Singer, Songwriter, Music Producer, Guitarist
October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017
By: Sandie Neri
You know how you can tell you’re a Rock legend? Almost twenty days after your death, well established musicians, and journalists are still writing lengthy articles praising your creative genius. Fans like myself are still getting weepy just thinking about hits like ‘Free Falling’. Petty’s voice, slightly nasal but very distinct, has always had a very calming effect on me personally. Petty collapsed at his home, was rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest and remained on life support. He passed away on October 2, 2017.
On October 7,2017, Petty’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida paid tribute during a Gator’s game against LSU, when 88,000 attendees sang ‘I won’t Back Down’ (link below).
On Friday October 20th, Petty fans clad in goth apparel marched up Ventura Boulevard (a nod to a line in a Petty song –“ All the vampires, walking through the Valley/Move west down Ventura Boulevard” – ‘Free Fallin’). Some journalist believe Petty was making a reference to consumerism or record executives. Hash tags popped up all over Twitter;
The music blog austin360 reports that the Austin City Limits Music Festival paid several tributes to Tom Petty on October 6th. Asleep at the Wheel kicked of the fest with Petty’s “I won’t Back Down”. The Revivalists played “Wildflowers”, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real played “American Girl”. On Saturday night of the fest, a large screen showed Petty performing “Free Fallin”, while skydivers from the Red Bull Air Force Skydiving Team fell from the sky. The Killers also covered Petty’s “American Girl”. (Link below)
Immediately after the news of Tom Petty’s death, Twitter was full of tributes from his fellow artists, as well as countless fans.
“Down here on E Street, we’re devastated and heartbroken over the death of Tom Petty…A great songwriter and performer, whenever we saw each other it was like running into a long lost brother. Our world will be a sadder place without him.” – Bruce Springsteen
“God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you Tom”-Ringo Starr
“Shocked & upset 2 hear about #tompetty ‘we got lucky when we found u…’ …RIP twitter.com/billboard/stat… – Billy Idol
“Tom Petty’s music and songs are timeless. He was a wonderful writer, musician and singer. Irreplaceable and unique. #RIPTomPetty” – Elton John
“Tom was a tender southern gent in life, a poet and a music master on stage. He had a rocking chair wisdom that brought everything back down to earth. We will love and miss him for the rest of our days. Our thoughts are with his family…” – George Harrison
The Early Years
Born in Gainesville, Florida on October 20, 1950, Tom Petty was the first born to Earl and Kitty Petty. While Petty got along well with his mom and younger brother Bruce, his father was often physically and verbally abusive. Petty turned to music, and idolized artists such as Elvis Presley, and the Beatles as he learned guitar. In fact, Elvis was filming near him, and he saw him up-close, he was 10 years old. This left a big impression. He joined his first band by age 14, and left high school by 17 to perform with a band called Mudcrutch. They amassed a devoted local fan base.
In 1974 Petty married his girlfriend Jane Benyo, and they moved to Los Angeles with their daughter (Kimberly) whom they had before their marriage. Then came their second daughter, Adria. Shelter Records recognized Petty’s talent, and offered him a solo contract, he signed as his former band did not really appreciate his musical genius. Petty got back together with his Mudcrutch members, Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). The two former band mates had been playing with Ron Blair (bassist) and Stan Lynch (drummer). They formed and became Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and signed as such with Shelter Records. They released a self-titled album in November of 1976. In the 80’s, a self-inflicted wound (fist through the wall in anger) almost ended his guitar playing career. The doctor told him he would never play again, he was playing within the following year. Tom battled heroin addiction in the 90’s, a fact he kept quiet about until recently. During his career, Petty collaborated with other rock icons, including Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Johnny Cash (just to name a few). He also earned three Grammy Awards. In 2002, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their 11th album, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Friday, October 20th would have been Tom’s 67th Birthday.
Tom Petty is survived by his second wife Dana York, his daughters Adria and Kimberly, and a granddaughter. Thankfully, his music forever lives on ….
YouTube link below is for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performance of ‘Free Fallin’ at the Super Bowl Half-Time Show – 2008
Facts and photos gathered from: