Why Tom Petty "Wasn't Impressed" by Stevie Nicks When They First Met
"We weren't really welcoming to her," the "Free Fallin'" singer said of his future friend.
Few rock and roll friendships have endured like the one between Stevie Nicks and the late Tom Petty. Over four decades, the two artists shared songs, support, and the stage. But their close relationship, which began when Nicks became a mega-fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the height of her Fleetwood Mac fame, wasn't forged overnight. In fact, Petty said that when they first crossed paths, he wasn't at all impressed with the other singer. Read on for why it took him a while to warm up to Nicks and how she became "the only girl" allowed in his band.
Nicks was an instant fan.
Nicks was already a huge star when Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers hit the scene. A year after joining Fleetwood Mac, her band released its 1975 self-titled album to massive success. The drug- and breakup-fueled Rumours followed just two years later and became one of the bestselling albums of all time, catapulting her fame even higher. But that didn't stop her from having her own fangirl moment when she caught wind of Petty's first album.
"In 1976, I'd been in Fleetwood Mac for about a year when I heard Tom Petty's debut," Nicks wrote in a Rolling Stone essay in 2010. "I became a fan right then. I loved the way Tom's Florida swamp-dog voice sounded in cahoots with Mike Campbell's guitar and Benmont Tench's keyboards … I became such a fan that if I hadn't been in a band myself, l would have joined that one."
"Stevie came to me around '78. And she was this absolutely stoned-gone huge fan," Petty confirmed in Conversations With Tom Petty (2005). He added that Nicks had bigger plans for their meeting than just expressing her admiration. "And it was her mission in life that I should write her a song," he said.
Petty was not impressed by the superstar.
It took Petty time to warm up to the new fan, who would soon become a big part of his life. "We weren't really welcoming to her when she first started coming around," he said in 2015's Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. "We weren't impressed by superstars. It just wasn't in our nature. Maybe if it had been Elvis." In the absence of a warm reception from Petty himself, Nicks became close with his then-wife, Jane Benyo. In the process, she brought her into the rock star's world of drug use, which led to further mistrust.
"Stevie really had Jane in her corner," Petty recalled in Zanes's biography. "Because Stevie would indulge her, it took me a long time to realize how genuine and good Stevie was."
According to Conversations with Tom Petty, other band members were also put off by the impression that Nicks was part of a "big corporate rock band." However, they soon discovered that the money and attention hadn't kept Fleetwood Mac from remaining "artistic people" at the core. "But in those days, nobody trusted that sort of thing and we just kept thinking, 'What does she want from us?'" Petty said.
A "No Girls Allowed" rule kept her out of The Heartbreakers.
What Nicks wanted, following Fleetwood Mac's subversive and relatively poorly received 1979 album Tusk, was to actually be in The Heartbreakers. By then, she had written a backlog of songs outside of her band that were ready to be recorded. Nicks went to Atlantic Records president Doug Morris with a proposal, as she revealed during a 2017 performance. "I said, 'So listen, what I'd really like to do is be in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' band. You think that can happen?'" she remembered. "He said, "No, that's not going to happen. You obviously haven't heard Tom Petty's mantra: No girls allowed.'"
Locked out of the band, Nicks said she asked to meet Petty's producer, Jimmy Iovine, to make what she dubbed "a Tom Petty girl album." The two met, quickly paired up romantically, and got to work on Nicks' first solo album, Bella Donna, released in 1981.
Petty helped out on her solo debut—and they became close friends.
Weeks into recording the album, Iovine came to Nicks with a big problem, as she explained at the same 2017 show. "You don't have a single," she said he told her. Then he presented a plan: Nicks would finally get that Heartbreakers song she had wanted in the form of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," written by guitarist and primary songwriter Mike Campbell.
The Heartbreakers played and Petty sang back-up on the only song on the album not penned by Nicks. While Iovine would turn out to be wrong about the album not having a single—"Leather and Lace" and "Edge of Seventeen," (whose title came from a misheard comment Benyo had made about the age she had met Petty) were both enduring hits—that song spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained both her and Petty's biggest hit, according to Billboard.
Nicks and Petty would continue to be friends for decades, frequently performing together and playing the collaboration at their last reunion, just months before his December 2017 death from an accidental overdose. Nicks also revealed in her Rolling Stone piece that she did eventually get to join The Heartbreakers after playing 27 shows together in 2006—at least on an honorary level. "Tom made me a little platinum sheriff's badge that had 24-karat gold and diamonds across the top and said 'To Our Honorary Heartbreaker, Stevie Nicks,'" she said. "On the back it says 'To the Only Girl in Our Band.'"