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Tech Session

Tom Petty - Tech Session

Issue #53

Originally from Gainesville Florida, Petty was inspired to be in a band when he saw the Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Jamie Humphries

Tom Petty - Tech Session

Tom Petty is the subject of this issue's Tech Session. Jamie Humphries pays tribute to one of rock's most respected artists who sadly passed away last month. With a career spanning four decades, his unique vocal style and chiming 12-string guitar riffs combined to form some of popular music's best-loved songs.

Tom Petty was a unique artist, with a style that blends Southern and Heartland rock. Petty had an exceptional vocal quality as well as distinct stripped down guitar style reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, due to his use of a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. Petty is best known as the singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but was also part of the Traveling Wilburys. As well as working as a solo artist he has also recorded and worked with Stevie Nicks, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne.

Originally from Gainesville Florida, Petty was inspired to be in a band when he saw the Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show.  A teenage Petty dropped out of school at 17, and began singing and playing bass in a band called the Epics. Tom didn’t want to be a singing bass player and started taking guitar lessons from Don Felder, who later, of course, joined the Eagles.

Petty came to prominence in the late 70’s when he reluctantly took the role of leader of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The band was one of the leaders in the heartland rock movement, alongside Bob Segar, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp. The band had mild success with their first two albums; the single “American Girl” although had limited chart success on its first release, has been voted one of the top guitar songs of all time, and a crowd pleaser at Tom Petty live shows.

Their third album “Damn the Torpedoes” was a breakthrough for the band, and peaked at number #2 in the album charts, being kept off the top spot by Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” The album included the single “Refugee” which was a big hit for the band and is still popular on rock radio to this day.


The 80’s also saw collaborations with such artists as Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, and Dave Stuart who produced the popular single “Don’t Come Around Here No More” which yielded a psychedelic “Alice in Wonderland” inspired video which also saw Petty embracing MTV culture with more mini movie style pop videos.

In 1988 Petty teamed up with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne to form the Travelling Wilbury’s, and saw him release two albums with this supergroup. Working with Jeff Lynne would see Petty record some of his most successful material. In 1989 Tom Petty released his debut solo album “Full Moon Fever.” Although released as a solo album, it was co-produced by long-term Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. The album was produced by Lynne and featured a more polished sound with layered keyboards and vocal harmonies and Beatlesque production. The album also included guest appearances from Roy Orbison and George Harrison. This hugely successful album was the commercial peak of Petty’s career, and included such songs as “I Won't Back Down,” “Free Falling” and “Running Down a Dream.” The album earned multiple platinum status.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers regrouped for their next album, once again aided by Jeff Lynne. They released “Into The Great Wide Open,” another hugely successful release for the artist that included the hit single “learning to Fly,” plus the title track single which boasted another mini-movie style music video that featured both Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway. Their following album was a greatest hits which featured two new songs including “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” with Kim Basinger staring in the video.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers popularity continued through the 90’s and into the new millennium. They teamed up with Rick Rubin who produced several successful albums including “Wildflowers.” They also released the soundtrack album to the movie “She’s the One,” which featured Lindsey Buckingham.

2017 saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers embark on their 40th-anniversary tour, with the band making their final performance together at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25th, concluding their performance with “American Girl,” the last song they would play together. Tom Petty tragically suffered a full cardiac arrest on October 2nd; He was laid to rest on October 16th.

For our Tech Session, I have borrowed ideas from such tracks as “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Free Fallin'” and “Running Down a Dream.” Although this feature is meant as a tribute to Tom Petty, as well as looking at his rhythm style, we shall be looking at the lead style of guitarist Mike Campbell.

Bars 1-4 feature our intro, which I have performed of a 12-string guitar. The intro features a riff based on the A minor and Asus2 and is similar in feel and style to the intro of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” This intro will, of course, work fine on either 6 or 12 string guitars.

Bars 5-12 introduce our verse progression, which is based loosely on “Into The Great Wide Open.” The verse progression kicks off with the 12 string playing lightly strummed chords that features some interesting harmony. The chord progression is based on the key of E natural minor, although E Harmonic minor is implied with the inclusion of the D# diminished 7th chord. Bar 12 features a rhythmic figure that concludes the first half of the verse and is featured throughout this short piece.

Bars 13-21 is the second half of our verse riff, and although the progression is the same as our previous section, on the repeat, we perform it with chord arpeggios. As before this is performed on a 12 string, and has a fantastic sound and a real Tom Petty vibe to it, but this will translate equally well on a 6 string guitar. Bars 20-21 include our rhythmic figure that we saw in our previous section. This time the figure has been extended to a two-bar figure concluding on the chord of C major that leads us to our chorus.

Bars 22-28 feature our chorus progression and is based on a I, IV, V, I, Vi, V progression. The chords in this progression are performed with chord arpeggios, with each chord including the open 3rd string as a common/shared chord tone.

Bars 29-30 conclude our chorus and reference the rhythm of the final bars of our verse, but are based around the chords of Dsus4, D major and A/D.

Bars 31-38 features our first solo, which is performed over the Beatlesque verse progression. For this solo, I swapped over to a 6 string guitar in the video and played the solo with a slide. This solo is pretty straightforward and is based around the E minor pentatonic scale, although we outline E Harmonic minor over the D# diminished 7th chord. Be sure to pay attention to your pitching when using the slide, positioning the slide over the frets themselves.

Bars 39-44 introduce a new section for our solo based on “Running Down a Dream.” You’ll notice our tempo has double for fast up-tempo feel. The solo references some classic Mike Campbell moments, with the opening figures based on a melodic phrase similar to “American Girl.” This section concludes with some bluesy bends based around A minor pentatonic.

Bars 47-50 include a fast ascending hybrid picking lick similar to the fast lick heard in “American Girl.” I would suggest playing this lick at a slower tempo and gradually building up the speed.

Bars 51-55 conclude our solo and feature another classic Campbell blues lick, that embrace his Jimmy Page influence. This lick is based on A minor pentatonic and features a 16th note rhythm. This section concludes with some aggressive vibrato concluding to our final bend.

The Gear:

Equipment wise Tom Petty and Mike Campbell use a wide variety of guitars, but notably Rickenbacker 6 and 12 strings, Fender Tele’s, Gretsch, and Gibson, Flying V, SG and Les Paul’s. Both Tom and Mike used a variety of Fender guitar amps, For our session, I used my Mesa Mini Rec head into a Two Notes Studio using a Fender IR’s. Guitar wise I changed guitars during the video shoot; using a very rare Rickenbacker Tom Petty signature 12 string, and swapping over to my original 1960 Fender telecaster for the solos. Tonally the verses the amp was slightly pushed.  I used a mild overdrive for the solo section, adding some overdrive from a Wampler Plexi drive.

 

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