Tom Petty: The heartbreaking death of rock’s legendary storyteller
Adam Flores | Senior Writer
Tom Petty, iconoclastic frontman of rock’s Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, died Monday after suffering from full cardiac arrest. Petty was 66.
A statement released Monday evening by Petty’s longtime manager, Tony Dimitriades, said, “On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”
As a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer, he recorded numerous hits most notably with his Heartbreakers band, as a member of supergroup Traveling Wilburys and as a solo artist.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, along with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, helped spearhead the heartland rock movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s, formulating a straight-ahead classic rock sound that incorporated themes associated with blue-collar issues. This foundation created singles that are mainstays today on classic rock and adult contemporary radio playlists.
“Runnin’ Down a Dream”: After watching The Beatles’ “earthshaking” February 1964 debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the then 13-year-old Petty was on a mission to find a guitar and play music. Already a music fan, this moment changed his life, paramount in defining what the future held for the Gainesville, Florida native.
In 1970, Petty, along with guitarist and vocalist Tom Leadon, formed Mudcrutch. 1974 saw Mudcrutch sign with Shelter Records and relocate from Gainesville to Los Angeles. They released the single, “Depot Street,” in 1975 which failed to find its way onto the music charts.
In late 1975, Mudcrutch was broken apart by the record company and Petty moved on forming The Heartbreakers’ in 1976 with the help of former Mudcrutch members Mike Campbell (guitars) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). Petty reached back to his hometown recruiting Stan Lynch (drums) and Ron Blair (bass) to complete The Heartbreakers’ lineup.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers went on to become one of rock’s luminary acts, beginning with their eponymous 1976 debut studio album. It was here that singles “Breakdown,” “American Girl” and “Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” began the group’s momentum.
Their second studio album, 1978’s “You’re Gonna Get It!,” reached No. 23 on Billboard’s Top LP’s & Tapes chart in 1978. Singles “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” continued the upward climb of what Rolling Stone said was an “impressive stylistic cohesiveness” reflected within the first two compilations.
1979’s third studio album, “Damn the Torpedoes” cemented the group’s success reaching No. 2 on the Billboard album chart while spawning classic singles, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl.” The album has been certified Triple Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
From 1988-1990, Petty was also part of the supergroup-to-end-all-supergroups, Traveling Wilburys, which included Bob Dylan, The Beatles’ George Harrison, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) founder Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. The historic conglomerate yielded two studio albums and several singles including “Handle with Care,” “End of the Line” and “She’s My Baby.”
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers just finished their 40th anniversary tour run on Sept. 25 concluding with three sold-out shows at the historic Hollywood Bowl. Petty said in a Rolling Stone interview late last year that this was probably the “last big one.” The group performed 53 shows in 24 states according to their website.
Tom Petty was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. During his illustrious career in the industry, he has sold more than 80 million records establishing him as one of the best-selling artists of all-time.
Petty’s life and legacy will live on through his music and the bonds he established with numerous artists throughout his music career. His rich narrative will be a story explored and expanded upon within music’s future upbringings and a sought-after chapter within rock’s Great American Songbook.
Earlier on Monday, Sir Paul McCartney’s heartfelt message to Petty via Twitter said, “Sending love to Tom Petty and his family at this difficult time.”