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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tom Petty got his band the Heartbreakers back together for a high-class gig to launch Grammy weekend.
Foo Fighters, Don Henley, Norah Jones, Gary Clark Jr., Jackson Browne, the Head and the Heart, and George Strait were among those honoring the 66-year-old singer-songwriter as MusiCares Person of the Year on Friday night.
Petty was toasted for his musical achievements and philanthropic work two days before the Grammy Awards.
It was quite the star-studded rehearsal for the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour that begins April 20 in Oklahoma City.
After watching from backstage as other artists performed his music, Petty strapped on a guitar for “Waiting for Tonight” with the Bangles as his backup singers. Original Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, along with drummer Steve Ferrone, shared the stage.
During “Don’t Come Around Here No More” Petty invited the crowd to dance in front of the stage and actress Helen Mirren was one of hundreds who made her way to the front.
Stevie Nicks, whose friendship with Petty dates to 1978, joined him for their hit duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
“He is as sweet as he is talented,” Nicks told the audience.
Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison, son of the late Beatle George Harrison, joined Petty on “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty closed the show after midnight with “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
Petty noted it’s been two years since he played with the band he formed in 1976 in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida. He has focused on producing music in recent years.
“I realized I’ve been in one of the two or three best rock bands there is,” he told the crowd after accepting his award.
Petty recalled arriving in Los Angeles in 1974 and going to Leon Russell’s house, where Ringo Starr and Harrison were recording. After a while, Petty donned sunglasses inside.
Russell asked him what he was doing and Petty explained he thought he would be cool. Russell lectured him that wearing sunglasses at night is an honor you earn.
“I thank Leon for that advice,” Petty said, pulling out a pair of aviators and putting them on to applause.
Led by Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters earned the night’s first standing ovation for their version of “Honey Bee.” Clark joined them for “Breakdown,” riffing on his blues guitar in an extended jam.
Browne, one of Petty’s contemporaries, sang “The Waiting” and “Learning to Fly.” Jones tapped her tall black cowboy boots as she sang “Time to Move On” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
Henley was backed by a five-piece horn section and hit all the high notes in “Freefallin’.” Jakob Dylan, who once opened for Petty, sang “Love is a Long Road.” Wearing his signature black hat, Strait rocked out on “You Wreck Me.” Randy Newman performed a piano version of “Refugee,” and the Head and the Heart played “You Got Lucky.”
Petty recalled receiving a card from Johnny Cash on his 50th birthday. Cash wrote, “You’re a good man to ride the river with.”
“That’s all I want to be,” Petty said. “I’m going to keep on riding.”
Among the crowd in the vast Los Angeles Convention Center hall were Starr, Joe Walsh, Jimmy Jam, model Kate Upton, actor John Stamos, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Olivia Harrison, wife of the late Beatle.
Friday’s dinner and auction generated more than $8.5 million, the highest grossing evening in the tribute’s 27-year history, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said.
MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, provides financial assistance to individuals in the music industry during times of need.
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