How Stevie Nicks Finally Won Over Tom Petty: Exclusive Interview
Stevie Nicks may have found a dream collaborative space with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but they didn't initially share her enthusiasm.
“We were a little wary of Stevie,” Petty said in the 2005 book, Conversations With Tom Petty. “We didn’t quite know whether to like Stevie or not, because we kind of saw this big corporate rock band, Fleetwood Mac – which was wrong. They were actually artistic people.”
Petty said he first met Nicks in 1978 and could immediately tell she was a major fan. “It was her mission in life that I should write her a song,” Petty said, noting that she remained “adamant” about it for years.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” is not that song. In fact, the future No. 3 hit was originally in contention for the Petty album that became 1981’s Hard Promises. Producer Jimmy Iovine was working on concurrent projects with Petty and Nicks and felt they didn’t yet have the definitive hit single for her pending solo debut.
The Heartbreakers had been working on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” but hit a stalemate. Iovine eventually decided that the song might work as a Petty duet with Nicks. He negotiated a deal so that "Draggin'" went to Nicks while she joined the Heartbreakers for "Insider" on Hard Promises.
Regret set in before the albums even hit store shelves, Petty confirmed in Conversations. He said he felt "depressed" about the trade as the band completed "Insider," despite the fact that he wrote the song with Nicks in mind.
Still, it’s hard to deny the results of Iovine’s vision: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” became the blockbuster first single from Nicks' Bella Donna in 1981, and the realized version with Nicks and Petty sharing the microphone is stunning when compared to the Heartbreakers demo. There's an electricity and punch that’s missing from the original take. Petty ultimately agreed: “I realized it’s really a very different song when I sing it,” he said in the liner notes for 1995’s Playback box set.
Former Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch sat down with UCR to discuss this intriguing early period of collaboration, discussing their initial worries and how Nicks ultimately found her place.
Watch the Video for Stevie Nicks' 'Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around'
What do you recall about meeting Stevie Nicks for the first time?
I think she showed up at a session when we were cutting with Jimmy Iovine. I remember hearing that Jimmy and Stevie were a thing, and that was good fodder. We enjoyed that as a band. I think Jimmy probably invited her to the session and she was there. She was a cool rock chick, not a drag at all. She fit right in, smoking cigarettes and making jokes. We probably even jammed or something. But I remember we cut "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and I’ll never forget that, because that was a day we spent with [Donald] “Duck” Dunn. Which you know, for a drummer ...
Yeah, you’re hanging out with Mount Rushmore. It doesn’t get any cooler. So you can hear me in that track, just trying to impress the shit out of him and making a fool of myself – but fortunately, it works. I tried to communicate with him about what to play before we cut it. He was just smoking a pipe. I was asking him about the rhythm [Lynch imitates the different rhythm patterns], you know, I was probably trying to spell it out and he’s like, “Hey, man, just plant your foot. I’ll follow you.”
Had you met him before that session?
I don’t think so. I was scared shitless too. Because I was probably on the ropes around that time too. Iovine was always firing me. I remember thinking, “Well, if this goes well, that will bode well for me!” [Laughs.] We played the songs a couple of times and Jimmy said something like, “I don’t know, maybe we’ll run through it again.” Duck was like, “Well, let’s go in and hear that last one.” He was really cool, real Southern and charming. [Lynch puts on a Southern accent] “Why don’t we all just walk in there, let’s just all listen to that one.” God love Jimmy. I’ll bag on Jimmy, only because he’s a fuckin’ genius and he figures shit out. But he was saying something like, “I’m pretty sure that this song, it’s too fast.” Jimmy was convinced that the tempo was all wrong. He was telling the band that and when Tom stepped out of the bathroom, Tom goes, “I think it’s probably a little too slow.” Then Jimmy was like, “That’s exactly what I was saying!” So Jimmy couldn’t figure out what [Dunn] was talking about. Duck goes, “Just play that last take.” He sat next to me, which I thought was very sweet, on the couch. He literally had his leg up against me, which I thought, “Well, this is cool.”
He’s tapping his hand on my leg to the beat. He’s playing the backbeat on my leg and we’re listening. It goes down and there’s a couple of mistakes in the track. But it wasn’t really the rhythm section. It was like, the guitar. Somebody didn’t play the right chords or whatever. Duck’s making a couple of notes and you could see him thinking. When the take was over, it was dead quiet. That’s when Duck uttered the famous phrase, “Y’all don’t like that, y’all don’t like pussy!” And he slapped me on the leg! Like, he kept slapping me, like going, “Good job, Sticks!” Duck goes, “I’ve got two fixes. I think around that second bridge, I think I walked to the wrong place. Punch me in there.” And that was the take.
Listen to the Original Demo for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 'Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around'
Was Nicks around when he said that line?
No. This was going to be our song; it was going on our record. I was convinced and I loved it. Because [Mike] Campbell came in with a demo of it, I’m pretty sure those are Mike’s chords – but he didn’t have that arrangement and that arrangement was spontaneous, [with] me flakking around and going [imitates rhythm] and all of that shit, that’s just me. I’m showing off. I’m going, “Yeah, man, I’m gonna show you how it goes!” But that’s what we did. The band, we would spontaneously arrange, because of all of those years playing together. If I was to launch into some weird [pattern], everybody knew what I was trying to do. Duck just knew it immediately. He was going, “Well, fuck, if this is where he’s going, I’m going there too.” So it was the spontaneous arrangement that affected the dynamics of how it even starts – because it probably started originally with that chord, but not going [imitates section], that’s just me being a caveman and trying to sell it. But I remember thinking, if Duck thought I was good, that will probably help my case to these guys thinking I’m good. [Laughs.] So it was very sweet.
