In April 1985 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reunited for a major world tour after taking a break from each other for personal differences. My good buddy, trumpet player, and arranger extraordinaire Lee Thornburg, called one day to say Tom wanted to take a horn section out on the tour. They had used Lee’s old horn section, the Heart Attack Horns, on the, “Southern Accents”, album. We had just returned from a two-year world tour with Rod Stewart and had only been in Los Angeles for a month. Lee conveyed to me he had spoken with Tony Demetreades, Tom’s manager. He said their offer was a little light. As in ridiculously light. They wanted us to double up in hotel rooms and travel with the crew. Ahhh…the perks of being a glorified sideman. Lee asked if I would have a word with him. I said I would be delighted.
When I got Tony on the phone I immediately got into a friendly, gossipy chitchat with him about life on the road with Rod Stewart. Rod was huge at the time and as a matter of fact isn’t doing too badly as we speak. I shared a few tales of the tour when the group was traveling in two Lear Jets. Rod and his entourage would be in one jet and the rest of us in the other which was dubbed the, “Flying Ashtray”, for obvious reasons. We would all manage to have a cocktail and cigarette in hand for takeoff, vodka and grapefruit juice, I believe, was the drink of choice at the time. At some point I asked Tony what type of aircraft they would be traveling in. He said they were thinking of using a G4. Fortunately, we had been traveling extensively in one of these great old birds. They are outfitted with four Rolls-Royce turbo props and the cabin was set up in the executive style complete with a lovely stewardess to cater to your every whim, it made for very comfortable traveling. Not good for long hauls as they are not fast but very comfortable and safe on short trips. We went on to talk about our favorite hotels in different cities around the world and after all was said and done I had managed to get the Soul Lip Horns, which was comprised of Lee, Nick Lane on trombone and myself, around three grand a week each, our own rooms and we traveled with the band. It was a bit less than what I had been making with Rod but not bad for 1985. Hell, it wouldn’t be bad right now come to think of it.
The Heartbreakers had not toured together for a while and some of the members were not exactly best of mates. Consequently the Soul Lips became the glue, or the grease, that kept things light and comical between these guys who had been playing together for years. They had reached the pinnacle of the Rock-n-Roll heap and had grown to despise each other to some degree. But don’t get me wrong; I loved each and every one of those guys. You couldn’t ask for better group of easygoing musicians. What a great fucking band! With Lee and Nick’s great sense of humor and my silly stunts we managed to actually get these guys laughing together again. Most of the time at us. Stan Lynch the drummer latched on to our silliness right off the bat. Besides being one of my favorite drummers and a great singer, Stan was one funny motherfucker. Never at a loss for words. One of first things he said to us in that Floridian drawl was, “y’all play real good…..but why the hair?” Well, it was 1985 and a bit of hairspray backstage was not uncommon. We even got him to put some in one night. In hindsight his original take was accurate: we looked ridiculous.
Now Tom Petty’s sense of humor was at the other end of the spectrum. He was a cross between Jed Clampett and Elvis. He would get you all wrapped up on some subject and be twisting and turning the story until you found yourself drifting and thinking to,“is this guy for real?” Ten minutes later you would find yourself reliving the conversation and realize that he’d just taken a complete piss on you and made you look like a pompous fool. Tom’s humor was wicked and dry as Death Valley.
We had just done a concert in upstate New York, Saratoga Springs, I believe, and we were staying in this really nice resort hotel in the pine trees complete with tennis courts. There was to be a party in Tom’s suite and we were informed that the president of MTV was going to be there and to be on our best behavior. I don’t know why they would say something like that to me but maybe my reputation was becoming less incognito. At the time Player cigarettes was sponsoring the tour and there were always cartons of them backstage, on the plane or anywhere we were. I was sitting in a small living room section of the suite with guitarist Mike Campbell (one of my all time favorites and in my opinion highly underrated) and Stan. I said, “I’m gonna blow that guy up”. They give me that, “uh oh, what’s Z up to now look”, and I proceeded to pull out some exploding cigarette loads. I used to go to magic shops before tours and stock up on this silly crazy shit just to keep things interesting. Keep in mind it can be a lot of fun on tour but it can be excruciatingly boring at times.
On all the coffee tables and side tables were fresh packs of Player cigarettes. I grabbed a pack and preceded to put loads in two of the cigarettes and position them so they would be the first ones someone would pick up. I told Mike and Stan of my plan. No doubt we would be introduced to the MTV President and at that time I would offer him a smoke. They shook their heads but the anticipation was written all over their faces.
