Man, am I tired of doing this? Here I am again trying to express a sense of loss, with words, which is hard enough to do without the depressingly uncanny frequency of major losses we’ve suffered this year- and it’s barely October.
Tom Petty was a great songwriter. If he’d written only a handful of the classic songs we’ve all known and loved through the years this would still be the case. But he defied history. He did what so few can do- he kept up the pace for over 40 years and as great as the songs from the early albums were he actually continued to get better and better, composing a lot of his best works later in his career. And he kept them coming. I remember commenting during a short tour we did together with the Allman Brothers and the Heartbreakers that they had so many hits they couldn’t fit them all into one show. And not just hits. The kind of hits that "everybody" likes. Casual fans, rockers, musicians, singer-songwriters, male and female- across the board. Everybody loves Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. And for good reason. I can remember in different stages of my life, (going all the way back to 1976 when I first heard them) no matter where my head was- if I was going through a blues phase, or a jazz phase, or a folky phase, or a funk phase- anytime I would hear a new Tom Petty song on the radio it was like “damn, that’s a good song”. And like all great bands from the 60’s and 70’s the Heartbreakers had a sound. You knew it was them as soon as you heard it. Evolving and adapting but never straying too far from that sound, they somehow managed to navigate their way through 4 decades of an ever-changing music business- a feat unto itself.
But Tom Petty was also a true artist in the way that he fought for the right to deliver his music uncompromised and his well known disputes with the corporate side of the music industry helped pave the way for other artists to do the same. I still remember his battle to keep the record company from raising the price on Hard Promises because it would be unfair to the fans. Reading about that as a 21 year-old kid inspired me to be conscious of those kind of things. I also remember hearing a story (assuming it’s true) of how he would find the person with the worst seat in any venue they were performing in and have them moved down front- another classy act.
I barely knew Tom. We did a handful of shows together. But I was a big fan before I met him and a bigger one afterwards. I’m honored to have played together what little we did. The world needs more Tom Petty’s. Unfortunately there was only one. And now he’s gone. May we all “stand our ground” and “not back down”.- WH
Ashes & Dust Out Now!
Warren Haynes' new album ft. Spots Of Time, Gold Dust Woman, and more!