Oct. 2 marks the first anniversary of the death of rock icon Tom Petty. Petty, who was 66, died just one week after wrapping up a 40th-anniversary tour with longtime legendary band The Heartbreakers. The passing left fans mourning the loss while artists ranging from The Killers to Bob Dylan covering “American Girl” and “Learning To Fly” in concert respectively. Fortunately, this writer got to see Petty four different times, the last being in Toronto in July 2017.
Unlike other artists, Petty was never shy to issue material he thought his fans would like. In 1995 the incredibly impressive 6-CD, 92-track Playback box set was highlighted by three discs of ridiculously solid unreleased material, material that rivalled any tracks the band issued up to that time. In 2009 a 4-CD, 48-track box set entitled The Live Anthology culled together hits, cover versions and rarities. And in keeping with Petty’s well-known battle with record labels, the price of both sets was very fan-friendly.
Another box set aptly entitled An American Treasure comes out this Friday (Sept. 28) in a variety of formats. The 4-CD, 63-track (60 songs, two brief concert snippets and a radio ad) compilation might surprise some diehards with roughly one-third of the collection consisting of previously released album tracks. However the fact there’s essentially very little overlap otherwise between An American Treasure and the other two box sets is cause for celebration.
“We just want to share his brilliance with everyone,” Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell said in a Los Angeles Times interview last week. “The stuff that’s left of the records is so good, and I think he would be proud to have these things come out and have people experience them.”
News of An American Treasure broke in early July with details and a video for “Keep A Little Soul,” a previously unreleased song from the 1982 Long After Dark sessions. According to his widow Dana, “You And Me” (another song released this summer highlighting the box set) was a track Petty listened to the day he passed away.
According to Rolling Stone Campbell, Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench and the band’s longtime recording engineer Ryan Ulyate sifted through the vaults for material. Also, key to the set was the input from Adria and Petty’s widow Dana.
“We went back and listened to everything,” Campbell told Rolling Stone. “We were like, ‘Is there anything in the vault that no one has heard before?’ Then we’d listen to a song and I’d go, ‘Hmmm, now I know why!’”
Like any other big release, An American Treasure comes in six different formats with a “super deluxe” and “deluxe” version available. A 6-LP vinyl version is also offered with a two-disc CD (and digital) format and single disc digital download presented.
Perhaps the biggest question now is what transpires with other material. Petty was quoted in his last interview before his death he hoped to tour in 2019 celebrating his 1994 Wildflowers album. A box set, reportedly in the cards as far back as 2015, is still on the horizon for that album. In 2016 Petty told UltimateClassicRock.com that he hoped to bring the album (originally planned as a double-album) to the stage in 2017. But it never happened. And Petty’s family believes a series of reissues (with more bonus material) will be in the works for years to come as well as possible live albums.
As for the surviving band members, Campbell is gearing up for a trek as a touring member of Fleetwood Mac this fall (and well into 2019) while Tench continues to perform and work on his own. Campbell, however, said in a separate Rolling Stone interview that the band at some point could reunite to take Wildflowers on the road with a batch of guest vocalists. “It would be a great tribute to Tom to just do that album.” Another possibility might be finding a new singer to record new material with. But bringing in a new singer to perform classic Petty material is just a non-starter.
“It wouldn’t be going out and doing Heartbreakers songs without Tom,” Campbell said. “That would just be like…ugh.”