Tom Petty’s L.A. Explored in New Book Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles
Though Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty never lost his unmistakable Northern Florida accent, he called Los Angeles home ever since he moved to Southern California with his band Mudcrutch in April 1974. From his arrival in L.A. until his untimely death in October 2017, Petty recorded nearly every one of his hits in Los Angeles studios and performed dozens of concerts on famed stages throughout Los Angeles at the legendary Troubadour, Whisky a Go Go, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Forum, and the Hollywood Bowl with his band the Heartbreakers, making them a strong candidate for being counted as one of the city’s greatest bands.
In Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles, author Christopher McKittrick recounts the deep relationship between Petty and his adopted hometown, exploring how the native Floridian quickly adapted to living on the West Coast, with homes in Encino (rebuilt after being destroyed by an arsonist in 1987) and Malibu along with a brief stay in what he called the “Chicken Shack” in Pacific Palisades. Petty also found himself at “home” working in the many recording studios throughout Los Angeles, including the famed Sound City and a warehouse in Van Nuys that was affectionately dubbed the “Heartbreakers Clubhouse.”
McKittrick, whose previous book Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones and New York City was selected as one of the Best Music Books of 2019 by Best Classic Bands, explains that he enjoys exploring the bond that can develop between artists and cities where they perform and record. “You often hear and read a lot about the connection some artists have with the place they grew up – the Beatles and Liverpool, Bruce Springsteen and New Jersey, Billy Joel and Long Island, among others,” McKittrick says. “But an artist who comes to a new city from a totally different place and makes a profound impact on the people of that community is a far more interesting story to me. It’s inarguable that Tom Petty and his music has made a significant impression on Los Angeles.”
Los Angeles’ love for Petty was apparent even before his death, which came just days after the Heartbreakers finished their 40th anniversary tour with three concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Southern California often served as either a launching point or grand finale for Heartbreakers tours, and Petty could always count on sellout crowds filled with adoring fans. Petty’s admiration for Los Angeles was similarly unmistakable, from Petty writing about the city in hit songs like “Free Fallin’” and “Into the Great Wide Open,” shooting award-winning music videos in town, performing benefit concerts for local causes like the Midnight Mission and college radio station KCSN, and releasing a charity single, “Peace in L.A.,” just days after the beginning of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Of course, like most of the many area celebrities, you could also catch him sitting front row at Lakers games.
Even though some critics tried to stick Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with the “Southern Rock” label because the band members were from Florida, Petty always insisted that the Heartbreakers were part of the Southern California rock and roll tradition of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He would spend much of his career collaborating with members of these groups as well as some of his other musical heroes, such as George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Del Shannon.
The sounds of Southern California in the 1960s had a profound impact on Petty as he was growing up. “Even from the beginning with songs like ‘American Girl’ on the band’s 1976 debut album, Petty and the Heartbreakers drew comparisons to the Byrds,” McKittrick points out. “In fact, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds initially thought ‘American Girl’ was a song he had written and forgotten about when he first heard it” (McGuinn would record a cover of ‘American Girl’ in 1977). In fact, Petty was very adamant that the Heartbreakers were native to Los Angeles. “He took issue with a 1988 Los Angeles Times article that ranked the ‘Best L.A. Bands’ because he felt points has been deducted from the Heartbreakers because the members were from Florida,” McKittrick remarks. “Especially since the Doors topped the list – and Jim Morrison was also born in Florida! In Petty’s mind, because the Heartbreakers formed in Los Angeles they were a quintessential L.A. band.”
Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles also delves into the rich history of the recording industry in L.A., including Petty’s famed battles with the industry over artist’s rights, the rising price of albums and concert tickets, and the changing formats of two forms of media that helped make him a superstar: rock radio and MTV. “Los Angeles is a town dominated by the entertainment industry,” McKittrick remarks, “Yet Petty wasn’t the type to let anyone walk all over him whenever he felt he or his fans were being disrespected.”
With nearly 45 years of Tom Petty history in Los Angeles, Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles has so much ground to cover. “While I know fans of Tom Petty will enjoy the book, I also hope they learn a lot about the history of Los Angeles,” McKittrick says. “I think people will be surprised to learn just how much L.A. history is reflected in Tom Petty’s career and music.”
Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles will be released on November 17, 2020 from Post Hill Press and is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For more information, follow @PettyLosAngeles on Twitter and Instagram.