Bill DeYoung has been writing for his home newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, at the age of 17. And for a good reason. DeYoung – a writer and editor of the Catalyst – has a knack for asking the right questions, uncovering unexpected answers, and scratching the reader’s itch. An itch they probably didn’t even know they had.
DeYoung’s third book, I need to know: The Lost Music Interviews, published August 15 by St. Petersburg Press, does exactly that. The 23 “lost” interviews come from several hours of conversations that were taped on cassettes and then thrown in a box, as well as from articles that have long been published and forgotten. The interviews are arranged in chronological order from 1985 to 2003, snapshots of music greats from Tom Petty, Bo Diddley and Jethro Tull to Neil Young, Guy Clark and even The Bangles.
The title, I need to know not only does it pay homage to a song by one of its best-studied subjects, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, but it hits DeYoung as well – an insatiable curious person. DeYoung counts his interviews with Sir George Martin (the famous Beatles producer) and country legend Merle Haggard as favorites to this day, and admits that interviews with headliners like Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Earth, Wind & Fire didn’t make the difference have given this collection. Each of the pieces selected had to pass the pattern of DeYoung’s fiercest critic – himself – who, as a journalist, interviewer, and perhaps most importantly, a fan driven by his own curiosity, satisfied an intense internal drive.
It is this fanaticism, this interest, this intense curiosity that matters I need to know Such a compelling read, from the haunting introduction to the final pages. It is clear that DeYoung knows each of these artists well and has an uncanny ability to ask questions that reveal vulnerable responses from artists in the context of a single record or socio-political time. This talent is perhaps best shown in his interviews with Floridian Petty.
How the Culture reporter for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ hometown newspaper (Gainesville Sun, where DeYoung worked for 20 years), DeYoung had extensive access to rocker. Of the twelve interviews that DeYoung conducted with Petty, four of those interviews appear in the book, in which the meteoric rise of the band and the beginnings of Petty’s solo career are recorded in snapshots from 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993.
“You always had a thing for the old hometown,” said DeYoung. “I would always get access to Tom and the band… You do these interviews, you sit down for an hour or an hour and a half, you transcribe what you think is the coolest part of your story.
“But then I would have this hour-long interview with Petty on a tape and I didn’t use most of it. I just threw it in a box. “
This is where the “lost” interviews began – in a town in Florida whose proudest export was the Gators soccer team, where DeYoung made it a personal mission to be a mouthpiece for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. This familiarity with the band resulted in intimate and chatty interviews rarely seen these days in a digital age where deep, drawn-out interviews have fallen out of favor.
The interviews collected in I Need to Know range from DeYoung’s 20 years with the Gainesville Sun to extensive profiles of an international niche magazine for records, Goldmine. It was gold mine, DeYoung says, which served as the main source of his curiosity outside of his daily newspaper coverage.
“I always had a different side,” he said. “I’ve always been a big music nerd. And I really enjoyed talking to musicians who were my favorites – whose music I really cared about. Music was literally everything to me, it always was. “
“In order to a) not drive me crazy and b) to scratch the itch to be such a fan of this music, I would think, ‘What can I do this year? ‘
“It was about musicians I liked and who didn’t seem to have written much about them,” explained DeYoung. “Dave Mason is a great example of this [Mason’s interview appears as the 11th chapter of the book]. I just thought I’d like to talk to Dave Mason about all of these records that I loved when I was younger. What does this song mean? Why is there a mandolin solo here? Why did you say these certain things at a certain time in your life? ”
“That’s actually the essence of what I need to know is. You don’t need anything – but I wanted to know. That was where the gold mine was, ”DeYoung said.
Why 60-year-old DeYoung decided it was time for those lost interviews: “It just occurred to me that time was passing and there might have been people who might be interested in you. I look at these things and think this is my life’s work. I am really very proud of this book. “
I’m going to leave you an excerpt from DeYoung’s introduction that immediately got me excited.
“Journalism is, of course, a very real, and quite a difficult task, whether you’re an investigative reporter, news writer, columnist, sports analyst, proofreader, or page designer. Or an art writer and editor, what I’ve become. You need to learn a little about everything in the newsroom and understand your beat – what you write about every day and how it works in your community – because if you don’t, you won’t last long. Newspaper journalism, which has been my life for 35 years, is omnipresent.
It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always fun, but I wouldn’t trade in the training, the experiences I’ve had, or the friendships I’ve made over those years.
There were other newspapers and other music magazines, and in the 2000s I started getting hired as a liner note writer on CD reissues. At the end of that decade, I started working Skyway, my first book, and since then there have been many changes in life and work – a lot of water under the bridge, so to speak.
Of course, the lives and careers of the artists went on too. Think of these interviews as snapshots. Ghosts pop in the lightbulb. We were all so much older then. We’re younger than that now. “
I need to know: The Lost Music Interviews are available through Amazon and all high-quality booksellers.