“Twenty years ago, I would have been way too cynical to do this,” Tom Petty proclaimed as he stood in jeans and a designer Army jacket in front of a black-tie crowd Friday night in Los Angeles.
Petty was the “Person of the Year” for the 27th gala for MusiCares, the Grammy organization’s charity wing.
That meant an auction and dinner that raised a record $8.5 million for what’s known as “the Red Cross of the music industry,” a group that helps musicians and music industry types with anything from health care needs to housing to instruments.
That meant an array of stars – including Jackson Browne, Don Henley, George Strait, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Foo Fighters, Jakob Dylan, the Lumineers, Regina Spektor, Taj Mahal and Cage the Elephant – singing Petty songs for 2 1/2 hours.
Then Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage for a first-rate 40 minutes that pretty much lived up to his boast of being in one of the two or three best rock ‘n’ roll bands around.
Considering that the Heartbreakers had only a week’s rehearsal after two years off, they were tight and torrid, especially Mike Campbell’s guitar work on “Running Down a Dream.”
Petty was joined by a series of special guests, including three of the Bangles on backup vocals, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison on guitar and, of course, Stevie Nicks. She and Petty connected on their hit duet, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” and on “Insider,” a ballad that he wrote for her but he thought she rejected it. No, she thought her record label gave it the thumbs down.
Two good friends had a good laugh.
If Petty was the star at his own tribute concert, Gary Clark Jr. was a major highlight. He joined the Foo Fighters on a ferocious treatment of “Breakdown,” featuring his transcendently soulful guitar. Clark had the spotlight to himself on “Good Enough,” bringing the blues from a very deep place.
Other memorable performances were delivered by Randy Newman on a down-tempo solo piano rendition of “Refugee”; a surprisingly assertive and rockin’ Strait on “You Wreck Me”; and Henley on “Free Falling” with some Paul Simon-evoking horns.
The all-star backup band, assembled by producer T-Bone Burnett, included Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone, organist Booker T. Jones, Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe on mandolin and lap steel guitar and harmony vocals, and Nashville pedal steel ace Russ Pahl, who got his start in the Twin Cities in the Sky Blue Water Boys.
Speaking of Minnesota, Grammy-winning producer Jimmy Jam was in the house, as were Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives minority leader.