Conversations With Tom Petty: Paul Zollo

By James Calemine

Tom Petty wrote in the foreword of this book about writer Paul Zollo: “We met many times in 2004 to 2005 for talks that came to necessitate my re-listening to thirty-odd years of music as Paul would show up knowledgeable to the point of having learned to play the songs himself.”

The book is divided into two parts: the life and music of Tom Petty. Authorized by Petty, the book contains many memories from his early days in Gainesville, Florida, to selling 50 million albums. Zollo never loses sight of Petty’s songwriting so there is very little wasted space or questions in this book, which is a breath of fresh air for fans. Petty confesses a truth that holds for many great musicians, “Our greatest hits are not necessarily our best songs.”

Petty tells the stories about meeting Elvis as a kid, watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Shelter Records, songwriting, producing Del Shannon, drugs, touring with Bob Dylan, writing with The Traveling Wilburys, recording with Johnny Cash, an act of arson on his home, shattering his hand on a studio wall as well as other slings, arrows and zeniths of his illustrious career.

Album by album Petty chronologically discusses his songwriting, guitar tones, musical influences and personal undercurrents that served as an impetus for any specific song. This book serves as a fine roadmap through Tom Petty’s career and reveals why he ranks as a great American songwriter.

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