Tom Petty has been on the periphery of my music life ever since I can remember. It seemed like he was always cranking out solid hit singles with quiet dignity. I’ve listened to most of his music, watched his videos all the way through at least once, and tended to hear what he had to say in general. He appealed to all sorts of people and spanned generations. And it seemed he and I liked a lot of the same music.
But Tom Petty was never a direct influence on me. Personally, I wouldn’t have considered him to be any kind of influence until a couple years ago when I moved to Grass Valley, California. The move led to a decision to retool my hyper nuanced and recklessly delivered Fringe Folk music. My “style” wasn’t likely to fly in small town USA, where minimalist musical adventurism is by no means the norm, at least as far as gigging and the aging enthusiasms of my peers are concerned. The thought was to try reaching people locally beyond a captive audience of indifferent bartenders.
I decided to look for a template to help me say what I had to say in three or four chords (still trying to figure this out). I presume any songwriter knows how difficult this is to do consistently at a high level. I went to the drawing board of usual suspects: Hank Williams and Country music in general (“three chords and the truth” – blah, blah). I got back into the blues and rediscovered a love for the Beatles and the Stones. Eventually a light bulb came on somewhere between ruminations on Neil Young and Jackson Browne: the place to deep dive would be Tom Petty.
I started to devour Petty’s music pulling from the county library, music stores and online. The more I listened the more I marveled. Tom Petty’s songs are almost all limited to three or four chords and, astonishingly, he covered only a handful of subjects in his writing. Yet, the music is so tasteful – it kicks ass you could say – and he almost never misses lyrically. He had an amazing band in the Heartbreakers too – guitar based rock just doesn’t get much better. I am now a huge fan.
My Tom Petty playlist runs about thirty songs deep. I still listen to it regularly – especially at gatherings where people seem to have an appreciation for guitar rock and where ages span generations. Tom Petty was a solid artist. Authentic. I consider all the songs on my TP playlist to be more/ less great. I hold several of his songs in very high regard (Breakdown, American Girl, I Need To Know, Listen to Her Heart, Refugee, Even the Losers, The Waiting, A Woman in Love, A Thing About You, You Got Lucky, Change of Heart, I Won’t Back Down…).
The passing of Tom Petty sends more guitar-rock real estate back into the sea. This is probably what bums me out the most. Tom Petty was one of those people who kept the notion of good rock and roll alive in the perception of the general public. There are not many of these so-called practicing masters left. Selfishly, I don’t like the thought of my appreciation for Pop stars being increasingly limited to dead people. It brings to mind my own mortality. Anyway, Tom Petty’s passing makes me want to play his music. RIP.