McGuinn and blues legend John Lee Hooker. Other standouts include extended versions of original tracks “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “It’s Good To Be King.”

The Fillmore was a laboratory for the band. The captivating sold out performances were such a hit, the Heartbreakers were even nicknamed the “Fillmore House Band.” At the final show, Petty noted as he took the stage: “We all feel this might be the highpoint of our time together as a group… It’s going to be hard to get us off this stage tonight.”

Added Mike Campbell: “Playing the Fillmore in 1997 for a month was one of my favorite experiences as a musician in my whole life. The band was on fire and we changed the set list every night. The room and the crowd was spiritual… AND… we got to play with some amazing guests. I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration.” Here’s a nice short film about the residency.

You can find a lot more background on the residency in the liner notes here, which were written by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin. I’m also including a Spotify link to the box set at the end of the post. Now I’d say it’s time to take a look at some of the goodies.

Kicking it off is a great cover of a tune by the man about who John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”. Around and Around first appeared as the B-side to Chuck Berry’s March 1958 single Johnny B. Goode. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, released in July 1959 – an album that in my book you could title the greatest hits of classic rock & roll.

I’ve always loved J.J. Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. Evidently, so did Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Call Me the Breeze first appeared on Cale’s debut album Naturally, which came out in October 1971. Check out this great cover. Man, this is swinging! Here’s the neat official video.

Did I mention The Rolling Stones previously? Let’s check out Time is on My Side. Written by Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym Norman Meade, the tune was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his orchestra in 1963. The Stones recorded two versions of the tune in 1964. The first, which is a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro, appeared as a U.S. single in September of the same year and was also included on their second American album 12 X 5, released in October 1964. The second version, a tighter arrangement with a guitar intro, was included on The Rolling Stones No. 2, their second UK album from January 1965.

After three tracks into this review, you might wonder about originals. Frankly, I could easily focus on covers only, since there are so many excellent renditions. But of course, this box set also features plenty of Tom Petty songs. Here’s a nice take of I Won’t Back Down, the lead single of his first solo album Full Moon Fever, released in April 1989.

Let’s throw in a cool instrumental – a great rendition of Green Onions, a tune by Booker T. & the M.G.’s I’ve always loved. The group served as the house band of Stax Records. Green Onions was mostly written by keyboarder Booker T. Jones when he was 17 years old. Also credited to the other three members of the MG’s, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), the tune first appeared as a single in 1962 and also became the title track of the group’s debut album that came out in October of the same year. Heartbreakers keyboarder Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell do a great job with it.

The last track I’d like to call out features a cool guest appearance by John Lee Hooker. Here’s Boogie Chillen, which Hooker wrote and first recorded in 1948. Buddy Guy has cited the tune as a key reason why he picked up the guitar and became a blues guitarist. Prompted by Hooker, this sizzling close to 8-minute version features neat harp and keyboard solos by Petty and Tench, respectively.

I easily could go on and on featuring additional tunes. Instead, I leave you with a Spotify link to the entire collection. If you dig Tom Petty and The Live Anthology, a November 2009 box set with a similar concept combining live renditions of covers and originals, I have no doubt you’re going to like Live at the Fillmore (1997).

Live at the Fillmore (1997), which appears on Warner Records, is available in 3-LP, 6-LP and 6-LP Uber Deluxe formats (exclusively via Tom Petty web store), 2 and 4-CD sets, and on major streaming platforms. The compilation was meticulously curated by producers Ryan Ulyate and Mike Campbell. Serving as executive producers were Benmont Tench, as well as Adria Petty, Annakim Petty and Dana Petty, Tom’s daughters and wife, respectively, who manage the Tom Petty estate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube