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The Kinks' Ray Davies

Lead singer and songwriter, Ray Davies started The Kinks in 1964 with his brother, Dave. His latest album is the solo effort, Other People's Lives. Said to be the pioneers of the rowdy garage band genre of rock music, The Kinks had many hits including "You Really Got Me," "Lola," "All Day and All of the Night" and "Tired of Waiting for You." This interview originally aired on Apr. 3, 2006.

21:36

Other segments from the episode on December 27, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 27, 2006: Interview with Ray Davies; Interview with Tom Petty

Transcript

DATE December 27, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Singer and songwriter Ray Davies discusses his career
and music

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week we're presenting a holiday series featuring recent interviews with
great songwriters and singers. In April I spoke with Ray Davies, the
cofounder of The Kinks. He released his first solo record of new original
songs last spring. Before we hear about it, here's a Kinks hit from 1965 that
you may be able to identify in two notes.

(Soundbite of music)

THE KINKS: (Singing)

I'm not content to be with you in the daytime

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That record, "All Day and All of the Night," along with "You Really
Got Me," "Tired of Waiting for You," "A Well-Respected Man," "Lola," "Sunny
Afternoon," and "Waterloo Sunset" made The Kinks one of the great and enduring
British bands that came out of the '60s. But they haven't made an album of
new songs since 1963. My guest Ray Davies wrote and sang most of The Kinks'
songs. His brother Dave was featured on guitar. The solo album of new songs
Ray Davies released this year, called "Other People's Lives," was described in
Rolling Stone as "a masterpiece." Before completing the record, Davies was
shot in New Orleans while chasing a guy who stole his girlfriend's purse. But
we'll get to that story a little later. Here's the opening track of "Other
People's Lives." It's called "Things Change."

(Soundbite of "Things Change")

Mr. RAY DAVIES: (Singing)
Things are gonna change
This is the morning after
when reality bites
the morality kicks in
to those damaged limitations
This is the morning after
all that went before
all of the silent laughter
the morning after gets a promise
to do it all again
But things are gonna change
This is the morning after...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Ray Davies from his new CD "Other People's Lives."

Ray Davies, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DAVIES: Hi, how are you.

GROSS: Why is this your first ever solo record? Why has it taken this long?

Mr. DAVIES: I think being in The Kinks for so long was just--I didn't
realize until I wasn't with the band how life consuming it was, how much of my
life was wrapped up in it. And me as a person, you know, you have to remember
that I started this when I was just, college. You know, I was barely formed
as a human being and as a character, and I grew up in that band. My life
experience in many respects is limited to being in the band. So when I came
to record this record, I had to find out who I was as an individual because
all The Kinks music was part of a machine, part of a--I know I wrote the songs
so I had an element of freedom, but everything had to be targeted. It was a
Kinks, as you say, product.

GROSS: Now the way I've read it, it sounds like you came to the United States
as part of that process of writing new songs. You wanted to get away from the
environment that you'd written in all along...

Mr. DAVIES: Yeah.

GROSS: So was that the reason for moving to the states for a while?

Mr. DAVIES: Well, "Things Are Going to Change" was written while I was still
living in Surrey, in England, you see...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...nice, very rural, yeah, there. And maybe I was saying to
myself, `Things have got to change in my life. I've got to move on.' You
know, I don't know how a person can sit in one house all their lives and write
lots of books, songs, poetry. I needed to go on a journey, and that's what it
felt like. It wasn't enough being not with the band. I needed to have an
upheaval of some sort. You know, it's easy to say it now, but I didn't know
it then. So I came to America in 2001, toured here, just after 9/11, and I
was writing songs and shooting my own video diary on the road.

GROSS: So I know you spent a good deal time in New Orleans. Did you move to
New Orleans?

