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Tom Petty, ‘Honey Bee’ – Rock’s Hidden Gems

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Tom Petty‘s ‘Wildflowers’ is so stocked with great songs that when it came time to choose singles from the album, he and producer Rick Rubin might as well have thrown darts at the track list. How else can you explain the omission of ‘Cabin Down Below’ or ‘Crawling Back to You’ or ‘Honey Bee’ from the charts?

Especially that last one. ‘Honey Bee’ is a rough-and-ready rocker of the highest caliber. It’s a five-minute distortion fest that moves with the swagger of those giant elephants in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies. This ‘Honey Bee’ doesn’t just buzz – it growls, it snarls, it stomps, it obliterates everything in its path.

Although Petty howls, “I’ve got something to saaaaay” in this primal gem, it’s a bluff. There’s nothing deep here. The lyrics are a silly mix of nonsense and innuendo: “Her juju beads are so nice / She kissed my third cousin twice.” Besides, Petty doesn’t want to be king of the world or anything. He’s happy to rule Milwaukee or Pomona. He’d probably settle to simply reign over his garage.

Maybe ‘Honey Bee”s unapologetic blast of garage rock is what kept it off the radio – even in the heyday of mainstream alternative rock (a ridiculous phrase that somehow makes sense). But that didn’t stop Petty and the Heartbreakers from playing it on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ just after the Nov. 1994 release of ‘Wildflowers.’ And with a special guest, to boot.

Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch had left (or been fired) from the band before the sessions for ‘Wildflowers,’ and the album was recorded with Steve Ferrone (who eventually would become a Heartbreaker). But for this appearance (the audio is embedded above), Petty had a brilliant idea. He recruited Dave Grohl to pound the skins for this one-off performance (which also included the big hit single, ‘You Don’t Know How it Feels’). Kurt Cobain had killed himself earlier in the year, ending Nirvana, and – unbeknownst to most – Grohl was working on a new project.

But Dave jumped at the chance to become a temporary Heartbreaker, and he later mentioned in the Petty doc, ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream,’ that slamming his way through ‘Honey Bee’ was a cathartic experience for him, considering the tumultuous year. The chemistry was so good between Grohl and the band that Petty even offered him a chance to join the Heartbreakers full-time – something that the multi-talented musician turned down in favor of forging the Foo Fighters.

History has proven that was the right call, but – thanks to the ‘SNL’ appearance – we were able to catch a glimpse of alternate rock and roll history. With Grohl on drums, ‘Honey Bee’ is even sweeter.

Next: Top 10 Tom Petty Songs

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