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Remembering the amazing and talented Tom Petty

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YUKON, Okla. -- At 8:40 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2017, the world lost another musical icon.

Tom Petty died at the age of 66 after suffering from a full cardiac arrest earlier in the afternoon. Once Petty was found unconscious and unresponsive in his Malibu, Calif. home, he was rushed to UCLA Santa Monica hospital.

After multiple inaccurate reports, the LAPD was unable to confirm the life or death of the rock legend.

Just before 9 p.m., Petty’s manager Tony Dimitriades issued a press release saying, “We are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty. He died peacefully surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”

At 66 years old, Tom Petty not only became a household in the name of entertainment; he was a staple of rock music throughout the world.

Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida. From an early age, he was obsessed with the arts and knew that music was his outlet to communicating with the world. With influences like Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Byrds, Petty began to practice guitar.

By 17, Petty would drop out of school to play bass guitar with a band him and his friends had made. The band was called the Sundowners.

In a CBS interview, Petty said, “Music is probably the only real magic I have ever encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real.”

After the band disbanded, he would land with another band called the Epics. This would prove to the first taste of fame Tom Petty received as a musician. The group made it enough to get a record label only to break up due to creative differences. Mudcrutch was another band during this period of the 70's. 

The year was 1975. It would be the year of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Each member of the Heartbreakers orchestrated a sound that was as unique to the other. What it ultimately did was highlight the front man with the wavy, wispy hair and a nasally voice paired with a catchy guitar.

Two albums would be sent out to the public gaining little traction to an audience that wasn’t ready for the sound. Artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan had been on the scene for a while but what they lacked is what Petty had in droves.

The style of rock Petty pioneered wasn’t around for music to exploit. Easy listening rock was over-played and harder rock wasn’t widely acceptable.

What Petty showed was the middle ground where all walks of life could gather and listen to powerful lyrics.

It wasn’t until the third album, Damn the Torpedoes, released in October 1979, that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would skyrocket into the mainstream, with a series of radio-friendly singles including: "Don't Do Me Like That," "Refugee," and "Here Comes My Girl."

The band would have a smattering of hits throughout the 1980's, including "You Got Lucky" and the sitar-heavy "Don't Come Around Here No More," which were not only popular on radio but as music videos on MTV. The late 80's were patchy for the band and so Petty went into the studio and recorded a solo album, Full Moon Fever, released in 1989 - to critical acclaim, featuring hits including "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'" and "Yer So Bad." 

This was during his period with The Traveling Wilburys, between 1988 and 1990, the fun-loving, British-American supergroup that not only included Petty (known as both "Charlie T. Wilbury" and "Muddy Wilbury"), but also Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra. They had several hits, including "Handle With Care" and "End of the Line."

Hits like “Learming to Fly’”, “Mary Jane's Last Dance” and “The Waiting” consistently hit the radios across the country and made Petty’s popularity contagious over the past few decades. A multi-platinum artist, a rock pioneer and musical influence is just a few of the titles that have been bestowed upon Petty.

However, in 1997, Tom Petty fell on hard times.

Interviews with CNN showed a weary Petty strung out on his addiction to heroin. A staggering divorce mixed with a fall in popularity in the early 2000’s led to his dependency on the drug.

According to The Washington Post, he would stop using the drug by the 2000’s and continue to make music with the Heartbreakers.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Once again, a new wave of popularity came Petty's way, even getting him a regular gig on SiriusXM satellite radio, eventually leading to his own channel, where he not only played his own songs, but songs by bands - many from the 1960's - who influenced young Petty growing up in Florida. 

The 13th and final album released by the band was on July 29, 2014. It was called Hypnotic Eye and it quickly made it to the top of the Billboard album chart. This move made it the first time a Tom Petty album was the first on the charts throughout his career. It was followed by a well-attended tour, which stopped in Tulsa that year, and was reviewed by Red Dirt Report's Andrew Griffin.

As his music career continued, Petty branched out into acting and voice acting. He could be found on his repeated appearance on Fox’s King of the Hill voicing the character of Elroy “Lucky” Kleinschmidt. Petty also acted in Kevin Costner’s classic film The Postman.

Petty and his band continued to tour as late as last week, as part of their 40th Anniversary Tour, which kicked off in Oklahoma City in April, and reviewed by Red Dirt Report's Keaton Bell. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers finished this summer's tour with his final three performances at the Hollywood Bowl.

Reeling from the news of the Las Vegas massacre on Sunday, the world also mourned the man who pioneered rock music for modern age.

Jim London, 38, is a guitarist who plays at various dive bars throughout the Oklahoma City area. When he heard the news of Tom Petty’s death he was devastated.

“The news came later on in the night and I haven’t been able to sleep that well,” London said. “I grew up on Tom Petty with my Dad and that’s how I learned to play the way that I do now. I think this death will be a shot to the future of the music.”

Celebrities took to social media to express their condolences for the fallen artist.

“This is unbearable. Vegas and now a great music hero has passed. You brought us so much joy, @tompetty. We will miss you.  #RIPTomPetty,” Sheryl Crow said.

“I loved Tom Petty and I covered his songs because I wanted know what it felt like to fly.  “you belong somewhere you feel free.”,” John Mayer said.

Funeral services have not been made as of the time of this report.

As we mourn the losses of all lost on October 2, 2017, let’s remember the lyric from Tom Petty’s hit song “You And I Will Meet Again.”

“You and I will meet again, when we’re least expecting it. One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face. I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.”

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Brandon King

Brandon King is a journalism student at OCCC, working towards becoming a professional writer....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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