Mr. DAVIES: After the tour was over, I went back to New York where I was
based and realized I needed to find--and this sounds very grand--but I wanted
to find the source of the music that inspired me when I first started out, and
the country that made me want to pick up the guitar was America. You know, it
was American music. And all the people I was inspired by, from Hank Williams,
country music, Big Bill Broonzy came from Chicago, but I think was actually
born in Mississippi, all somehow had a connection with the South. And, you
know, I liked Dixieland as a kid. You know, we had a lot of that music in the
house, and I went to the Highgate jazz club where I grew up, sort of
Dixieland, so I wanted to go there and see it. And I went for some personal
reasons. I went on a personal visit as well, but I grew attracted to the
place.

GROSS: Let's hear one of the songs that I think relates in some way to New
Orleans. It's called "The Getaway," and it starts with a line about, you
know, "lonesome train." And that's such an American blues kind of thing. I
don't know, there's a lot of trains in England, I don't know that you'd
associate them with like the lonesome train.

Mr. DAVIES: Absolutely. I'm very coy about using phrases in terms that have
been used by other people. I, you know, I love blues music, but I never
attempt to be a blues man.

GROSS: Mm.

Mr. DAVIES: And lonesome trains, yeah, the lonesome whistles and all that
from the classic Hank Williams songs and the blues man as you said. But I was
there and actually every morning I would hear that train coming in, and it
woke me every morning and I loved hearing it. It was like a friend. And it
reminded me of where I grew up in North London. I lived very close to a train
track and it was a comfort zone for me to be there. But then, you know, this
element of change in my life I was going through relationships and my personal
life, the line just came into my head. And I didn't feel ashamed or feel coy
about using "Every time I hear that lonesome train roll down the track." My
only concern was it was a lot for me to say in one breath. That's all that
worried me. It's just because you're there, you see. I'm not writing blues
music. I'm not writing jazz. I'm in New Orleans, but I'm seeing the world in
a slightly different way. I'm not ashamed to say things like that, and that's
good enough. That's worth the journey.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "The Getaway," and this is from Ray Davies' new
album, which is called "Other People's Lives."

(Soundbite of "The Getaway")

Mr. DAVIES: (Singing)
Every time I hear that lonesome train roll down the track
Going away to unknown destinations
I believe there's someone out there making the great escape
Just moving on, suddenly gone, and so unexpectedly
If I get you on a sunny afternoon
We'll have a warning
There's a thought that just comes over you
And if the shadow on the sidewalk someone like you
In the blink of an eye, leaving goodbye
It's time you make your getaway.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "The Getaway" from Ray Davies' new CD, which is called "Other
People's Lives," and it's his first solo CD. All of his other CDs have been
as a member of The Kinks.

I really like the song a lot, and to me it's a song about, you know, somebody
who makes their getaway from a relationship, or from a neighborhood, or a
home, or maybe even from life itself.

Mr. DAVIES: Mm.

GROSS: Somebody who's just, you know, made the final exit, intentionally.

Mr. DAVIES: Yeah.

GROSS: I think--I don't know if you feel that way, but as a listener, it
seems to me it's speaking on all those levels.

Mr. DAVIES: That's the precisely the level, or the levels, I was writing
about. The secret is, though, not to know it when you're writing it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: It's just to feel, deal with the analysis later on. I'm not
very--I don't intellectualize while I write because I think my instinct is
smarter than my actual being. And there's a long fadeout in that song and
there's a reason for that. It goes on and on and on, and if you just think
about it, it's like a--there's a punch line, a deep voice comes up at the end,
like whispering in my ears, the singer's ears saying, `Yeah, man, it's time to
get out the door. It's time to make that move. You've been saying it all
your life. Do it. You know, make the move or you're going to get the
lonesome train.' So the lonesome train is isolation.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Is there something specific you were making your
getaway from when you wrote that song?

Mr. DAVIES: I think there's an element of escape on the entire record.
That's a theme that goes through it. Again, not knowing. I'm sitting down in
my little studio in Surrey, in England, 1998, thinking, `I have to get away
from this...'

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: `...if I'm going to keep writing.'

GROSS: My guest is Ray Davies. He'll be back after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded in April with songwriter
and singer Ray Davies, the cofounder of The Kinks. This year he released his
first solo album of new original songs.

