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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Petty: The Biography -- Warren Zanes
Henry Holt & Co.
336 Pages

I love music, and there are a few bands that I really like. When a book comes out as an authorized biography of an artist of one of those musicians, I have to read it. This time, I had to wait a few days as it had to be ordered into my local library. Once it came in, it was a quick read. Consideration to Warren Zanes’ career as a member of the Del Fuegos lends a level of credence that may not be as apparent with other writers.

There’s no one quite like Muddy Wilbury. Or Charlie T. Wilbury, for that matter. Tom Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida in a family that often knew the ugly side of discrimination. His grandmother was a Cherokee who was married to a white man. In Georgia, where they were living, this was deeply frowned upon. The family made a new start in Florida to get away from the stares and whispering.

Petty grew up in a house where his father could sometimes be a bit gruff and rough with the children, while Tom sought protection from his mother. Petty’s father, a hard-working man, could not understand how his son could be so unlike him. As a result, Tom was a withdrawn young man who found his escape in music, although occasionally, his father’s temper sometimes broke through in his own life.

Gainesville, in the late 1960s and 1970s was a hotbed for the musical culture. Don Felder and Bernie Leadon of the Eagles attended school in Gainesville. Leadon’s brother, Tom, would become an original staple of Petty’s early band, Mudcrutch. The original line up of the Heartbreakers all heralded from that same area.

It seems that every rock story has to regale us with tales of excess, whether it be women or drugs. While Petty did have his share of drug issues, what’s touched on here is his heroin addiction and how much it affected his life, privately and professionally. He was married to his first wife, Jane (and the mother of his two daughters) for 22 years. He’s been married to his second wife for 15 years. Each seems like it would be considered an eternity for a rock star.

This is the story of a seemingly shy man who has vaulted to the top of the music game despite his repeated conflicts with the recording industry. Along the way he has forged friendships that have resulted in some fantastic music. George Harrison went out of his way to meet Petty, which ultimately morphed into a temporary supergroup, The Travelling Wilburys.

Warren Zanes follows Petty and his bandmates from the garage days of Gainesville to the bright lights of Los Angeles. As a fellow musician himself, Zanes is able to capture the spirit of the time as well of some of the mindset of the band as various obstacles and accolades came their way. Through fighting that saw members leave and return, and even the death of a bandmate, Zanes captures the spirit of what it was like to be Tom Petty throughout the past few decades.

Zanes’ writing style flows well. His insider views, interspersed throughout the book, give more than just a rote recollection of the events in the life of Tom Petty. The reader can hear Tom’s distinctive voice in the quotes on each page. It almost reads like Petty himself is telling the story to you while sitting around the patio with a beer and music playing in the background.

If there was anything that didn’t feel like it lived up to the rest of the book, it was the last decade or so, leading up to and following the death of Howie Epstein. It seemed to me to skip ahead without much explanation. This last bit isn’t nearly as in-depth as the earlier portions of the book. It makes the ending seem a bit rushed and glossed over. After such careful research for the first part of the book, it can seem just a little disappointing.

Petty: The Bigography by Warren Zanes is a well-written biography of a well-known rock star. It was done with Tom Petty’s blessing, even the dark moments. It’s not full of the hype or exaggeration oftentimes found in biographies of celebrities. Its down home style matches it subject very well. And it’s fun to read.

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5.

You don’t know how it feels to be +Craig Bacon, but you might catch some idea of that on Twitter at @hippieboy73. Or contact him at

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