Damn the Torpedoes – Classic Albums

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Rock; 95 minutes)






The Classic Albums series is likely to be absorbing in at least two ways: (1) Musically, re: tips and
demos by guitarists, drummers, and pianists; and (2) around engineering (which,
these days, is done, in a way, by lots of musicians), especially if inquiring
minds want to know what’s increasingly falling into the “old-school” (pre-digital/programmable)
category of knob-turners’ tricks. I can raise my hand on both counts. With 45
minutes of footage omitted from the original television broadcast, there’s
plenty here to fascinate — if not the millions for whom Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes is a favorite, at
least those curious about the ins and outs of its creation.


There are all sorts of tidbits on display in Damn the Torpedoes – Classic Albums,  including the story behind Mike Campbell’s
12-string Rickenbacker, and a great entry into any rock trivia game: What band almost ended up with Petty’s
“Don’t Do Me Like That”?
Even someone who doesn’t love “Refugee” could be
intrigued by the serendipitous presence of Jim Keltner (who, per engineer
ShellyYakus, persistently lurked in the hall outside the studio) in helping
resolve a percussion issue that was holding the track up. Those into creative
processes should have their ears open for intermittent discussion of Petty’s confidently
intuitive songwriting. One of the more hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck
moments comes as he relates the black hole in the lyrics of “Even the Losers”
and how it came to be filled with the Zen concision of his line about an
impromptu romantic moment under… yes, the stars (love those Gainesville bo’s). And it would be hard to guess Mike
Campbell’s pathway into the genesis of “Refugee,” although a classic blues
guitarist had something to do with it.


Footage of the guys as exuberant early-20-somethings in Gainesville, in the van crossing the line into L.A., and on an early
tour, evokes hunger for the whole saga, along with more performance footage. Neither
is here as more than intermittent spice and illustration (Peter Bogdanovich’s
excellent Runnin’ Down a Dream tells
the whole story). What we do have is Petty, sometimes at his funniest, and a humble,
likable group of cohorts, deconstructing “Here Comes My Girl” and the other DTT tracks. But the one who nearly
steals the show is Yakus, whose craftsmanship also played a part in recordings
by a roster including The Ramones, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Patti Smith, and
Van Morrison. His tales of mixing-board dilemmas, breakthroughs, and jerry-rigs
are so riveting, it’s easy to be convinced that another, similarly-themed
series could be a hit: Classic Producers
and Engineers

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