The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to hear of the passing of 2016 inductee Tom Petty today.
Born Thomas Earl Petty in Gainesville, Florida on October 20, 1950, Petty became interested in rock ‘n’ roll after meeting Elvis Presley in 1961, when his uncle was working on the set of Presley’s film Follow That Dream in nearby Ocala and invited Petty to watch. Like so many others, he knew he wanted to be in a band when he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and studied guitar early on with future Eagle Don Felder. His first band, The Epics, later became Mudcrutch, a southern and country rock band that also featured guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, who joined Petty in the Heartbreakers.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first scored in 1978 with the Petty-penned hit “Breakdown.” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which he wrote with Campbell, became a duet hit in 1981 for Stevie Nicks; his 1985 hit “Don't Come Around Here No More” was written with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. With The Traveling Wilburys he co-wrote the hits “Handle with Care” and “End of the Line.”
Over the years, Tom Petty led his band The Heartbreakers to a unique position in the rock scene with a distinctively rootsy sound and great original songs like “Free Fallin’,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “The Waiting,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “American Girl,” “Refugee,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.” The band's most recent effort, 2014's Hypnotic Eye, scored the rockers their very first No. 1 album. Such was his stature that he joined Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne in the late ‘80s supergroup Traveling Wilburys.
A Tom Petty tribute album (You Got Lucky) was released in 1994 and featured bands including Everclear and Silkworm. In 1966 he received UCLA's George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, as well as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Golden Note Award. In 2002 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2005, he received the Billboard Century Award for his lifetime achievements. In 2007, he was the subject of a documentary film by Peter Bogdanovich, Runnin’ Down a Dream.
Petty’s songs have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam and John Mayer. He has appeared in The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, King of the Hill and The Postman. In 2016 he reunited his early band Mudcrutch and released a second album by the band.
Last Monday, Petty concluded an extensive Heartbreakers' tour—which kicked off in April—at the Hollywood Bowl. In December he had admitted to Rolling Stone that the trek, done to honor the 40th anniversary of the Heartbreakers’ debut, would likely be “the last big one.”