An Open Letter to Tom Petty

Dear Tom,

I’m a huge fan, for real.  I have most of your records and I feel like you have never made a stinker.  I remember when Jimmy “Shoes” Iovine said you have never laid down a bad vocal track...WOW!  You are that good.  Your accolades, your sound, your middle finger attitude to the music industry, and your ability to be super cool all of the time has really left it’s mark on me.  I look at you like a role model....but today you broke my heart, man.

This, of course, is in regards to you getting a chunk of Sam Smith’s song, “Stay With Me”.  You accused him of lifting the melody from you.  Damnit, Tom.

Here’s the meat and potatoes: how does a similar melody from a song you released 25 years ago constitute you getting a chunk of Sam’s paycheck?  Tom, you are and have been a major proponent of roots music.  Your XM radio show is one of the coolest things to ever hit the air.  You know your shit.  So, does Kenny Wayne Shephard or Johhny Lang have to give Stevie Ray Vaughan’s estate a chunk of their earnings?  Did Stevie have to pay Jimmy, his brother?  Do they have to pay Albert King?  Did Brad Paisley call you up to get permission to mention ‘Wildflowers’  in that one of his MANY country radio hits?  Country and blues music is based on re-occurring melodies and the good ol’ I-IV-V.   Do I need to mention how rock and roll came out of that...directly?  That’s how you earned your bread, remember?  It’s redundant to the point of being a joke.  You can hide behind legal meanderings all day.  It doesn’t make it any more right than a guilty rapist going free on a technicality.  I think that is what just happened here.

So, I know the answer to this because it’s already been discussed in the media, but do you think you should get a part of Sam’s Grammys if he wins any on that tune? 

I’m not a pop music guy.  However, this song JUMPED off the radio when I came across  it in a peripheral manner.   Geesh...that’s the definition of a good song, right?  It sucked me in.  He deserves some credit for that.  His voice is beautiful.  The message is relevant to many people.  It’s an interesting point of view.  The production is spot on.  It conveys some heavy emotion.  It’s his first hit.  Like I said, he deserves that.  He’s getting to live the dream that so many of us musicians never get ANYWHERE near.  But now he gets to be “that guy who stole Tom Petty’s song”.   Good job, Tom. 

YOU stole that from him.  You are stealing a lot from him, actually.  Unless you know something that isn’t being said, the similarities were a total it has been reported.  Damn, what a dick move.  You have made millions of dollars and made millions of people happy with your music. You are an institution.  More than likely, this guy will have just this one hit.  If he does continue to have success, you have marred his track record.  If this is his only hit, you have taken away money that can sustain him and family for the rest of his life.  Surely you know the plight of most one hit wonders.  It’s really unfortunate.  It’s completely unfair.  

You have a lot of power and you misused it.  You straight up bullied him.   Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne did not write “Stay With Me”.  Period.  It sounds NOTHING like your song, save for a few notes that form a similar a different key, none the less.  You weren’t sampled.  The instrumentation is completely different.  The feel is completely different.  The visual representation of the song -while I’m at it and since you benefitted so much from MTV; something my generation will never experience- couldn’t be anymore different.  Tom, this song has nothing to do with yours.  Period.  If your songs where  represented in the form of a Venn diagram (I’m pulling from a Mitch Hedberg joke here, attention....that didn’t really need to be credited), they’d barely be touching to the point where you wouldn’t see it as a Venn diagram.  So, actually, I think he did you a favor by making you relevant at the moment.  Your new record rules, btw.  I’m sorry if it didn’t sell real well.  It was kind of expensive (yeah...uh huh, I went there). 

What really worries me here is that this might set a new precedent in a time where things like constitutional rights are being trampled on by corporations and crooked politicians.  Tom, do you remember what it is like to fight The Man?  You just became him.  It breaks my heart.  I had this day dream of meeting you and telling you how much you have influenced me.  I’d probably just say thanks and move along in reality, but music fans do that.  However, I’m a musician too.  I even have a song that I think of as my “Tom Petty song”.  I’d even play it in close proximity to a cover of one of your songs in my band’s set.  I thought it was a good homage.  I RARELY cover anybody.  You wrecked me, Tom.  Where do I send the check?  Maybe I should just play dumb, whatever I know.  I think this is about foolish pride.  Maybe you won’t back down, but neither will I.  Thanks for the hard lesson in rock and roll. 

For the record, I ripped the intro of that song straight from the song ‘Tailspin’ by the band Moe.  In fact, when I went back and listened to the Moe. song again, I was embarrassed at how close it was.  I ended up getting a chance to give a rough mix of said tune to Al Schnier and told him what I just said.  It was an annoying fanboy moment and I’m still a little embarrassed by it.  You know what he did?  He took that awkward moment and turned it around by telling me how he was inspired by AC/DC when he wrote his tune.  What a class act!  It made me feel real music is supposed to do in the first place. That’s what it is really about; not legal proceedings and who fucked who.  It’s unfortunate that reality is being propagated by a guy who I thought understood this concept.  Take a lesson, please. 


A Songwriter Undercover


Bufftbone said…
Tom explains it all:
patrock said…
I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. I have been seeing more and more cases come up with these sort of plagiarism claims or copyright issues and the verdicts baffle me.

This case with Petty is just such crap and so completely a dangerous precedent. I feel the same about the Robin Thicke and Pharrell vs. Marvin Gaye case where Gaye's estate is suing over a song that Michael Jackson and Brothers Johnson already ripped off twice ....and they are winning so far.

I don't what the folks ruling in these cases are using to determine their verdicts or what criteria they base them on but it seems like more and more companies are exploiting copyright ignorance in the courts to get paid. They can pose a lofty argument with a lot of far fetched facts and stats, pictures of waveforms that claim that one song ripped off another while some tone deaf judge rules in favor of the plaintiff .....all the defendant can say is "no, I didn't"
LK Ultra said…
No to put too fine a point on it but you can also casually mention the time his good pal George Harrison was sued for copyright infringement and lost, and how stressful it was for him even though he was already a millionaire. Maybe even mention how more and more studies are finding links between stress and cancer.
Anonymous said…
I am a musician. I write songs. I am really hurt by this. ME ME ME! It's all about me! actually it's about your ego and your chance at retarded grandstanding. which is so cleverly covered up by your clever 'pen name'. because you don't want anyone to attach this crybaby negative crap to your budding career.