Talking to Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt and more

Journalist and author Bill DeYoung gathers some of his favorite interviews in ‘I Need to Know.’
Tom Petty performs in 1999. Author and journalist Bill DeYoung's interviews with the musician appear in "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews." PAUL WARNER  |  AP
Tom Petty performs in 1999. Author and journalist Bill DeYoung's interviews with the musician appear in "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews." PAUL WARNER | AP
Published November 8

It’s an unavoidable frustration for reporters who interview celebrities: A lot of the good stuff doesn’t make it into print.

If you spend hours talking to someone, distilling that down to fit even a long-form magazine piece means ruthless cutting. For a short newspaper story, 90 percent might end up unseen.

In his new book, I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews, longtime arts and entertainment journalist Bill DeYoung offers full transcriptions of interviews he recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. They’re interspersed with long profiles he wrote during the same time period for a record collecting magazine called Goldmine.

This is St. Petersburg native DeYoung’s third book, following Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down and Phil Gernhard, Record Man.

In the introduction to this book, he writes, “In 1976, when I was 17 years old, I wrote my first story for the hometown newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. It was a concert review, although I don’t remember the performer.” But he remembered the thrill of seeing his name in print, and it led to a career at several newspapers.

Journalist and author Bill DeYoung is a St. Petersburg native. Tampa Bay Times (2014)
Journalist and author Bill DeYoung is a St. Petersburg native. Tampa Bay Times (2014)

When he sifted through those magazine pieces and dusted off his old cassette tapes to transcribe them, he chose an array of boomer musical icons: Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Bo Diddley, Stephen Stills, Beatles producer George Martin.

Maybe the best trove is four interviews with the late, great Tom Petty, done between 1985 and 1993. DeYoung was writing for the Gainesville Sun then, Petty’s hometown paper, and the two clearly developed an easy rapport.

The 1985 interview was conducted at the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, the day of the filming of a storied performance by Petty and the Heartbreakers for an MTV documentary about their album Southern Accents. It was “a hastily-arranged concert on the Astroturf, out there on Petty’s patio. I was one of just a handful of outsiders allowed to watch,” DeYoung writes. Afterward, he and Petty talked at length about songwriting, unlikely radio hits and Petty’s complex relationship with the South.

Way back in 1989, Petty said this about writing I Won’t Back Down: “There’s a lot of things, I won’t back down. You better not back down from banning automatic weapons. Schoolyards of kids are being mowed down.” And in the 1993 interview, occasioned by the release of a greatest hits album, he reviews each of the songs.

In 1985, Neil Young talked about starting the Farm Aid concerts with Willie Nelson, whom he called “the President of Music.” (They probably didn’t expect that the concerts would still be going, and needed, 34 years later.) A 1996 interview with Linda Ronstadt, after the first Trio album she did with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, is a valentine to Harris — but not so much Parton. (They patched things up later.)

There are a couple of bonus movie star interviews, too, with Robert Duvall and Gregory Peck. The latter, done late in Peck’s career, has one of the best lines in the book.

Peck talks about making a spate of Westerns that led to him being named Cowboy Star of the Year in 1950, the heyday of John Wayne. So convincing was Wayne’s onscreen persona that many fans thought he was a genuine cowboy, rather than an actor raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles whose real name was Marion Morrison. After the award, Peck told DeYoung, ”I bumped into John Wayne. He kind of growled at me and said, ‘Ah, for Christ’s sake. You? The Cowboy Star of the Year?’”

Peck’s response: “Listen, Marion, you can’t win it every year.”

The book cover for
The book cover for "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews." St. Petersburg Press

I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews

By Bill DeYoung

St. Petersburg Press, 301 pages, $19.99

Times Festival of Reading

Bill DeYoung will speak at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Fish & Wildlife Research Institute auditorium at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 140 Seventh Ave. S. Free. festivalofreading.com.

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