This is a pretty horrible story. Some of our listeners, I'm sure, have
already heard it. But while you were living in New Orleans...

Mr. DAVIES: Well, it was when--I had moved out to start--I came back to
England to--at the end of 2003 to finish the recording. All the songs on this
album were written prior to 2004 and recorded. But when I was in New Orleans,
we were going to have a holiday there, New Year's, spend New Year's. We had a
good New Year's Eve there. And about the fourth of January 2004, I got
attacked and shot, yeah. It was quite harrowing.

GROSS: Would you describe what happened?

Mr. DAVIES: Well, we were just walking around the street, walked around. I
used to go jogging a lot at night, on my bicycle. I loved cycling in New
Orleans. And this was a sunny afternoon, late in the afternoon, and a guy
came up with a gun and attacked us and stole my girlfriend's bag, and I ran
after him. I just had a bad day, I think, and this was just the topper. I
didn't really want to deal with anything, but I just felt--you just never know
until it happens to you, I suppose, how a person reacts.

GROSS: Well, that's the thing. Did you decide to chase after this guy with a
gun, or did you just reflexively do it without even thinking?

Mr. DAVIES: Well, the irony is that near the end--this record really took a
long time to make...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: And I was really losing my temper with myself and everybody
around. I was irritable, not nice to be around, because I hadn't finished my
work, and that was left in England. But after that, we'd been to a restaurant
and I had just decided to be a calmer, better, easy going person. And
actually, `I don't mind if I don't finish this record, or I don't mix this
record. I'm going to relax here and maybe buy a place here and live in New
Orleans.' And walk out and get shot. And, in a sense--I was put into hospital
and my injuries were quite more severe or serious than people realized. But
it gave me the incentive to get back and come to terms with finishing my
record and getting it done. That was my quest after that.

GROSS: So when your girlfriend's purse got nabbed by this guy, or guys--guy
with a gun, did you just reflexively run after him or did you make a conscious
decision?

Mr. DAVIES: It's a question I'll always ask myself and I'm still trying to
work that out.

GROSS: You're not sure.

Mr. DAVIES: I'm not sure. I just didn't feel it was right to be treated
that way. And what--this is so difficult to talk about but he was really
scared, and he's the one that had the gun. I got a close look at him. I
think he was really scared. I just felt it was not right to let him get away
with it, and I didn't know there was a car waiting with a driver. He
stopped--I nearly caught him and he stopped at the car and just turned around
and shot me.

GROSS: You, like everybody who watches TV or goes to the movies, has seen a
lot of people shot over the years on screen.

Mr. DAVIES: Mm.

GROSS: What surprised you most about what it's like to be shot in real life
as opposed to what it looks like in the movies?

Mr. DAVIES: You know, I was kept in this hospital, this grand but sad--and
now, I think, it's a derelict hospital called Charity Hospital. At the time
it was running at full, you know, its full powers, for what that's worth, and
they did the best. They had very limited resources...

GROSS: It's a hospital for the poor.

Mr. DAVIES: It's a poor town, as everybody knows now and...

GROSS: How did you end up in a hospital for the poor?

Mr. DAVIES: Because I was just a body brought in in an ambulance, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: I didn't say, `Hey I'm Ray Davies and I've been shot.' It
actually hurts. They took me to the hospital. And I remember them having--I
was in hospital--my leg was broken. They didn't know it so they tried to get
me to walk in the hospital, and it finally snapped while I was in the
hospital...

GROSS: Oh, that must have hurt.

Mr. DAVIES: They were was just relieved that I was alive, and anyway I was
in the ward, and they had a telethon--they had one television on the ward on
all the time, and it was a James Bond telethon and people...

GROSS: Oh no!

Mr. DAVIES: ...were getting shot all the time.

GROSS: That's so funny.

Mr. DAVIES: They just fall over and that's it. They...

GROSS: But they quip. They always quip when they're shot, in James Bond
movies.