Sure enough, in comes Mr. MTV and Tom Petty begins talking to him right in front of us. We all got up to be introduced and when he gets to me I say, “Pleased to meet ya…hey would you like a smoke?” He says, “Oh no, none for me, I don’t smoke”. Mike and Stan are enjoying this at my expense smirking and snickering over on the couch. So I go over to them and toss the pack on the side table next to the couch and sit down in a big comfy chair, as we are sitting there Tom comes over and grabs the “loaded” pack taking a cigarette out. Mike, Stan and I are looking at each and I am trying to signal them with my eyes, “be cool…be cool”. Now the music is playing pretty loud and Tom and the MTV guy had their heads close as they talked in each other’s ear. At which point Tom lights up and BOOM!
I don’t know if you are familiar with exploding cigarette loads but they look like a half-inch of toothpick, which can be shoved into the tip of a cigarette. When they blow up it is just like the cartoons. This one must have been on steroids because sparks and tobacco sprayed about four feet. Tom and the MTV President just freaked. Tom starts yelling, “did you see that?! Did you see that? I think the fucking lighter exploded!” Mike and Stan are rolling and losing it on the couch laughing and I’m trying to be cool because I’ve only been in the band a few weeks. Now I have just blown up the boss. So what does Tom do? He goes over to the same pack of smokes and grabs another cigarette, all the time thinking it was the lighter. We are all looking at each other and I am wondering what the odds are that out of twenty cigarettes, Tom is going to grab both of the loaded ones. He goes back over and resumes the conversation and now we are dying in anticipation. I plead with my eyes for Mike and Stan to be cool and not blow it but they love every second of this unintended bit of entertainment. Well, Tom finally lights up and sure enough it blows up too. Now Tom is pissed and I realize now I have to spring into action to save my ass and career.
Jumping up I ran over to him acting concerned and asked him if he is going to be all right. Tom keeps saying,” did you see that? Some motherfucker’s gonna get it.” I asked him what he’s smoking and he said,” Players”, pointing over at the pack on the table. I walked over and retrieved the pack, examining it as if I was a member of the bomb squad. After careful analysis I extracted a cigarette, knowing the coast was clear now and light it up. Tom said, “No, don’t do it, but I convinced him this one was fine and gave it to him. By now I’m just trying to keep the conservation going asking, “Whose cigarettes are these and who smokes Players? Stan immediately jumped up saying, “Howie does!” Tom takes the bait and says, “Yeah, that’s right! Howie!”
I have to explain something here. For reasons unbeknownst to me there was no love lost between Stan and Howie at the time. Howie, may he rest in peace, was the most mellow, non partying, nice guy of the group, at the time. I mean, he was never at the party because he was in his room already most likely asleep in bed. The most unlikely guy to ever do anything like that and here he was getting framed right in front of my eyes. Mike Campbell had to leave the room as he was losing it laughing and was going to blow it any second. A few days later we were on the plane and Howie was playing cards. Tom and I were sitting next to him and Stan walks by and says, “Hey Howie are those your Players?” At this Tom perks up. Poor Howie doesn’t have a clue what’s happening. Tom is being cool but basically intimating that, “Yeah right bro…I know you did it and you’ll get yours.” Howie had to be wondering what the fuck these guys are talking about. I don’t think he even knew what a cigarette load was. Silly little commando tricks can sure take on a life of their own.
One time Tom’s wife at the time, Jane, was on the plane with us. What a character she was. I loved her. She was a cross between Mae West and Ma Kettle. A true Southern girl without an ounce of Hollywood in her bones. She was a tough, no bullshit kind of girl. Thank God she took a liking to me. We were sitting next to each other on a couch on the plane facing a booth table. Benmont put his book down and went to the bathroom. I guess there was a little bad blood between Benmont and her because she starts ragging on Ben and his, book reading, as she put it. I reached over and grabbed the book and said, “Hey Jane, ya ever seen this one?” Acting as if I had tore out the last page of Benmont’s book. Oh my God the looks I got. Everyone looked at me like I was Satan saying that they could not believe what I had just done. Well I assured them that the page I had ripped out was just filler and they calmed down. I explained the way the trick is properly done is to rip out the last page and keep it. Then when the person realizes the last page of the book is gone to put it some place where they will find it. Like taped to their hotel room door. So Benmont is still in the john and Jane is warming up to this prank and she keeps saying to me, “Come on, Jimmy, do it. Rip it out.” And I’m saying no way. “You want to do it ….do your own dirty work.” So she does. And immediately she starts getting nervous and feeling guilty. I mean she was a wreck. She starts begging me to help her and that she doesn’t know what to do. I let her suffer a while then told her to snap out it. I took the last page from her on the condition that she keep her mouth shut (fat chance). Benmont returns from the bathroom and picks up his book and continues reading, none the wiser. Later that day I was walking to my room and here comes Benmont storming down the corridor. I tried to say hello but he was obviously uptight and rushed on by to the elevator. I don’t know why, instincts maybe, but something told me it was time to take care of some business. So I retrieved the last page of his book and taped it to his hotel room door. Come to find out later Benmont was on his way to the bookstore to buy a new copy of his novel, he ended up having to go to three stores until he found a copy of his book. Only to arrive at his room staring at the last page taped to the door. Oh my. Although I would never admit to anything he had inkling that I had something to do with it. To his credit I must say he was a good sport and got a good laugh out of it himself.
