One week after finishing the 40th anniversary tour with his band, Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers passed away on Oct. 2 as a result of cardiac arrest.
Petty’s music embraced heavy rock and roll guitar roots, Bob Dylan-esque vocals, and pop melodies with clear influences from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, and the Byrds. His music is a mix of the best parts of the British Invasion and American garage rock, making it unlike the musicians of his era who broke away from those traditions.
Despite an unsteady start, Petty’s career was incredibly successful, culminating in 16 albums — 13 with The Heartbreakers and six solo projects — three Grammys, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Petty’s interest in music sparked while he was in high school, finding it as a refuge from his harsh father. Soon after, Petty dropped out of highschool to join the band Mudcrutch, where he gained practice in songwriting. The band relocated to Los Angeles searching for a record contract, but ended up dispersing.
Petty, along with Mudcrutch guitarist Mike Campbell and pianist Benmont Tench, eventually re-emerged as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
When the band was on the verge of making it big time, they faced complications with their label, MCA, which refused to meet Petty’s demands. Eventually he was able to come to an agreement with the company, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ third album, Damn the Torpedoes, was released.
The complication with MCA is only one instance of Petty advocating for musicians’ rights. MCA wanted to release Petty’s fourth album Hard Promises at a price of $9.98, one dollar more than the list price. Petty threatened to have the company withhold the album and organized a fan protest forcing the company to release it at the standard price of $8.98. These incidents show Petty’s importance in the music industry, as he stood up for his rights as a musician. His defense for musicians’ rights was recognized earlier this year when he was awarded the MusiCares person of the year.
In 1988, he joined ‘80s supergroup Traveling Wilburys along with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison.
He embarked on a solo career in 1989, using The Traveling Wilburys’ success as a basis for his own, yet remained an active member of both bands.
Petty was a talented musician who had a long career and consistently produced good music. He wrote over 300 songs, and while people may not be familiar with all of them or even know his name, they are almost sure to know “Free Fallin.”
Petty was a unique musician for emphasizing music over personality. He developed and maintained strong friendships as a musician, joining a band with members of the Beatles. Nonetheless, he stayed true to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers while also having a solo career. Petty’s dedication is prominently shown in his commitment to music and his bands up to the end of his life and long career.