Sunday, October 8, 2017

TOM PETTY: The Wild One, Forever - A Tribute in Words

'Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were hard to categorize. Petty was an artist that had his own musical vision while his label, radio and his growing audience were trying to fit him into a certain 'genre'. 

When "Breakdown" hit, the FM radio crowd loved him.  

By the time songs like "I Need To Know" and "American Girl" gained traction, the Power Pop kids claimed him as their own. 

"Refugee" and "Don't Do Me Like That" earned him a place in the charts and Top 40 Rock radio thought that they owned him. 

Shortly thereafter, he became an MTV plaything. 

And then he became an honorary member of the Classic Rock club.

Hell, even New Wave claimed him as their bastard child!

While all of this may have seemed confusing, the truth was much more revealing: Tom Petty's music belonged to everyone. 

In Tom Petty, we all had a common bond. The jocks on the football team, the misfits under the bleachers, the nerds at the science fair, etc. Even the stinky guy on the bus had a Tom Petty cassette in his backpack...

Petty's musical roots reached back to the '60s while his feet were firmly placed in whatever year each of his records came out. He was retro without looking back. He was modern without falling prey to technology.  He was a Rock star without compromising integrity.

For forty years, he remained one of the most popular artists of his generation. He never stopped being the guy that YOU always wanted to be. 

Everybody has a favorite Tom Petty song.  Which one is yours?  Whichever one it is, stop what you are doing and play it loud.  

Right now!'

'For me, Tom Petty has always meant "reliability." Whether it was looking for a song that fit a moment, a source of musical inspiration, or even just something everyone in the car could agree on listening to, Tom Petty would always deliver. 

He was one of the greatest champions of modern popular music ever to walk the Earth, and an important guru for many musicians. His songs had elements of everything; the British Invasion, Byrds-y '60s jangle rock, folk, country, pop, the blues, and psychedelia. He could be mellow, tender, soulful, gruff, and assertive. 

When I started playing music with others and first began writing my own material, Tom Petty's music was a master class in the art. You could hear all of those great musical elements in his songs but he always sounded like himself, never derivative. That is the lesson inherent in his music: be inspired by others, but always strive to stake out your own sonic turf. '


'Not Just Another Rock and Roll Band

“The thing about the Heartbreakers is, it’s still holy to me.” - Tom Petty (2017) 

It was 1976 when I heard: 

“It’s alright if you love me, it’s alright if you don’t. I’m not afraid of you running away, honey I get the feeling you won’t.” 

I didn’t know who the act was, but I was instantly struck by the snarl in the lead singer’s voice, the subtlety of the guitar, and then, the harmonies in the chorus. So, I waited patiently for the song to end, and for the deejay to enlighten me. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Woah! Even the name sounded cool! My teenage brain took note. I don’t recall hearing much else from that first album (“American Girl” didn’t make its way onto Canadian radio until a few years later), so I didn’t purchase it until a few years later. I did, however, buy that initial single, “Breakdown.” 

When the second album was released in 1978, it didn’t take much more than the title cut, “You’re Gonna Get It,” to convince me that this was a band that had something to say, and an interesting way to say it. As a new wave of sound seemed to be coming onto the airwaves at the end of the '70s, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were melding an older sound but making it sound fresh. I became a fan. 

Through 40+ years of incredible music, I never drifted. I purchased every single, every LP, every CD, every box set, every DVD. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers mattered to me, and not just because of the catalogue of incredible songs. More so, it was their commitment to their art and their ideals which they seemed to wear proudly on their sleeves. They were ‘rock stars’ who were happy to stay out of the rock star limelight, and focus on the music. And that also mattered to me. 

Tom’s music moved, changed, evolved and grew as the decades passed. For an act that originated in the mid-1970’s, while other acts of their time were falling into the ‘oldies’ category, it’s incredible to think that even into the 2000’s, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were not out of place with current acts. They remained relevant and as important as they were 40 years ago. An act that always had their finger on the musical pulse, keen on making themselves always sound new.

The last couple of years have been tough for those of us who lived and breathed the music from the 1970’s. We’ve lost too many of our heroes. Now, we’ve lost another. When I first heard the news of Tom’s passing, it didn’t seem real. A few days later, the wound is still fresh, and I know it will be a while before healing can fully take place. And it’s been tough listening to the music, but I’ve been blasting it endlessly the last couple of days. Now as I write this, my eyes are misty, but a smile forms as I hear my speakers still crackling along to that lead singer’s vocal snarl. 

“We're a real rock and roll band - always have been. In the era we came up in, it was a religion in a way. It was more than commerce. It was something greater.” - Tom Petty 2017'


'I have been a fan of Tom Petty since the early 80's. His music to me was just calming, peaceful, then of course there were the charged songs that just rocked. I can't remember the actual year but it was in the mid 80's I was fortunate to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live at The Universal Amphitheater. This was my first live concert and I was just overwhelmed by the energy he brought to the stage. The chill and goosebumps that followed every song, the loudness of the speaker array;it was simply amazing. I was hooked on Petty from then on. I feel that Tom Petty is one of the few musicians that never changed the way he wrote or performed his music over the 4 decades he played, because of that he was a hero of mine. The universe feels a little more empty with him not in it anymore. So long Tom, catch you later.'


