Thomas Earl Petty was more than just a musician – he was an American institution. I didn’t just grow up on Tom Petty, EVERYONE grew up on Tom Petty. No joke, I’m pretty sure every American child already has full knowledge of the lyrics to “Free Fallin” and “American Girl” when they exit the womb. Going to see a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers concert was a rite of passage for teens (of any decade) growing up, and most of us can likely associate a Petty song to any number of specific times in our lives. He was a national treasure, and deserves every bit of recognition coming his way over the upcoming days and weeks.
The Pride of Gainesville, Florida was a first ballot inductee to both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the “I’m Stuck DJ-ing at a Party and I’m Running out of Song Ideas, Who Can I Play?” Hall of Fame as well. The Heartbreakers were fucking AWESOME – a remarkably talented, close-knit group of friends who kept the same core members throughout their entire four decade existence. The chemistry found with right-hand man and lead guitarist Mike Campbell was so pronounced that it often seemed like the two were communicating to each other with their guitars. Petty was an elite songwriter – it simply came easy to him. He was the youngest and, arguably, most valued member of the Traveling Wilburys, a songwriter super-group featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison among other legendary figures. I could sit here and try list all the great songs he’s put out over the years, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. And to say Tom and the boys had an influence on aspiring musicians would be a MASSIVE understatement. Petty’s recognizable sound can be heard across any number of artists in a variety of genres. I mean, just take a look at the outpouring we’re seeing right now on the Internet by celebrities and musicians like Bruce Springsteen and former band mate Dylan and you’ll see how well he connected with people all over.
Simply put, Tom Petty was the real deal – a trailblazer and just a supremely cool guy. Tons of new stories will come out from people who can attest to this, I’m sure. The examples are already countless, like when he stopped working with Jimmy Iovine when the famed producer started to place a larger focus on financial gains, or when he basically shrugged and said “who cares?” when it was revealed to him that the Strokes admitted to ripping off “American Girl” on their famous song “Last Nite.” I read his autobiography, Petty: The Biography, years ago and was struck by his profound knowledge of music and genuine love of his craft. His music was as dynamic as his personality. Some of my earliest musical memories include singing along to Petty jams on the radio while cruising around with my dad, I’m sure everyone has a similar story. The news of his death certainly stings, as it so often does when our favorite musicians and entertainers pass. Tom Petty’s music transcended genres, age groups and social classes and he epitomized the image of a true American rock star. So RIP to the perhaps the best songwriter of all time… He said it best – we got lucky.
Photo Credits – Pitchfork, Rolling Stone