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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tom Petty Teaches A Lesson About Standing Up To Bullies

We long have been fans of Tom Petty and his music. For our money, Petty and his band the Heartbreakers have consistently turned out some of the most finely crafted albums of the rock and roll era. But we recently discovered a new reason to admire Petty--and it has little to do with music.

For years, we've thought "I Won't Back Down" was just another outstanding tune in the Petty catalog, one that became a major hit back in 1989. It wasn't until we read a recent profile of Petty in Rolling Stone, that we learned about the story behind "I Won't Back Down."

It turns out that Tom Petty doesn't much care for it when people try to cheat him. And he likes it even less when people try to bully him, apparently over legal matters. Petty, we learned, has a strong sense of justice--and that makes us like him even more.

"I Won't Back Down" was inspired by a courtroom battle and a near-fatal threat Petty received in the aftermath.

(For extra credit, here is a Legal Schnauzer trivia question: Who taught Tom Petty to play the guitar? Answer at the end of this post.)

In 1987, Petty sued the tire company B.F. Goodrich for $1 million for using a song very similar to his "Mary's New Car" in a TV commercial. An advertising agency for Goodrich had tried to buy the rights to "Mary's New Car," and Petty refused--so the company made a thinly veiled effort to steal the song.

According to a newspaper article dated March 6, 1987, a judge ordered Goodrich to stop using the commercial. A spokesman for the ad agency said the move would cost the tire maker hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On March 17, 1987, 11 days after the judge's order, someone set fire to Petty's home in Encino, California. Petty, his wife, one of their two daughters, and a housekeeper were home at the time. They managed to escape unharmed, but almost everything in the house was destroyed. Officials quickly determined that the fire was caused by arson.

What was it like to be the victim of arson? Petty described it in an article by Reuters:

"We were shaken for years by it," says Petty, adding that he could not bring himself to use the word "fire" in a song. "It's sort of like being raped, I would imagine. It really took a long time. And it was 10 times as bad, because you knew that somebody just went and did it. Somebody tried to off you."

The arson case has never been solved. And it never officially has been tied to the B.F. Goodrich lawsuit. But the timing was, shall we say, curious.

How did Petty respond? He wrote a classic song. And for good measure, he rebuilt his house out of fire-resistant materials.

Petty's raw anger came pouring out in "I Won't Back Down." Here are the lyrics:

I Won't Back Down 
Music and Lyrics by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin me around
but I'll stand my ground
...and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
and I won't back down...

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
hey I won't back down
(and I won't back down)
hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
No I won't back down...

As for our trivia question, former Eagle Don Felder taught Tom Petty to play the guitar. They grew up near each other in Gainesville, Florida. Felder went on to peform on some of the Eagles biggest albums and wrote the music for "Hotel California." He also played the classic guitar solo on "One of These Nights" and co-wrote "Victim of Love," one of the finest rockers in the Eagles catalog.

Petty learned those guitar lessons well. And he went on to play with some of the giants of music, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison. Here is a live performance of "I Won't Back Down." Enjoy.


RossK said...

Don Felder, as I'm pretty sure you know already given your profile is, himself, a heckuva guy.

A very interesting, and enlightening, interview with him that focuses quite a bit on what really went down with the Eagles in the early years can be heard here.

Roger - I stumbled upon your blog because a certain Casino Building Co. that you are clearly very familiar with is getting ready to set up a massive new shop way up here in the Great White North under, shall we say, most 'interesting' circumstances.....

I've written quite a bit about it at my place here (see "Paragon Marathon" on the sidebar).

I'd be very interested to learn your views on this fine company's M.O. if you have a few moments some time - my email is pacificgazette at yahoo DOT ca.


Vancouver, Canada


legalschnauzer said...


Thanks so much for the link to the Don Felder interview. I look forward to checking it out. Have you read his book about his life in the Eagles? Very interesting. Think it's called "Heaven or Hell."

Sounds like you are having experiences with Paragon Gaming up in your area. The whiz behind that company, I think, is Robert Sigler. They probably have HQ in Vegas, but Sigler is based in Tuscaloosa and has strong ties to the family of our current governor. Let me check out your Web site, and I do hope we can talk via phone or e-mail. Look forward to learning more about Paragon's activities.

RossK said...

Roger there is a Canadian branch plant...details can be found at my place...Principals are Diana Bennett, Scott Menke and their local guy Mr. T. Richard Turner who used to, get this, oversee what is, for all intents and purposes, our gambling commission.


Anonymous said...

Slight mistake: The fire was actually in May.