Mr. DAVIES: `You've had your shot.' There's always a James Bond quip.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DAVIES: Yeah. You know, I just watched it with the sound turned down.
You know, I didn't really pay much attention. It hurts and I feel, you know,
you just feel how every day, you know, we see on television horrible wars now
are televised, live almost, you know, the suffering that goes on, just made me
appreciate that a little more, how terrible these bombings are and explosions
and war in general.

GROSS: If you don't mind my asking...

Mr. DAVIES: Sure.

GROSS: ...was there a moment where you saw the shooter looking at you and
taking aim and you knew you were--was there a moment you knew you were going
to get shot?

Mr. DAVIES: Yeah, it was the classic, you know, how they train people to
shoot guns, you know, that position, that crouched position.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: And so I just ran, dived, like they do in the movies, and yeah.
I try not to think about it because there are only fragments, you know. It's
like writing songs. It's one line. It's not a constant memory, a constant...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...replay.

GROSS: So you mean like even when you think about it, you only have fragments
of that memory.

Mr. DAVIES: Mm. Mm.

GROSS: There isn't one complete connected narrative that you have.

Mr. DAVIES: Yes. Just like songwriting.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Would you ever write a song about that?

Mr. DAVIES: I already had at that time. The song was called "I, the
Victim." And that's what's been the most harrowing part of this whole process.
It was the recovery process that was the most difficult, because I had to go
back to my music. And there's a song on the album called "After the Fall."
There's a song on the album about tourists, "Take the Money," you know, attack
the tourists, whatever. And I'd written a song "I, the Victim," which was
almost the incident played out. I don't know if I'll go back to that. It may
come out in another record. But it's--but I didn't...

GROSS: Would you recite or talk a few of the lines?

Mr. DAVIES: I didn't write the song called "You Really Shot Me." I don't
recommend it for any aspiring solo artists if they're looking for source
material.

GROSS: Your life, it seems like, has been very eventful lately. But you were
shot. Your brother had a stroke. How severe was it, like does he have his
memory and his ability to talk and sing and walk?

Mr. DAVIES: He has all those, thankfully, but it's just getting back to
normality for him is difficult, and he never does things slowly. He's like
me. We've lived quite pressured lives.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DAVIES: A lot of pressure, traveling and doing things, and he's playing
again.

GROSS: He can play the guitar again?

Mr. DAVIES: He stayed with me for a few months...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...when he was recovering. This happened over a year ago.

GROSS: That's interesting that you stayed together for a few months because,
you know, everything I read about your relationship is that it's just this
really rocky relationship. You only see each other when you perform...

Mr. DAVIES: Yes.

GROSS: ...and, you know, that's part of the reason why The Kinks aren't
really together. And I guess, after the stroke, you got close?

Mr. DAVIES: I've never been not close to him. It's just that we have--all
siblings are the same, I think. They fall out, some more than others, and it
happens that we fall out a lot. But, you know, it was kind of--he wasn't
helpless. He's recovered really well. I'd see him in hospital, but I was
just trying to do the right thing. Now that both our parents are dead, and I
think it was the right thing to do, try and look after him. And look after
him, you know, he had his girlfriend with him and they stayed in another part
of the house, but we'd eat dinner together and that was really good, watch
movies. And as he started to recover, he got more aggressive towards me, and
now he's back to normality.

GROSS: Still into those big power chord kind of things?

Mr. DAVIES: He's still, you know, my brother's got incredible hands. He's
got very strong hands. I was auditioning all these guitar players. With no
disrespect to any of them, there were so many great players, nobody could hit
power chords like Dave. It's just something he put his body through. You
know, it's just like one of those karate people. You know, they've got those
very strong hands.

GROSS: Ray Davies, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DAVIES: My pleasure, as always.

GROSS: Ray Davies, recorded in April. The solo album he released this year
is called "Other People's Lives." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAVIES: (Singing)
Time is the abandoned
But why should we just surrender to it
Why go through it?
Run run run run run run run away
Let's run away from time
Run run run run run run run away

Girl, you and me...

