“The 1997 Fillmore run was almost the pinnacle of the band just being totally spontaneous night to night to night,” says Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell
The new Tom Petty box set An American Treasure won’t hit stores until September 28th, but his team is already thinking about future archival releases. Nothing is definite at the moment, but Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell tells Rolling Stone that the group hopes to release a live set commemorating their 1997 residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They played 20 sold-out shows at the historic theater in January and February of that year, radically changing the setlist each night. In 2009, seven songs from the Fillmore run were released on the Live Anthology compilation, but that was just a tiny sampling of their total collection.
“For me, that was almost the pinnacle of the band just being totally spontaneous night to night to night,” says Campbell. “We might throw in a Grateful Dead song that we just learned that afternoon. We recorded every show and we had guest artists from Bo Diddley to Roger McGuinn to John Lee Hooker. And I know, in my memory of those 20 nights, there’s an amazing album in there.”
The Petty vault is overflowing with other concert recordings, particularly from the past 15 years when they began taping every single show digitally, but Campbell is unsure how many of them will ever see the light of day. “Before we went digital, we just made analog recordings here and there,” he says. “But most of the digital recordings we have are just the same songs over and over. I don’t know how much interest there will be in them, but they’re all earmarked and just sitting there. I’d be hesitant to release anything that wasn’t great, though. Some nights, guitars were out of tune or someone sang out of pitch. You have to be careful compromising Tom’s excellence because he liked stuff to be good.”
A Wildflowers box set is also in the works, something that Petty frequently spoke of in his final years. The 1994 album was originally envisioned as a two-disc set, meaning many songs got cut for space when it was truncated. “I think I put four of the [Wildflowers outtakes] on the She’s the One soundtrack just to fill out the album,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2017. “But they were very hastily mixed. Take ‘Climb That Hill.’ There’s a version of that on She’s the One, but the Wildflowers one I think is extremely better. I’m gonna put that out. ‘Hung Up And Overdue’ is another one we remixed and it turned into an epic. I had Carl Wilson [of the Beach Boys] and [Heartbreakers bassist] Howie Epstein singing quite a bit of harmony that didn’t come through on the original. Then again, there’s probably six songs that nobody has heard. There’s 11 or 12 [new] songs on the album. I think people are going to like it a lot. I like it a lot.”
Now that he’s gone, his former collaborators are determined to see the projection to fruition. “I see that in the cards,” says producer Ryan Ulyate. “It’s going to be fantastic.” There’s also talk of deluxe editions of key albums from Petty’s catalog. “If there’s a market for something like that,” says Campbell, “we’ll do it.”
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