George Murphy//Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli
George Murphy—who teams with his brother Kenn Koubek to run Planet Ten, a creative production company in Bear—recently discussed their experience handling the concert visuals for what would wind up being Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ final tour. The brothers’ work played on three giant video screens placed behind the band. The rock legend died in early October after the band completed its 40th anniversary tour.
Were you huge fans before the tour?
Tom Petty was definitely someone who we grew up listening to together. I was certainly familiar with his work, but the process of getting to know his music and his history as a person through the creative process of this made as big a fan of me as it possibly could have. To work with him and his team and realize he was just as genuine as you’d want him to be was the greatest reward from the project.
How did you develop concepts for visuals?
Kevin Cassidy, the technical director for the show and the guy putting together the creative vision, had the concept of the song “Forgotten Man.” It was a fairly recent track that he knew Tom really dug and had a poignant message behind it—this visual about the homelessness epidemic in America and the great separation between the little guy and the big guy. We were able to distill that into a 30-second sample that appeared almost identically in the show. That was the piece that Tom saw that he really gravitated toward. When we got to meet Tom during rehearsals, he made a point to say that was his favorite piece he had seen.
How much access did you have to Petty?
We were there with them at rehearsals building the show as they were putting together the lighting, the set list and all of that. The first day, I saw Tom spill a cup of coffee and I had a roll of paper towels. I ran over and cleaned it up real quick. I got a, “Thanks, man.” I thought that might have been all the interaction that we’re going to have with Tom. But a few days later, we finally had a chance to say hello to him. He brought this positive vibe wherever he went.
What were some of your challenges?
He often came back to the fact that he didn’t want to re-tread old territory. This was a 40th anniversary tour—there was certainly license for some nostalgia—but any time we tried to do something that pushed, like the band’s logo, for example, he just wanted to keep it about the music, keep it about the art and keep it about the experience for fans.
We were there for two of the last three shows of the tour, out at the Hollywood Bowl in September. The first night, I was standing behind the stage as he was leaving and saying goodbye to everybody as he got quickly whisked away. It’s those little moments when you knew you were a fly on the wall to see somebody of his stature doing what they love best.
He performed on that tour at the highest level. He was so delighted. Everybody was on their A-game. Coming back and receiving only 10 days later the terrible news we received was just beyond surreal. But knowing that you had that chance to spend some time with him was something that will always be with us. We had the experience of a career working with Tom.