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Singer-songwriter Tom Petty discusses new CD,
"Highway Companion"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We continue our holiday week music series with singer, guitarist and
songwriter Tom Petty. This year marked the 30th anniversary of his first
album with his band, The Heartbreakers. Since then, they've sold more than 50
million records. Petty's songs include "American Girl, "Breakdown," "Listen
to Her Heart," "Don't Do Me Like That," "Refugee," "I Won't Back Down" and
"Running Down a Dream." Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the
Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, the first year they were eligible. As a
member of the Traveling Wilburys from 1988 to 1990, Petty performed with
several of the people he most admired: Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy
Orbison.

I spoke with Petty in July when he released a solo CD of new songs called
"Highway Companion." Let's start with the opening track "Saving Grace."

(Soundbite from "Saving Grace")

Mr. TOM PETTY: (Singing)
I'm passing sleeping cities
fading by degrees
not believing all I see to be so
I'm flying over backyards
country homes and ranches
watching life between the branches below.

And it's hard to say
who you are these days
but you run on anyway
don't you, baby?
You keep running for another place
to find that saving grace
I'm moving on alone
over ground that no one owns
past statues that atone for my sins
There's a guard on every door...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: In addition to touring and recording, Tom Petty hosts his own radio
show on the XM Satellite network. I asked him what radio meant to him as a
kid.

Mr. PETTY: Everything. You know, I still see it as this really magical
thing, and it was wonderful. I didn't have the money to have a vast record
collection, so I learned everything, really, from the radio, and in the--you
know, in the mid-'60s, AM radio, pop radio, was just this incredible thing
that played all kinds of music, you know, just--you could hear Frank Sinatra,
right into the Yardbirds, you know, The Beatles, into Dean Martin. It was
this amazing thing, and I miss it in a way because music has become so
compartmentalized now, but in those days, it was all right in one spot.

And that's--you know, we used to learn--you know, when I was 15 or 16 playing
in groups, we used to sit in the car and try to write the lyrics down as a
song was playing, and we'd assign each person a verse, you know. `I'm going
to do the first one. You go for the second one.' And then sometimes you'd
wait an hour for it to come on again, you know, so you could finish it up
but...

GROSS: What's a song you did that with?

Mr. PETTY: I'll tell you the hardest one was "Get Off My Cloud" by the
Stones. It had so many words.

GROSS: Oh and fast, too.

Mr. PETTY: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PETTY: It took us a good three hours to get that one written down. But
it was that kind of thing. It was a friend, you know, and something that was
there. You didn't really think about it that much, but looking back on it, it
was such a musical education.

GROSS: You grew up in Gainesville, Florida.

Mr. PETTY: Yeah.

GROSS: I think there's a branch of the University of Florida in Gainesville,
right?

Mr. PETTY: It is there, the University of Florida, the whole thing.

GROSS: So were you in a college part of Gainesville or were you in a
different part of town?

Mr. PETTY: No, I was in the redneck hillbilly part. I wasn't part of the
academic circle, but it's an interesting place because you can meet almost any
kind of person from many walks of life because of the university. But it's
really surrounded by this kind of very rural kind of people that are--you
know, they're farmers or, you know, tractor drivers or, you know, just all
kinds of--game wardens, you name it, you know. So it's an interesting blend.
My family wasn't involved in the college, you know. They were more of just
your white trash kind of, you know, family. And so I have that kind of
background, but I always kind of aspired to be something else, and I made a
lot of different friends over the years that were, you know, passing through.

GROSS: Now you had an uncle. I guess this is a famous story in your life
because you got to meet Elvis Presley on a movie set when you were 11 through
an uncle of yours who was doing something on the set, though I'm not sure
what.

Mr. PETTY: Yeah. Yeah. I had an uncle by marriage who was the kind of--he
was very into film. He was the guy in town that developed all the film and he
had a movie camera. He used to film the college basketball practices and
football practices. And when a movie came nearby, as a lot of them did around
northern Florida, he would usually hire onto the set and work in some
capacity. And he was working on an Elvis Presley movie in 1961, I think.
"Follow That Dream" it was called. And I was invited there by my aunt, who
drove me down to see Elvis, and I really didn't have much idea of who Elvis
was. I was only 11. But we did indeed go there, and it was quite a circus,
you know. A lot of, as you'd expect, you know, mobs in the street, and he was
just back from the Army and--but I didn't really talk with him. I mean, he
just sort of nodded my way, you know.

