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A tribute to Tom Petty

Tue 20th Oct 2020

 Tom Petty saw great success as both a solo-act and in band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Tom Petty saw great success as both a solo-act and in band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Petty, stands as a pioneer in Southern Heartland rock music well after his passing in October, 2017. Petty released infamous tracks as the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers such as Don't Come Around Here No More, Refugee, Mary Jane's Last Dance and Learning to Fly. He also enjoyed an immensely successful solo career with hits such as I Won't Back Down, Free Fallin' and Runnin' Down a Dream. Today, on what would have been his 70th birthday, and in the wake of the recent release of Wildflowers & All The Rest, we take a look back at his incredible life and career.


Early life and inspirations

Born in 1950 in Gainesville, Florida to Earl and Kitty (Katherine) Petty, he caught the Rock and Roll bug from an early age. At age 10, he met Elvis Presley on the set of Follow That Dream, where his uncle was working on set, and instantly became a fan. However, it wasn't until he saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show that he knew he was destined to perform in a band. At age 17, he dropped out of high school to perform bass guitar in his newly-formed band, Mudcrutch.


Hard road to success

While their early music was popular in their hometown, they failed to gain traction with their debut, self-titled album and single Depot Street in 1975. The group disbanded shortly after, while Petty continued to follow his dream and pursue his career as a solo artist. While searching for his backing band, he could find no better than his former bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, and Tench's new bandmates, Ron Blair and Stan Lynch. With their new self-titled, debut album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they would go on to find success overseas in the U.K. with songs including American Girl and Breakdown.


The band saw increasing success from thereon out, with their second album in 1978, You're Gonna Get It!, making the Top 40 charts, and their next album in 1979, Damn the Torpedoes, selling millions of copies on debut and going platinum.


While the band saw many changes in members, musical styles, contracts and success, they continued to produce hit songs, albums, tours including the Traveling Wilburys (whose self-titled album went triple-platinum, reached #3 on the charts and won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance) and concerts including the infamous Live Aid, until Petty began to focus once again on his solo career in 1988.


Tom Petty saw his first solo-success with album Full Moon Fever.
Tom Petty saw his first solo-success with album Full Moon Fever.


First solo smash-hit

In 1989, Petty released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, containing one of his most famous songs, Free Fallin'. Petty worked with many of his former bandmates on his solo album, and saw incredible success once again, going multi-platinum and skyrocketing to #3 on the charts. He later returned to the Travelling Wilburys in 1990 and released the album Into the Great Wide Open in 1991. Earning them popularity in the era of MTV, the title track was released with a video starring Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp. In 1994, he released his second solo album, Wildflowers, to nearly the same reception as his first album.


Petty would go on to reunite with the Heartbreakers to produce several more albums, including the soundtrack for She's The One, Echo, The Last DJ and Highway Companion.


Personal life and relationships

Throughout his illustrious career, Petty collaborated with famous faces from across the Rock n' Roll world, including Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne as aforementioned supergroup the Travelling Wilburys, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart and significantly with Stevie Nicks on their hit duet Stop Draggin' My Heart Around and Nicks' quadruple-platinum album Bella Donna. Petty's relationship with ex-wife Jane Benyo is also said to have inspired one of Nicks' biggest hits, Edge of Seventeen.


Petty faced many hardships throughout his personal life, including divorce from his first wife, Jane Benyo, in 1996 and a subsequent drug addiction from that time until 1999. His life was also filled with light, having successfully treated his addiction before the Echo tour, remarrying to Dana York in 2001 and raising daughters Adria and Annakim and step-son Dylan.


In the early morning of October 2, 2017, Petty was found in cardiac arrest in his home, later passing away in Santa Monica, California at the age of 66.


Three albums have been released posthumously by Petty's family, friends and estate, including An American Treasure (2018), The Best of Everything (2019) and, a few days ago, Wildflowers & All the Rest.


With hits that defined rock radio for decades, he is remembered as an exceptional musician who created the soundtrack to our lives for generations around the globe. Rest in Peace, Thomas Earl Petty.


"You belong among the wildflowers

You belong in a boat out at sea

You belong with your love on your arm

You belong somewhere you feel free"

Tom Petty

By Claudia Slack