Tom Petty's Songs Live On: The American Treasure's Legacy

Icons | October 4, 2017

Tom Petty performs at the Poplar Creek Music Theater in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, June 18, 1980. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

We'll never forget the late Tom Petty, whose songs were anthems (and pop hits) that spanned five decades. From the early days of "Breakdown," "American Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That," to his later work with the Traveling Wilburys, Petty contributed music that still remains fresh. A Florida native, Petty was a fiercely independent artist who had no patience for recording-industry shenanigans. He was a man of many talents. Petty was a singer, songwriter, record producer and multi-instrumentalist. He also dabbled in acting, making cameo appearances from time to time.

Just A Kid In Florida: The Early Days

Thomas Earl Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida. As a young boy, Petty was always drawn to music. His love affair with rock and roll began when he was 10 years old. Petty’s uncle was working on the set of Follow That Dream, an Elvis Presley movie being shot in Ocala, Florida in 1961. 10-year-old, Tom, got the thrill of a lifetime when he was invited to the set and had the opportunity to meet larger-than-life musician and actor, Presley. The meeting turned out to be a pivotal event in Petty’s life.

Tom Petty's First Bands And Formation Of The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty was not a great student and disliked school so much that eventually he dropped out at the age of 17. Music was his passion and Elvis Presley was his inspiration. In the early years, he was part of the Sundowners, the Epics, and Mudcrutch. Petty, although, was best known for being lead singer and lead guitarist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which was formed in 1975 and quickly gained notice from the music industry.  

Tom Petty Achieved Commercial Success In The UK First

Left: Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks perform onstage in 1981. Right: Publicity photo of Tom Petty from the '80s. Sources: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; IMDB

As talented as Tom Petty clearly was, he didn’t find commercial success in the United States first -- but he won over British audiences in 1976 with his single "Anything That’s Rock 'N Roll."  The Brits also flipped for "Breakdown" and "American Girl."  Following his triumphs overseas, he was finally recognized in the United States for the mega talent that he was. After that, we just couldn’t get enough. Petty’s unique vocal sound just captivated us in his hit songs like "Don't Do Me Like That," "Refugee," "You Got Lucky," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Change Of Heart," "Free Fallin,'" "I Won't Back Down." The list goes on and on.

With such talent and artistic integrity, Petty quickly earned the esteem of many industry colleagues, and became a frequent collaborator. He worked with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Del Shannon, Roger McGuinn, Johnny Cash and others, although his best-known teamup was with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. The duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" (written by Petty) went to #3 on the Billboard chart, and was Nicks' first hit as a solo artist.

He Joined A Supergroup Family

In 1988, Tom Petty teamed up with music giants, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to form The Traveling Wilburys. Each of these artists were stars in their own right, but together they were larger-than-life. They were a British-American supergroup stacked with remarkable talent, although they only recorded 2 albums.

Tom Petty Was A Fighter In An Industry That Often Mistreats Its Talent

While Petty celebrated many successes, he was not without his struggles. He was an advocate for musician’s rights, almost to a fault. He had plenty of run-ins with recording companies; including the 1979 decision he made to go bankrupt rather than to release, Damn the Torpedoes because he felt he was being taken advantage of. Eventually, the dispute was resolved and Petty picked up where he left off making music. At one point, he also suffered from a heroin addiction and struggled to kick the habit. After not being able to do it on his own, he checked into a rehab and got clean.

He Became Rock Royalty

Tom Petty’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to recognize individually, but suffice it to say that he was instrumental in shaping the rock and roll genre as we know it today. During his career, he sold over 80 million records, worldwide. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Petty died in 2017 at the age of 66.

Tom Petty's Music And Career Are Unforgettable

Source: Larry Philpot via Wikimedia Commons

Tom Petty made music because he loved it. He wasn’t driven as much by money as by passion for his craft. He left an inspirational legacy of music for his fans and generations to come. He was one of the greatest musician of his time. Well done, Tom Petty!

Tags: 1970s Rock History | RIP (Famous Deaths) | Rock History | Tom Petty | What Did He Do?...

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.