I was introduced by my uncle as, you know, this is--`These are my nephew.' And
my two cousins were with me, and he just--I don't remember what he said
really, but I was very impressed by it. And when I went home, I kind of
scoured the neighborhood and came up with some old Elvis records, and I
started listening to them, and they really took me over. You know, these were
all '50s records, and I had a friend whose older sister had gone to college
and left this beautiful box of 45s of rock 'n' roll, you know, from the '50s,
and I loved it, you know. It just spoke to me. It seemed like such a magical
place, you know.

And the odd thing was, in those days, there was no information about the
records, you know. I was dying to know stuff about them, and there was no
such thing then as a book on rock 'n' roll or...

GROSS: Or liner notes.

Mr. PETTY: Yeah. There were fan magazines but there was nothing really, you
know, intelligent, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hm.

Mr. PETTY: You could read Elvis' favorite color but you really didn't know,
you know, much about the records. And finally I did find a book in England--I
had to send away to England and pay a buck, send a buck to England, and they
sent me a discography that lined up how the records, you know, came out and
when they were made, and this and that. And so from there I got really
interested in all the, you know, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, all these
people. So I was just this 11-year-old kid, and I was already, you know, not
involved with my own generation. Until, you know, until The Beatles came, I
sort of felt--and the Stones and all that British invasion--I kind of felt
like that was my generation, and that was interesting to me because they were
playing this '50's music in a slightly different way.

GROSS: So how long did it take after that until you started to play something
yourself?

Mr. PETTY: Well, the idea had never dawned on me until I saw The Beatles on
"The Ed Sullivan Show," like so many musicians did. When I saw it, you know,
I didn't think you could just become a rock 'n' roll singer. I didn't see how
it could happen, you know, because you needed to be in a movie and have the
music appear on the beach and stuff. So I didn't see how one would get that
together, you know. So when I saw The Beatles, it sort of hit me like a
lightning bolt to the brain that, `Oh, I see,' you know. You have your
friends and you all learn an instrument, and you're a self-contained unit.
This is brilliant, you know. This is a--this looks like a great, great job to
me, and apparently it did to lots of people because very quickly after that,
there were bands forming, you know, in garages all over town, and I was just
one in, you know, thousands of little bands that started then in around '64,
'65.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Petty.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Tom Petty. His new solo CD is called "Highway Companion."
Here's a hit from his first album with The Heartbreakers, released 30 years
ago.

(Soundbite of "American Girl")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
Well, she was an American girl
raised on promises.
She couldn't help thinking that
there was a little more to life
somewhere else.
After all, it was a great big world
with lots of places to run to.

Yeah, and if she had to die trying,
she had one little promise
she was gonna keep.

Oh, yeah, all right,
take it easy, baby,
make it last all night.

Unidentified Group of Singers #1: (Singing)
Make it last all night.

Mr. PETTY and Singers #1: (Singing)
She was an American girl.

Mr. PETTY:
Well, it was kind of cold
that night...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: You know, Roger McGuinn and the Byrds influenced you and influenced
your guitar sound. He later recorded this song. What did it mean to you to,
years later, after having been influenced by him, to have him record your
song?

Mr. PETTY: Well, I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. And, you know, I
couldn't believe, you know--people said, `You sound like the Byrds." Well, we
couldn't believe that we would, you know, even have the talent to sound like
the Byrds, you know. So we--I was very taken aback by it and I was quickly
invited over to meet Roger McGuinn, and I was very intimidated but I went over
and met him, and he told me that--he said, `When I first heard this record, I
thought it was, for a few minutes, I thought it was a Byrds outtake.' And he
invited us on tour with him, and we did go out on tour and became friends.
We're still friends to this day really.

GROSS: Let me play another song that was--it's a great song and it was a very
popular song of yours. Johnny Cash recorded this song late in his life, and
the song is "I Won't Back Down," which you recorded in 1989. I know it's hard
to talk about writing songs, but is there a story behind this one?

