In Memoriam - Tom Petty

“Do something you really like, and hopefully it pays the rent. As far as I'm concerned, that's success.” – Tom Petty

Tom Petty’s success was able to pay more than just the rent and his love of what he was doing, writing and performing music, shone as bright as the sun and left us with some wonderful music. Petty passed on Monday October 2, 2017 at the age of 66. With his long-time back-up band The Heartbreakers, and on his own, Petty has sold more than 80 million records. That is a lot of rent money! But no matter how many records or how much money he made, Petty always seemed down to earth, sincere and true to his music, never selling out. You will not hear a Tom Petty song as background to a sales pitch for a car, truck, beer, or anything.  That is because he never allowed his music to be used for commercials.  The music was the main thing to Petty and what music it is! I do not think you can find one person that does not like a few of Tom Petty’s songs and that is unusual.

Petty was born in 1950 in Gainesville, Florida. He had a strained relationship with his father who physically and mentally abused him as a young boy as he was “a mild-mannered kid who was interested in the arts." He turned to music for solace and got his first guitar lessons from Don Felder, the future guitarist of The Eagles. Petty joined various bands around the Gainesville area in his teenage years. His musical influences included Elvis Presley (who he met on a film set in Ocala, Florida), The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan, who would join him in the super-group The Traveling Wilburys.  Petty met his first success with the band Mudcrutch. This band included many of the members of his future backing band The Heartbreakers. 

Mudcrutch packed up their instruments and headed to Los Angeles, California to record demo records and try their luck at striking success in the music industry. They recorded an unsuccessful single in 1975. The record company dropped Mudcrutch, but they liked Petty and signed him to a solo contract. In 1976, Petty went into the studio to record an album and used members of Mudcrutch and some other Gainesville musicians hanging around LA to form his back-up band. The album that came out of that recording session was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This album included the hits “Breakdown” and “American Girl.”

More albums and much more success followed. A list of Tom Petty albums, with the Heartbreakers, The Traveling Wilburys, or on his own will end this blog, along with two books and a DVD that have Petty as their subject. Petty became a mainstay of rock radio, with many of his songs becoming rock classics with "Refugee," "I Won’t Back Down," "Don’t Come Around Here No More," and "Free Fallin’" among them.

In the late 1980s, Petty found his way into the super-group The Traveling Wilburys, which included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. The group came together as a happy accident. Harrison had just completed his album Cloud Nine and the record company wanted a new song for the B-side of the single “This is Love.” Petty, Dylan, and Orbison were visiting Harrison in the studio along with the album’s producer Lynne and they all decided to put something together for the B-side. When they were done, the musicians and studio crew were so taken with the effort they decided they needed to record an album together.  They ended up recording two albums in 1988 and 1990.

Interesting things you may not know about Tom Petty:

  • To get out of a bad contract with his first record company, Petty used his own money to record his third and breakout album Damn the Torpedoes and refused to release the album until his record company, MCA, released him from his contract.  MCA refused and Petty declared bankruptcy which forced MCA to renegotiate his contract in order to release the album.
  • Originally his album Hard Promises was priced at $8.98, but his record label wanted to charge $1 more for his album. He refused to release it and finally they caved.
  • Petty provided the opening music on the NBA Playoffs and Finals broadcasts on ABC Sports and ESPN with the Heartbreakers in 2006.
  • Petty was a regular guest on King of the Hill, voicing the character of Elroy “Lucky” Kleinschmidt over 20 times.
  • Petty was also an actor. He has made cameos in films like FM and Made in Heaven, but had a more substantial part in Kevin Costner’s film, The Postman.
  • Petty was a heroin addict in the 1990s. He sought addiction treatment and was successful in kicking his dependence on the drug.

Discography –

Full Moon Fever (1989)

Maybe his most successful album, contained the hits “Free Fallin,’”“I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

Wildflowers (1994)

Highway Companion (2006)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker Albums:

You’re Gonna Get It! (1978)
Contains the hits “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart.”

Damn the Torpedos (1979)
Contains the hits “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Even the Losers,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

Hard Promises (1981)
Contains the hit “The Waiting.”

Long After Dark (1982)
Contains the hit “You Got Lucky.”

Southern Accents (1985)
Contains the hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)
Contains the hit “Jammin’ Me.”

Into the Great Wide Open (1991)
Contains the hits “Into the Great Wide Open” and “Learning to Fly.”

Greatest Hits (1993)

Echo (1999)

The Last DJ (2002)

The Live Anthology (2010)
A four-disc set of live recordings drawn from thirty years of performances. The collection brings together material from 1978-2007.

Mojo (2010)

Hypnotic Eye (2014)

With the Traveling Wilburys:

Traveling Wilburys Collection (1988 & 1990)
This is a special edition that contains both Traveling Wilburys CDs along with extra bonus tracks and a DVD of music videos and a documentary on the history of the Traveling Wilburys.

With Mudcrutch:

Mudcrutch (2008)
Petty re-formed with his original band for two CDs - this was the first.

2 (2016)


The Story of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: I Won’t Back Down: A Musical Documentary (2014)
With his faithful band The Heartbreakers behind him, Tom Petty lit up stages across the world and became an unlikely early star of MTV with some innovative video work. Subsequent releases saw him justifiably included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside a stint The Travelling Wilburys. This release contains the full story with interviews, backstage footage and live clips.


Conversations With Tom Petty by Paul Zollo (2005)
Presents a collection of interviews with Tom Petty covering all aspects of his life and career.

Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes (2015)
Zanes provides an honest and evocative examination of Petty's music, and the remarkable rock and roll history he and his band helped to write. Petty was a kid without a whole lot of promise; rock and roll made it otherwise. His story has all the drama of a rock and roll epic. Dark and mysterious, Petty manages to come back, again and again, showing us what the music can do and where it can take us.

- Larry McNamara, Acquisitions


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