We’d been on tour for about six weeks throughout the United States and though it was June we had managed to hit rain and bad weather wherever we went. When we heard we would be doing a ten-day leg in Florida the spirits of the troops lifted immensely. We were going to be in the famous Don Cesar Hotel in Orlando? Supposedly Al Capone had holed up during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Tom loved that kind of stuff. Life was good. Sunshine, girls in bikinis, concerts, and parties, great band and crew…girls in bikinis. We had only been in Florida two days when Tom’s manager, Tony Demetriades, informed us that all the concerts in Florida would be cancelled because we had to fly to Philadelphia that night for something called Live Aid. I was in shock. Aghast. No, oh, no…not Philadelphia…this could not be happening. I could not believe our bad luck…What the fuck is Live Aid anyway? Of course Live Aid was to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest benefit concert, or concerts I should say, in history. It started in London at Wembley Stadium playing to over one hundred thousand people and broadcast to over a billion people worldwide. And when that all day affair was over the United States version started in Philadelphia at RFK Stadium with around ninety-thousand in attendance and simultaneously broadcast around the globe. Bob Geldorf was the organizer and what a job he did. Such a good job that he ended up being knighted for it. He had assembled the most incredible array of the top Rock-n-Roll and Pop stars of the day: Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Madonna…and me!
On that last concert we had a special guest star sit in on a tune that night. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, who had just a little bit of influence on Tom’s music and vocal styling. It was decided we would play, “So Ya Wanna be a Rock-n-Roll Star.” It looked like the horns would be taking a break, then I remembered the original contained a trumpet solo and told Lee. Tom agreed to give Lee the solo and man did he tear it up. The song turned into a real showcase for him. It was a great performance and just made us not want to leave Florida that much more as Tom and the Heartbreakers are from Florida. But duty called and off to the airport we went. Somehow I had managed to score some party favors for the flight and the plane was always stocked with the best liquor, wine and beer. So as things turned out everyone went to sleep except Tom, Lee and I. We valiantly held down the fort over a bottle of Courvoisier and other spirits, played pranks on victims and chatted the whole night through as we watched the sun coming up over Philadelphia as we entered our landing approach. Since we landed at six in the morning the plan was that we would go to the hotel in downtown Philadelphia, get some shuteye, and then be ready to go around two p.m. When I got to the hotel all these people were just getting back from these great all night parties and I’m thinking, “Great…we missed everything!” Oh well, for once in my life I was sensible and went to my room and actually went to bed and got some sleep.
I remember waking up in a huge suite which I would soon be vacating and turning on the TV and flipping thru the channels and coming to a station with the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London in progress….and I must say it was impressive with over one hundred thousand fans going crazy and as I stated earlier the list of talent was formidable. Phil Collins was being interviewed before playing and then heading to the airport to jump on the Concord to New York City and then to Philadelphia. They then cut to RFK stadium in Philly and there were already ninety-thousand people in attendance and one couldn’t help thinking that a bit of history was in the making that day.
When we arrived backstage it was already eighty-five degrees with about the same in humidity but spirits were high and abundant if you know what I mean. As impressive as the lineup was in London it wasn’t too shabby on our side and maybe just a bit bizarre to me at the time to see the likes of Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger chatting it up with Madonna. My tennis buddy Tony Kaye along with rest of the band,“Yes”, and I was about to record a harp solo on their new record,“ Big Generator”, so I had plenty of mates and old drinking buddies there. All the roadies were there as well so things were starting to look up for a good little knee up to say the least.
Just for the record Sean Penn was there also, sitting in a folding chair with a leather jacket on in what by then had to be ninety-degree heat and humidity looking miserable. I felt sorry for the poor bastard as Madonna totally ignored him and according to the tabloids he had just got out of jail for punching some photographer and he didn’t seem to know anyone. If he did I doubt it would have made any difference, as he didn’t seem to be feeling too sociable.
