Tom Petty Tribute: The Many Sides of the Rock Legend

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It’s a cliché to say Tom Petty’s music embraced many different genres, but he really did have a broad appeal. Rock fans loved hard-hitting songs like I Need to Know and Out in the Cold. Songs such as Free Fallin’ and Learning to Fly were hits fans young and old could appreciate. Petty collaborated with legends such as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and covered artists as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Conway Twitty and Fats Domino. Whether you consider Petty’s style rock, country, folk, roots rock or somewhere in between, his music has a timeless appeal. Here are some of the many sides of the late, great Tom Petty, in music videos, in concert and in Petty’s own words.


10. Petty Rocks the Midnight Special (1978)

This is early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers near their peak. Their roots-rock influences, combined with a no-nonsense garage-band style, stood in sharp contrast to the polished arena rock acts of the mid-to-late 1970s.


9. Petty and Heartbreakers Back Johnny Cash (1996)

Country music legend Johnny Cash loved Petty’s music, and Petty felt the same about Cash’s style. Petty and the Heartbreakers served as the backup band for Cash on his album, Unchained, which won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Country Album. This clip is from the 2007 documentary, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream.


8. Petty Covers Fats Domino’s Classic I’m Walkin’ (2007)

While a prolific songwriter himself, Petty paid tribute to dozens of other artists by covering their songs in recordings and/or in concert. Here is his acclaimed cover of Fats Domino’s 1957 hit I’m Walkin’ on the 2007 multi-artist CD, Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino.


7. The Traveling Wilburys Era (1988)

In the late 1980s Petty joined a “supergroup” that included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Petty’s participation in the Traveling Wilburys came about entirely by accident. Harrison had left his guitar at Petty’s house; when he went to pick it up, he invited Petty to join the unique collaboration. The group released two critically acclaimed albums, in 1988 and 1990.


6. The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Video (1985)

A new generation of fans discovered Petty’s music through a series of bizarre yet entertaining music videos in the 1980s and early 1990s. The strangest, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, featured Petty and a corpse (played by star Kim Basinger). The video for Don’t Come Around Here No More, better known as the “Alice in Wonderland” video, featured Petty as the Mad Hatter from that classic book.


5. Petty Rocks Live Show in Midcareer (1991)

We’ve always thought Love is a Long Road is one of Petty’s most underrated songs, overshadowed by several bigger hits that appeared on his debut solo CD Full Moon Fever (1989). Here’s a great live version of the song showing Petty in peak midcareer form.


4. The Super Bowl Halftime Show (2008)

Super Bowl halftime shows are often criticized for being over-hyped, bloated productions that are more about the spectacle than music. Yet being invited to headline this show is a great honor. Petty and the Heartbreakers played a four-song set during Super Bowl XLII in 2008, wrapping with Runnin’ Down a Dream. We’ve seen enough of these shows through the years to realize that Petty and his bandmates did an excellent job focusing on the music, and not gimmicks in playing before the biggest TV audience of the year.


3. Behind the Music: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The acclaimed VH1 series featured Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1999. His unlikely journey from his childhood in Gainesville, Fla., to musical icon is inspiring.


2. Petty in His Own Words (2014)

Petty has earned countless awards and the respect of many of the greatest legends in music history. He and the Heartbreakers entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. But how did Petty view his own career and legacy? In a 2014 interview with The National, Petty admitted the accolades he earned in the latter years of his career were nice, because he took his early success for granted. As far as his ability to write one hit after another, “There’s some kind of actual magic going on there,” Petty said. “I feel like for some reason I was born with some kind of conduit to this energy force … and I can have that happen through me … At the funniest times, something can come into your head and you think, ‘That’s a good line.’”


1. Petty’s Last Show: Sept. 25, 2017

Exactly one week before his untimely death, Petty played his last show, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. A fan at the show, Kim Roberts, posted YouTube videos of several songs, including his best-selling hit, Free Fallin’. The concert was part of his 40th anniversary tour. Just before launching into his final song, American Girl, Petty told the fans, “I want to thank you for 40 years of a really great time.”

Thanks for all the great memories, Tom. R.I.P.

(Slideshow and display photo credit: Amber via Flickr)


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