Mr. PETTY: Hmm. I wrote this song with Jeff Lynne. We wrote it in the
studio while we were mixing another song, and it came very quickly, and I was
actually worried about it. I thought that it was maybe just too direct. You
know, I thought, `Well, there isn't really anything to hide behind here,' you
know. It's very bold and very blunt. There's not a lot of metaphor or any,
you know, anywhere to go, and--but I was encouraged by Jeff that, you know,
`No, it's really good. You should record this and go ahead with it.' And it's
turned out to be, maybe, you know, the one song that's had the most influence
on people that approach me on the street or talk to me in a restaurant or
wherever I go, or mail that I've gotten over the years. It's been really
important to a lot of people in their lives. And I'm glad I wrote it, and I'm
kind of proud of it these days, and I was very, very proud when Johnny Cash
did it.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. From 1989, this is Tom Petty.

(Soundbite of "I Won't Back Down")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
Well, I won't back down.
No, I won't back down.
You can stand me up
at the gates of hell
but I won't back down.

Gonna stand my ground
won't be turned around.
And I'll keep this world
from dragging me down
Gonna stand my ground
and I won't back down.

Mr. PETTY and Unidentified Group of Singers #2: (Singing)
I won't back down. Hey, baby.

Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
There ain't no easy way out.

Mr. PETTY and Group of Singers #2: (Singing)
Hey, yeah.

Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
Gonna stand my ground.
And I won't back down.
Well, I know what's right.
I...
(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Tom Petty, recorded in 1989. He has a new CD that's called
"Highway Companion."

You recorded that song just a couple of years after an arsonist burned down
your house. The house was set on fire while you and your family were in it.
Did your instincts kick in like they were supposed to when you realized that
your house was on fire and that you and your wife and child had to get out of
there?

Mr. PETTY: They kick in pretty fast, you know, when your house is on fire.
Yeah. They kicked in really fast, and it was a pretty horrific thing to
happen, and I did just survive with the, you know, the clothes on my back, but
I don't know--maybe, you know, that had something to do with the songs, like
"I Won't Back Down" and things, because I felt really elated that they didn't
get me, you know, like I kind of just--that was the thought that was going
through my head is, `Whoa, you bastards, you didn't get me.' You know? `I
survived.' But it's very hard to even believe that someone wants to kill you,
you know. It's a very hard thing to go through. And, you know, when the
police and the arson people are telling me that, you know, someone did it, I'm
just going, `Well, surely, there's a mistake.' You know." `It must have been a
bad wire' or, you know. And, you know, they were absolutely sure, there was
no mistake. So the interesting thing about that is how many people called and
confessed the following day.

GROSS: You're kidding. Really?

Mr. PETTY: You know? Yeah, they were confessing from all over America, and
it was like, you know, people in New Jersey would call and confess.
It--that--then I realized just how bonkers people are, you know. It's like,
there--you know, there are some people that are really bonkers and you have to
be careful. But, you know, that was, you know, that--I never really talked
about that much because it stunned me so, so deeply, and I'm sure it had a
great effect on the music I did, because I came back with this very positive,
happy kind of music, that I didn't want to go into any dark corner or anything
like that. I was just so glad to be alive and to have escaped something like
that, and, you know, it was also really traumatic and terrible, but part of it
made me really be extra glad to just be alive.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Petty. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded last July with songwriter,
singer and guitarist Tom Petty. The album he released this year is called
"Highway Companion."

I want to play another record here, and this is one of Johnny Cash's albums.
On the album "Unchained," which is one of the albums he made later in his
life...

Mr. PETTY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...in that great series of American recordings.

Mr. PETTY: Yeah, we backed him on that.

GROSS: Yeah. You and The Heartbreakers backed him up on this. And how--I
guess, how--of all the bands in the world, how did you get to play with him?

Mr. PETTY: Well, we had been friends a long time, I think 20 years when we
did "Unchained." I mean, that...

