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Tom Petty on why it took a long time to warm to Stevie Nicks

Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks and late legend of The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty, remained close friends after they found a bond in the 1980s, but their initial encounter was one of uneasiness and mistrust. 

After achieving mainstream success in the late 1970s with Fleetwood Mac, Nicks decided to split off for a solo side project. As a keen fan of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Nicks sought to recruit the popular group to help record her debut album, Bella Donna

Through her boyfriend at the time, producer Jimmy Iovine, Nicks was granted her wish, but upon meeting Petty, his keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell, she wasn’t faced with the geniality she might have expected. It seems they were nowhere near as excited to work with her as she was to work with them.

“We weren’t really welcoming to her when she first started coming around,” Petty was quoted saying in Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “It wasn’t like she received a lot of warmth. We weren’t impressed by superstars. It just wasn’t in our nature. Maybe if it had been Elvis.”

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Undeterred by a cold introduction, Nicks decided to acquaint Petty’s wife, Jane Benyo, in hopes she could warm to the Heartbreakers through her. “She went and worked Jane,” Petty explained. Unfortunately, this seemed to have an effect contrary to intention. Petty’s relationship with Benyo was already unstable, and Nicks only served to add an unsavoury dynamic as she introduced Benyo to drugs, especially cocaine.

“Stevie really had Jane in her corner,” Petty explained. “Because Stevie would indulge her, it took me a long time to realise how genuine and good Stevie was. She was doing a lot of drugs — and she’d be the first to tell you that — but we didn’t at the time. We weren’t Boy Scouts, but I was afraid of that. Jane embraced it in a big way when Stevie showed up.”

Despite Petty’s discomfort and suspicion, Nicks’ determination paid off, and Petty’s hostility abated. “She came into my life like a rocket, just refusing to go away,” Petty said. As Zanes noted, “Nicks would finally be one of the few human constants in his life outside of his band, management, and crew.” 

The pair became close friends and dependable confidantes for each other right up until Petty’s death in 2017. “He was the kind of person who said, ‘Here’s my advice. If you take it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too,’” Nicks told Rolling Stone. “He was never going to shake a finger in your face and make you feel bad if you didn’t take his advice.”

Watch Stevie Nicks join Tom Petty on stage for a rendition of ‘Learning to Fly’, live from Gatorville in 2006, below.