Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks: A History of Their Friendship and Musical Collaborations
The long and enduring friendship between Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, who died on Monday at the age of 66, is the stuff of legend. In fact, the Fleetwood Mac member has spent the bulk of her wildly successful 24 Karat Gold tour telling lengthy stories about how much she wanted to be in Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
During her September 15 show at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, she discussed the genesis of her 1981 solo album, Bella Donna. Nicks described how she visited Atlantic Records' then-president Doug Morris and made her pitch for the record: "So, listen, what I'd really like to do is be in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' band. He says, 'No. That's not going to happen.'" Nicks smiled, and relayed Morris' next comment: "You obviously haven't heard Tom Petty's mantra: 'No girls allowed.'"
Nicks settled for meeting Petty's producer, Jimmy Iovine ("So I can make, like, a Tom Petty girl album?"). The pair started dating and living together, which gave Nicks further chance to be a covert super-fan, since Petty would come by to listen to mixes and playback. Amusingly, she described hiding in the basement trying to be unobtrusive as the pair worked (which Iovine also recalled in a recent interview) and mimed taking notes: "Like a reporter—like a secret reporter at the White House!"
However, after Iovine didn't hear a single on Bella Donna, the producer talked to Petty, who agreed to give Nicks a song and perform it with her. The tune? "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." The session was short, Nicks recalled—she showed up and sang on the song—but it was a rousing success. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard singles charts and kickstarted Nicks' solo career.
Oddly enough, this hit almost wasn't meant to be. Earlier in 1981, Nicks sang on "Insider," a song from the Heartbreakers' Hard Promises LP. That tune was initially meant for Nicks, but she insisted Petty keep it for his own record instead. "She said, 'I can't take this, because I can see how bad you want it. You just keep it, and write me another song, and we're even,'" Petty once recalled—which is how "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" landed in Nicks' lap.
As if this generosity wasn't enough, Petty—or, more specifically, his first wife, Jane Benyo—also indirectly inspired another major Nicks hit, "Edge of Seventeen." "She was telling me about Tom, about when she met him, and she has an incredible Southern accent...and she said that she met him at the age of seventeen," Nicks said during a 1981 interview with Robert W. Morgan.
"I thought she said 'edge,' and she said, 'No...age,' and I said 'Jane, forget it, it's got to be 'edge.' The 'Edge of Seventeen'" is perfect. I'm going to write a song, ok? And I'm going to give you credit.'"
Bella Donna featured additional contributions from three Heartbreakers: guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Stan Lynch and pianist/organ player Benmont Tench. (The latter also played in Nicks' 1981 live band.) All of the Heartbreakers turned up on Nicks' 1983 LP, The Wild Heart, on yet another Petty-penned tune, the modest hit "I Will Run To You."
Much to Nicks' delight, she and Petty had also started occasionally jamming together. "Every once in a while, whenever I could, I would go to Tom's house, and we'd record stuff, and write stuff and just sing—which was my favorite thing in the world," she said onstage in December 2016. One of those casual hangs led to Nicks playing "Starshine" for him. "And he says, in this total Floridian swamp [voice], 'Well, that's a good song, Stevie.'" The Heartbreakers ended up playing on a "Starshine" demo—which was shelved for decades, before a re-recorded version surfaced on Nicks' 2014 album, 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault.
That record also dusted off a song written by Mike Campbell, "I Don’t Care," and "Hard Advice," which also has ties to Petty. "'Hard Advice' was a lecture Tom Petty gave me on his way through Phoenix one night," Nicks told Uncut. "I was having a little problematic moment in my life and he gave me one of his seriously hard advice lectures. He looked me straight in the eyes with those big clear blue eyes and said, 'This pain’s gone on too long. Go home, light up your incense and your candles and go to your Bosendorfer and write some real songs.'"
Another heart-to-heart dinner with Petty inspired one of Nicks' later solo albums, 2001's Trouble In Shangri-La. She was still smarting from the experience of making 1994’s Street Angel—a record she had gone on record as disliking, as it was made while she was in the throes of a Klonopin addiction—and Petty gave her a confidence boost.
"Basically, he said, ‘You know that you’re a good songwriter, Stevie, and I don’t know what’s getting in the way right now, but you just need to go home and go straight to your piano,'” she told Time Out New York. “I was having a hard time getting over the Street Angel experience. I was just really sad. That dinner made all the difference. I give Tom all the credit in the world for this record."
Their enduring friendship also frequently extended to the stage. Nicks popped up to make guest appearances during the Heartbreakers' 1981 tour behind Hard Promises, including to do a cover of the Troggs' "Wild Thing." Several years later, Nicks guested at the Los Angeles Forum with the Heartbreakers for a cover of "Needles and Pins," which ended up on Pack Up The Plantation: Live!. When released as a single, the song peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard singles charts in March 1986.
“It’s really easy for Tom and I to be theatrical onstage because we both like it,” she once said in an interview with MTV. “If you have a duet and one of the [people] isn’t into being theatrical, you can’t do it because they think you’re stupid.”
In 2006, she officially hopped on several dates of a Heartbreakers tour as a special guest and hung out onstage dancing and singing backup. She also took center stage on a few songs, giving fans the chance to hear "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Insider" and an incendiary take on "I Need To Know." (Nicks had covered the latter song many times over the years.) Even better: Petty finally named her an honorary Heartbreaker.
On July 9, 2017, Nicks was once again able to join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers during the latter's show at London's Hyde Park. "In 1978, we had just put out our second record, and I began to get calls from someone I never met before, but she was really nice," Petty said by way of introduction. "And over the years, we've become very close and she is the honorary girl in our band—Stevie!"
The pair of course sang "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." ("We're going to do one we both know—sort of," Petty quipped by way of intro.) Although the performance wasn't perfect, video shows no shortage of classic Heartbreakers jamming—and Nicks and Petty clearly having a great time.
What's sweet (and now bittersweet) is that the deep-seated admiration Nicks has for Petty was clearly mutual. The Toronto Sun once asked the latter about his friendship with Nicks. "Have you got a couple of hours?” he responded. "She’s a good friend. I’ve known her since 1978 and she’s insisted on being in my life. Some of my best musical memories of her are sitting on the couch and just playing the guitar while she sings."
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