The promoters had some T.V. monitors up back stage to see what was happening on stage but you could hear everything clearly since we were fifty feet from the stage. I remember standing around one T.V. and on stage at the time were the Thompson Twins and Madonna doing a version of the Beatles’ classic, “Revolution”. Oh my God, it was dreadful. They were playing and singing so far out of tune it was amazing anyone could keep a straight face. Come to think of it they couldn’t. I looked around, people were giggling and smirking. So with my usual diplomacy I reached over to the TV and whacked it a couple of times. Commenting to the people next to me that something seemed to be wrong with the sound on this TV I proceeded to change the channel. A basketball game came on and I said, very pleased with myself, “aaahhh…that’s better! Don’t’cha think?” I started laughing but the people standing next to me did not seem to share my sense of humor, if looks could kill…well, I whacked the TV a couple more times, put it back to the stage channel and moseyed on over to some friendly faces who were busting a gut over what had just occurred. I mean my God; these guys were so out of tune and obviously fucked up on something. I had heard the Thompson Twins had a bit of a problem with heroin but from where I was standing it was more to do with pitch. I think it was the manager of Tom Petty, Tony Demetriodis who asked, “Do you know who those people are…. that was Madonna’s and the Thompson Twins management.” I looked at him wide eyed with false alarm and then shrugged my shoulders. At that moment we all simultaneously heard another clunker from the stage and we lost it with laughter…oh well.
Every act was allotted twenty minutes for their set. Ours went off pretty much without a hitch. One thing I do remember right before we went on, literally on the stairs going up to the stage Pat, a beautiful, curvaceous, well endowed African American goddess of a backing vocalist for Tom Petty, had come to her limit with the heat. That day Pat was wearing a skin tight one piece outfit, kind of like what bicycle riders wear and grabbed a pitcher of ice water pouring it all over her head and body punctuated with a primal scream. Well that got the attention of the male members of the band and any others within eye and earshot. God bless her for that spontaneous bit of self-preservation with the heat. She inadvertently inspired Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers along with the Soul Lip Horns to an inspired and memorable performance at Live Aid.
There where we were after our Live Aid show safely done, the pressure is off and everyone is congratulating us. The party was just starting to heat up as the afternoon wound its way toward evening. At one point I was standing with some people, talking and laughing when all of a sudden everyone went quiet and I looked up and noticed that Bob Dylan was walking by us and everyone just turned so reverent. I half expected the heavens to part and violins to start playing the way some of these people were behaving. They were saying things like “ssshhh…its Bob Dylan…he’s getting a drink.” Or “ooohhh…..its Bob Dylan…he’s going to the toilet!” Now don’t get me wrong, Bob Dylan as a writer and innovator is tops in my book. But Jeez…come on people…he’s just one of us….isn’t he?
Well that’s what I thought that day and still do. There were three porta-potties set up in the back stage area right next to these giant parachute tents which had been set up to protect us from the heat. As Dylan is heading towards the portables, the people around me were saying, “Bob’s gotta take a leak” So right then I decide to saunter on over to the outhouses myself. As I got there, Bob was already inside and I could hear him peeing. I looked back over my shoulder at the expectant backstage crowd and them at me, then back at Bob’s outhouse. I grabbed it with both hands and gave it a good four second shake. Everyone else backstage could hear Bob yelling, “Hey! Hey!! Hey!!!” I was laughing so hard and when I turned around I was greeted by a sight I won’t soon forget. There was Tom Petty, management and probably at least thirty of the biggest rock stars of the day with their jaws on the ground looking utterly aghast at what I had just done. I walked around back to Tom Petty and he laid into me. All that slow southern drawl and laid back humor was gone. He said, “I can’t believe you just did that…I can’t believe it …that was Bob, fuckin’, Dylan! Are you out of your mind?” To be honest I didn’t see what the big deal was. I was still trying not to laugh.
What I do remember is the sight of Bob Dylan coming out of that portable outhouse with a piss stain trail right down the left leg of his Levi’s, looking to see who did this to him, like any other mortal would. And in my mind looking pissed off and humored all at the same time. Any way Bob, I’d just like to say I think you’re a good sport and you handled yourself with grace and aplomb in an awkward situation…I wish you could have seen it from where I was because it was fuckin’ funny…
© Zavala Music, Inc.
Been a fan of yours for a long time…Especially with Jaguares, but all your harp playing. I love this blog…Great insight to the behind the scenes life
leave it to you to wave your willy at Dylan
i love bob dylan, he is one of the best singer songwriter ,.’
That was amazing. What a tale! Great, great stories and information. And Gawd I just love pranking! If I had been there… I’d have done the same thing!
No doubt about it Jimmy, you sure know how to spin a yarn, great stuff!
Tom Petty and Live Aid - Jimmy Z and the ZTribe
[…] I also pulled one of my all-time great pranks on Bob Dylan that day. You can read about it and more about the tour & Live Aid here. […]