'If you were downtrodden, wronged or troubled in any way, a Tom Petty song made you feel better. While not officially power pop, he followed all the power pop rules. Big hooks and jangling guitars? Check. Everyman attitude? Check. Melodic Rocker? Check. In fact all he was missing was 3-part harmonies. Damn the Torpedoes, he was good!

Tom Petty was one of the last original rock stars that never became an "oldies" act, as he continued making fresh new music up until the end. He connected with everyone, and you'll have a hard time finding someone who didn't like him. A true original who will never be replaced.'

'In 1979, I was a 14-year-old kid who could not relate to contemporary rock. I loved listening to my mom's Elvis Presley records and my older brother's British Invasion LP's, but newer sounds did not connect: they were too heavy-handed and self-indulgent. I started hearing of a new movement called "New Wave" which seemed to be about rockers returning to the simplicity of pre-psychedelia. My curiosity was piqued, and I sought out music by the likes of The Jam and Blondie. 

While watching Saturday Night Live, the musical guest was some guy I had never heard of. He was a skinny fellow with a blond shag cut and a Rickenbacker guitar. As soon as he sang, I thought "Dylan," and was hooked. I loved the jangly 12-string guitar work, as it evoked The Byrds and Animals. His music was so beautifully simplistic, catchy, and unpretentious that he just had to be "New Wave." Time would prove that assumption mostly incorrect. Nonetheless, I became a Tom Petty fan and cherished his timeless sound. 

His music would prove to be a common bond with musicians of differing tastes, and led to joining my first successful local band. Bless Tom Petty and may he enjoy jamming with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Howie Epstein, and Del Shannon once again.'

‘I got in Tom P. around the time of his first solo album FULL MOON FEVER (April, 1989), and was blown away completely by his ability to compose and perform deceptively simple songs that were, most significantly, instantly memorable. Indeed, it wasn't just the songs. For as someone who, at that time, had become disenchanted with the British Mod scene, (with its spiraling obsession with Soul, Jazz, and so on), it was so invigorating to stumble across Tom's uplifting music and laid-back look - a music and look, of course, that all sparkled with the jangle of that most Mod of guitars, the Rickenbacker. Then, come 1991, and his almost cinematic-in-scope INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN, I was hooked totally and utterly: As here was a true all-American soundscape - that, at the same time, resonated with such a 'global', 'timeless' depth - that was/is an aural equivalent of such pictorial American masterpieces as Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Grant Wood's American Gothic. So, Tom Petty, to me, will always be a true American artist - in all senses of the term.'

‘Tom Petty - What can you say about a guy who defined American Rock and Roll? He stayed relevant throughout his entire career and made important records during his time. He taught us a lot. He taught us how to be honest, write music from the heart, and to not give a shit what anyone thinks. We are lucky to have been around during his time to enjoy his art.’


‘I got tickets to the 3-1-1990 show at the Forum in Inglewood, Ca. However, our seat location was on the second level back where the spotlight was pointed towards the center of the stage. Lenny Kravitz opened up and was touring behind LET LOVE RULE. When he did that song, they turned on the house lights and everyone was waving their hands back and forth while singing “Let Love Rule.” I looked at the person I went to the show with and said he is trying to show up Petty. I also said Petty better bring his A game after that. Petty comes on and the sound is terrible for the 1st 4 songs. I almost walked out but when “Free Fallin'” started (song # 5), the sound got better and the concert went in to overdrive. The show even included "Something In The Air”, the Thunderclap Newman song that would end up on the GH released a couple of years later. For the encore, he brings out Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to do four songs together: “Rainy Day Women # 12 &35,” “Cocaine,” “I'm Cryin’” and “Travelin' Band”. This show ranks as one of my favorites.’

‘Through Rock, Punk, New Wave, Grunge etc. there was always Tom Petty. One of the most consistent writers ever. When you were in your car singing to Tom Petty, you sang in his voice, not your own. I introduced my kids to his music. They loved him, too. My daughter’s first piano recital was her singing “Free Fallin’.” Then both my kids started a band. They played “Refugee,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “Breakdown.” Then for a family present, I bought box seats at the Hollywood Bowl for his 40 year anniversary tour: me, my wife and both kids. What a great experience. That night ended his tour and turned out to be his last show. Nobody rocked like Tom.’

Thanks to Brian Olexy, Marvin Matthews, David Grossklaus, Aaron Kupferberg, Jim Hutter, Peter Jachimiak, Andy Reed, Craig Swedin and Sean Carbone 

In memory of Tom Petty.

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