“They were always taking a step up,” Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks said of her close friend Tom Petty, his loyal band the Heartbreakers and their constant, determined ascent in ambition and popularity over four rock & roll decades. Nicks was speaking to me a week after Petty’s death for Rolling Stone‘s feature tribute to the Heartbreakers’ founding leader. The two met in 1978, Nicks said, and first performed together on record in 1981 – on “Insider,” from his album, Hard Promises, and on Nicks’ Top Five solo single “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” written by Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell.
Nicks performed both songs with Petty and the Heartbreakers last February at the MusiCares charity event honoring Petty as their Person of the Year. She reprised “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Petty and the Heartbreakers in July, when she opened for them with her solo band at London’s Hyde Park. It was the last time she saw him. Here, in this unpublished excerpt from our interview, Nicks recalls her deep friendship with Petty and that day in Hyde Park.
What are your memories of Hyde Park?
We hadn’t played “Stop Draggin'” since MusiCares. When I went into the dressing room before the Hyde Park show, it was me, the Heartbreakers, the Webb Sisters [Petty’s backing singers on the 2017 tour], some other friends. We stood there and rehearsed it with [drummer] Steve Ferrone beating on the couch, everybody sort of humming their parts. Tom and Mike played guitar. Ron Blair dragged out a bass but didn’t play it very loud because it wasn’t plugged in. We went through it a couple of times. It was funny – you play a wrong chord, and everybody’s eyes go straight up. We didn’t know it as well as we thought we did [laughs].
It was interesting because Shania Twain had come to see me and to watch Tom. After I came off stage from my set, she came backstage. She was so funny. She said, “I’m going to be greedy right now. I need to watch this show with you.” Shania and I watched Tom’s show [from the side of the stage] and sang at the top of our lungs. I look back on that and what a magical moment that was: Shania got to stand there with me and watch my boys.
Tom came out of a macho Florida culture and was the leader of a band that was almost like a gang. Yet he had a unique ability, among male rock stars, to write about women with frank but affectionate empathy. Where did that come from?
He had two daughters. He had two amazing loves [Petty’s first wife Jane; his second wife Dana, whom he married in 2001]. He was surrounded by really strong women. The women around him pretty much went their own way, and he was good with that. He gave me a lot of advice about stuff. He was the kind of person who said, “Here’s my advice. If you take it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too.” He was never going to shake a finger in your face and make you feel bad if you didn’t take his advice.
Is there an example of advice that you did take?
It was toward the end of 1994. I was at my house in Phoenix – I had come out of rehab – and I had dinner with him at the Ritz-Carlton. I had a visitation from an old boyfriend, right after my rehab, and it had shaken me. I asked Tom if he would help me write a song. And he said, “No. You are one of the premier songwriters of all time. You don’t need me to write a song for you.” He said, “Just go to your piano and write a good song. You can do that.”
When I walked out of the Ritz-Carlton, I had that feeling that he would be waiting to hear it. The song is called “Hard Advice.” It ended up on 24 Karat Gold [released in 2014 and subtitled Songs From the Vault]. The chorus goes “Sometimes he’s my best friend.” It was really “Sometimes Tom’s my best friend.” I changed it because I knew Tom would not want me to say his name. That’s how well I know him.