When Jakob Dylan and his longtime friend and former Wallfowers manager, music business veteran Andrew Slater, set out to make Echo in the Canyon, a new documentary about the mid-’60s Los Angeles folk-rock scene, they recruited an impressive cast of rock-legend characters — including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, the Mamas and the Papas’ Michelle Phillips, and all three members of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Tom Petty was another major get for the film, but of course Dylan and Slater had no idea that it would be his final official on-camera interview.
Petty died on Oct. 2, 2017. The scenes of him sitting in Santa Monica’s Truetone musical instruments store, excitedly talking about the Byrds and the Beatles and the California dream, capture the man in his element, and are understandably bittersweet to watch now.
“It was obviously profound. It hadn't occurred to us that would be his last interview that was on camera… which is very unfortunate, and I certainly wish that wasn't the case,” says Dylan of the experience of reviewing the Petty footage. “But I’m certainly grateful, and I'm glad that I believe that his last [interview] wasn't painful, and he actually had a good time — which, for people like him or myself, [doing interviews is] not always enjoyable! And he was gracious to come down and talk about music that he was a fan of, and he liked the music that we played for him, and he was kind enough to come down give us a day, which is pretty cool.
“My recollection was that it was a great day. It was maybe the most fun of the [shooting] days, for me,” Dylan continues. “Maybe that's because I was spending time with Tom Petty and being in a guitar store, all at once — two things I like a lot! He seemed to have a really nice time, and obviously he was someone who couldn't just get in a car and go to a music store very often, so we closed the store down. It was a good chance, even not on film — just walking around with him, talking about the gear, was pretty great.”
Slater, who directed Echo in the Canyon while Dylan executive-produced, chuckles, “Having Jakob and Tom walk around a guitar store that has all kinds of stuff, good stuff and bad stuff, is funny. Their conversation about the bad stuff was [amusing]. Look, when people are manufacturing effects and amps and instruments, they're for all kinds of music and all kinds of people, and sometimes the construction of things, as we get more modern and more mass-produced, aren't as good as other things! And so, their comments were funny.”
“He was pretty candid,” Jakob tells Yahoo Entertainment. So, is there any unused Petty footage from that shopping excursion that might get an eventual release —maybe on a DVD or in an extended director’s cut? Says Dylan with a laugh, “Not if I ever want to get a free pedal again!”
Most of the artists who participated in Echo in the Canyon were either the music-makers of 1960s, as mentioned above, or Dylan’s peers, like Fiona Apple (whose debut album Tidal was produced by Slater), Beck, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Norah Jones, and ex-Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros singer Jade Castrinos, who all joined Dylan onstage and in the studio to recreate classic songs of the era for the film’s soundtrack. But Petty, who famously covered the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be and Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and collaborated with McGuinn during his career, offered a unique point of view.
“It was very clear that this was his music that [Petty] was a teenager to, and his understanding of it was superior to most people who learned in retrospect,” Dylan explains. “He was a teenager [in the ’60s], and it was very powerful to him. … He was obviously a very vocal admirer of that music. He was important to us to have in the film. You have the people who are actually there, the creators. Then you have people like myself, of this generation; we researched, we've gone backwards and learned to appreciate the music. But then Tom Petty's generation was actually right there as teenagers, so we wanted that perspective too.”
Although second-generation musician Dylan comes from rock royalty — being the son of Petty’s onetime Traveling Wilburys bandmate Bob Dylan — he says Petty was the only artist interviewed for Echo that he’d known when he was younger, and everyone else he only met as an adult. “I've seen that I already suggested about the film that I had some [childhood connection] … I think there's a misconception there that everybody has people like that hanging out all the time in their houses,” he laughs. “I know it sounds like we were at, maybe, the Monkees' house or something but. …”
So, it has to be asked if it was daunting for the younger Dylan to take on this ’60s songs. There’s a scene in the movie when he’s recording the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and Brian Wilson is literally in the room, and another when he plays back a Mamas and the Papas cover for Michelle Phillips in the studio. “I didn't overthink it. In hindsight, it sounds pretty ballsy to have sat there and done that!” Dylan admits. “I think there's a common camaraderie that we're on the same team no matter what, and I can tell they're encouraging people. I don't think there's going to be any snickering or anything like that. I think it's flattering someone's doing your song, anyway, and I think that we did them pretty faithfully and we tried pretty respectfully. Had we torn a song apart and really turned it upside-down and insulted someone, we might have felt a little more pressure!”
Echo in the Canyon opens at Los Angeles’s fabled Cinerama Dome on May 24, in conjunction with a series of concerts featuring Jakob Dylan, Cat Power, Jade Castrinos, and special guests. It will receive a wide theatrical release in June.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.