The upcoming Tom Petty box set An American Treasure is an exploration of the singer’s catalog that skips past obvious hits in favor of lesser-known album tracks, alternate versions of familiar songs, great live moments, demos and even previously unreleased tunes. That’s the case with “Gainesville,” a song recorded during the Echo sessions in 1998 but never wound up on the album.
“Echo is supposedly his dark album,” says An American Treasure producer Ryan Ulyate. “But ‘Gainesville’ is this guy looking back on this early life. It is very self-referential from a guy who has some nostalgia for a simpler time. I love the song. It’s just great, but I can see how it didn’t necessarily fit the vibe of Echo.”
Petty had very mixed feelings about Echo, which he cut during an extremely difficult time in his life after his marriage collapsed and Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein was dealing with severe addiction issues that eventually took his life. Once the Echo tour wrapped in late 1999 he rarely revisited songs from the album in concert. “I recently had a fan stop me and tell me how much that record had helped her through a bad time,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2013. “And she said, ‘I know you don’t like it.’ And I was like, ‘It’s not that I don’t like it. It was just a really hard period in my life.’ I haven’t heard it in so long, but the last time I heard it I thought, ‘God, there’s a lot more on here than I remembered.'”
An American Treasure is the first archival set the Petty estate has prepared since his death last year, but they are contemplating a Wildflowers box set and a live release commemorating his 1997 residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Mike Campbell also says the Heartbreakers might play again some day, possibly to perform Wildflowers with guest singers, though no concrete plans have been announced.