Petty originally recorded “For Real” in August 2000, but the song wasn’t released until this past February when it appeared on the posthumous retrospective, The Best of Everything. The new cover, released as “For Real — For Tom,” finds the Nelsons, Harrison, Dylan and Lee cranking up the jangle of the original while also giving the tune a breezy country sway complete with harmonica and some soothing choral vocals.
“When I first was sent this song asking if I wanted to record it, I was quite frankly dumbfounded,” Lukas Nelson tells Rolling Stone. “It was the whole manifesto of our band [Promise of the Real] in a song. It just shows how connected artists who have integrity are with others who share the same passion and fire for being honest with their soul. Fearless and real.”
Micah Nelson expounded on the meaning of the song, calling it “an anthem to the integrity of an artist’s journey summarized perfectly by the artist himself. It’s a reminder of why we live the art life, something needed more than ever as we enter a new decade of unknown misty twisty paths and crooked highways.”
Accompanying the new song is a behind-the-scenes documentary about the recording of “For Real — For Tom,” which was directed by Peter Harding. The short clip captures the intimacy and family affair vibe of the session, and boasts a sweet moment when Amos Lee recalls watching Lukas Nelson record his father Willie’s vocals, hit the switch and say, “Hey, dad that’s an incredible take.” Lee added, “I almost cried, that’s such a tender moment.”
Dylan, meanwhile, tells Rolling Stone about studying Petty during the years he got to watch the musician side-stage as a kid. “[M]ost of what I put together of what I wanted to do in the future I probably learned in those summers watching him and The Heartbreakers play,” Dylan says. “I got to sit next to his amplifiers so I not only got to watch him, I also got to watch the crowd, and to see what the band was doing with their inside conversations. It was a great schooling.”
“For Real — For Tom” is out via Dark Horse Records, and all net proceeds will benefit the Midnight Mission, a homeless shelter and homeless services provider in Los Angeles that Petty supported throughout his career.