Tom Petty had a complicated relationship with his hometown of Gainesville. He was born, raised, and spent his formative years in the North Florida university town. In the '70s, he and his band Mudcrutch played all around Gainesville, but once they relocated to Los Angeles in 1974, it seemed Petty had moved on from his point of origin. In 1976, he formed the Heartbreakers, starting the path toward his becoming the most successful rock star from Florida, and never looked back.
Or so it appeared.
This September 28, almost a year after his death from cardiac arrest, An American Treasure — a four-CD/six-vinyl box set of Petty rarities — will debut. Previously unreleased tracks from the Petty vaults have been trickling out to build up anticipation. There's “Keep a Little Soul” and “You and Me (Clubhouse Version).” Last week, "Gainesville," one of the jewels in the set, dropped. It sounds like peak Tom Petty and shows that his hometown was long on his mind.
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The song was recorded during the 1998 sessions for the 1999 album Echo. Upon first listen, it sounds like a formidable piece that measures up well to any of his greatest hits. Apparently, it was never released because its breezy sound wasn't a fit for the dark tone Petty wanted for Echo. According to An American Treasure producer Ryan Ulyate in an interview with Rolling Stone,"‘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.”
This box set is the first deep dive into Petty's history to be released since his death, but it might not be his last. Heartbreakers guitarist and fellow native Floridian Mike Campbell said talks were afoot for a box set for the 1994 album Wildflowers and a live release commemorating their 1997 residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Campbell also said there were talks — which some fans might consider sacrilegious — that the Heartbreakers might perform with a singer whose name isn't Tom Petty. “In the stretch of my imagination, if there’s somebody that we really respect that would want to do an album with a band, we could maybe do that,” he told Rolling Stone. “And if we made an album together and that felt really good and we wanted to go on the road as a whole, doing different songs, maybe there’d be a place for that in the future. But that’s just pie-in-the-sky talk. But it definitely would have to be all new material. It wouldn’t be going out and doing Heartbreakers songs without Tom. That would just be like... ugh.”
But that's all in the future. For now, we have "Gainesville."