GROSS: You and Johnny Cash had been friends?

Mr. PETTY: Yeah, we became friends back in the early '80s, and John had made
this--he was--you know, he was breaking out of a thing, too, where he had kind
of been disappointed in what he was doing in the Nashville world, you know.
And he made this acoustic album that was really brilliant. It was his first
American record. And then I guess the plan for the next one was to make a,
you know, a band record, with a band, and he came to me, him and Rick Rubin,
actually at a time--the time we were talking about when I was going through a
pretty tough period. And they called me one day, both of them on the phone,
and said, `Hey, why don't you come and play the bass on this record we're
going to do?' And I thought, `That's great,' you know. And so they got me out
of the house. And then it grew from me playing the bass on the record to
`Hey, how about The Heartbreakers playing on the record?' And it was a
wonderful time, you know. We all went down and made a whole album with Johnny
Cash, and it's--I think it's some of the best playing The Heartbreakers ever
did. You know, it turned out just great. I love that album to this day.

GROSS: Well, here's a track from it. This is "Sea of Heartbreak," Johnny
Cash, with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

(Soundbite of "Sea of Heartbreak")

Mr. JOHNNY CASH:
One, two, one, two, three, four.

(Singing) The lights in the harbor
don't shine for me.
I'm like a lost ship
adrift on the sea.

Mr. CASH and Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
The sea of heartbreak
lost love and loneliness
memories of your caress.
So divine
how I wish you were mine

Again, my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak.

Mr. CASH: (Singing)
Oh, how did I lose you?
Oh, where did I fail?
Why did you leave me?
Always to sail
this sea of heartbreak

Mr. CASH and Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
lost love and loneliness
memories of your caress.
So divine
how I wish you were mine

Again, my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak.

Mr. CASH: (Singing)
Oh what I'd give
just to sail back to shore
back to your arms once more
come to my rescue
oh, come here to me
take me and keep me
away from the sea

Mr. CASH and Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
Sea of heartbreak
lost love and loneliness
memories of your caress.
So divine
how I wish you were mine

Again, my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak
Sea of heartbreak

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: I think that when you're young and you fall in love with a song, it
has this incredible impact on you, and the song just kind of stays in your
mind for the rest of your life, and every time you hear it, you think about
what that song meant to you and how your feelings about the song has evolved
over the years. And you have, like, a bunch of songs that have that kind of
place in people's minds, and I wonder if you think about that a lot. If you
think about that special place that great songs have in the lives of young
people and teenagers when they first hear them over and over.

Mr. PETTY: I know the songs mean a lot to people and it means a lot to me.
You know, we just played this Bona Rue festival up in--well, it was in
Tennessee. And there were 80,000 people there, and they were singing, you
know, "I Won't Back Down" so loud that it nearly drowned us out, you know.
And I--you know, I was thinking at the time, you know, `God, this is just
wonderful that this has reached people on this level, you know, and that
people know the words to these things, and it means something to them.' So I
don't want to sell them out if I don't have to, you know. And I know that a
lot of music has meant, you know, has been important to me. You know, the
rock 'n' roll stuff is more than just something that you can manipulate into
advertising or whatever they do with them. It means more than that to me.
Right or wrong, that's what, you know, that's the way I am.

GROSS: Well, Tom Petty, thank you so much, and congratulations on the new CD
and on, you know, 30 years with The Heartbreakers. That's kind of incredible.
Thanks so much...

Mr. PETTY: OK, well, thank you.

GROSS: ...for talking with us.

Mr. PETTY: Thanks for having me. It was nice to be here.

GROSS: Tom Petty recorded over the summer when his solo album "Highway
Companion" was released.

Our holiday series of recent interviews with great songwriters and singers
continues tomorrow.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Don't Do Me Like That")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing)
I was talking with a friend of mine.
He said a woman had hurt his pride.
She told him that she loved him so
and then turned around and let him go
Then he said, `You better watch your step
or you gonna get hurt yourself...
Someone's gonna tell you lies,
cut you down to size.'
Don't do me like that
Don't do me like that.

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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