I remember hearing that Jimmy had taken the song to Stevie, and I was pretty pissed about it. I didn’t think that was cool. I thought it would be cool if she wanted to sing on our record. But I didn’t understand why it was on her record. I didn’t get that, but that was way above my pay grade.
It seems like Petty and Nicks had really good chemistry.
Apparently! We went in and did a session for Stevie. We learned "Outside the Rain" there and we rehearsed it. Something about that record, I’m trying too hard. I remember thinking about it at the time, going: "Why am I trying so hard?" I realized what it was. I think when I left I went, “My God, Lindsey Buckingham is an amazing producer.” We cut another song that day too and it didn’t make it. [But] I heard that song on the record, a song that he had produced that we had tried to cut. It had the full Lindsey Buckingham treatment with the cool – it might have been a loop and then Mick [Fleetwood] probably overdubbed some amazing fills on it. I realized what a remarkable sculptor Lindsey Buckingham is. I just went, “Oh, right. Okay. Shit, that’s how he saw the song.” You know, you don’t just go in there and pound your brains out and hope for the best – which is kind of what we did on “Outside the Rain.”
Listen to Stevie Nicks' 'Outside the Rain'
The other song would have been "Gypsy," from their Mirage album, right?
Yeah. Mr. Buckingham is a genius. Full stop. That one just didn’t make it [with the version that we cut]. That saddened me. I kind of knew it was probably ultimately my fault, because when you go in to cut a track, really, the only thing that you’re worried about is the drums. It’s the one thing that’s irreplaceable. And this is back before there were clicks and time code. These are live performances and I didn’t really understand the studio yet. I just knew that you went in there to kick ass. That was my thought: I’m in the studio and I’m supposed to kick ass. And it’s like, “No, that’s not what you’re really supposed to do. You’re supposed to make a record.” I figured that out much later and Lindsey Buckingham helped me inadvertently figure that out when I heard his version of what we did and I went, “Oh!” [Laughs.] Oh, he’s much smarter than me! This guy knows shit I may never know! But you know, being young, you only get to do that once.
What was it like working with Nicks? I guess what kind of surprised you about her that was perhaps different from the perception that you had going in?
That she really went for it. She went for it. She wasn’t sandbagging. She didn’t wait for anything. She led at the microphone and she could jam. She’s a communications system – that’s what a great lead singer is. And she has a need to communicate. What I loved about it was that she loved the process and she wasn’t afraid of the process. She wasn’t embarrassed by the process. She would wrestle and she would get in the mud to make a record.
She has said a lot that, literally, she wanted to join the Heartbreakers. Could you feel that?
I think I probably only heard that as a joke. I probably never heard that as a serious [thing]. If it ever came back to me, it was like, in my mind, I’m going, “Well, who wouldn’t want to be? [Laughs.] I’ll bet you do!” But yeah, she’d come out and play gigs with us [and it was] great. It was fun. Stevie was cool, man. I have no idea who she is now, but at the time, there was nothing wrong with having [her around], and it made Tom happy. So, that was always good too. A happy singer, that’s what you kind of live for – because that’s your delivery system. If you can make Tom dance, you can make everybody dance! You can over-identify with trying to make people happy. Drummers tend to do that. They tend to take it all pretty much to heart. If somebody’s having a bad day, it must be me! Another bummer, another drummer! Drummers take it hard. It’s not a gig for everybody. I think Campbell put it best too: He goes, “It’s a hot seat.” It’s not for everybody.
You’ve got to have a big ego and you’ve got to have no ego. That’s really tough, especially when you’re young. When you’re older, you can displace a lot of things. You go, “Oh, I can see what’s needed today.” As a young man, you go, “I’m not needed? You don’t want me?” It’s a very, very tricky spot. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, quite frankly.
Watch the Video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 'Insider'
“Insider” is the other song that Nicks sings on Hard Promises. What sort of memories do you have there with that one?
I didn’t particularly like it. The drums are overdubbed; they’re actually overdubbed. I think that was cut and then they asked me to play drums. Oddly enough, I thought it was going to be an acoustic song. I didn’t think it would have drums – like, maybe a cross stick, a little tick tock or something. Then, they were like, “Well, we’ve got this song.” I don’t even know why they put the drums on it. I think Jimmy said, “Well, we gotta put some big drums on there.” I think he describes Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as “the guy with the cold and the 12 string and the big tom-toms.” I was actually goaded into playing that. Okay, here’s a funny story, the record comes out and I remember that my drums were referred to in a review as the cymbal-pinged weirdness. This made Campbell hysterical. It became almost like a tour thing that I had to hear about every fucking morning at soundcheck! I remember him going, “Let’s get the drum sound. We gotta make sure we get that cymbal-pinged weirdness right!” You know, it just never ended. Campbell, it just put a burr out my ass. But all I could say back to him was, “I didn’t even want to play on the fuckin’ record!” and he goes, “I know.” But that was what I thought about “Insider.”
I thought as a trade-out for “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” I didn’t think it was a good bargain at all. I remember [the discussion], “Well, we got ‘Insider’” and I’m going, “Bad trade!” For me. You know, I make no judgment. But you’re asking me. So my opinion as a grown-ass man, “Man, that’s an awful frickin’ trade.” It’s like, “Cool.” To me, “Insider” is the B-side of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
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