Tom Petty

Tom Petty dies, aged 66

After some confusion on Monday night it has been confirmed that Tom Petty has died at the age of 66. Petty suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday night and was taken to hospital in Santa Monica, California but could not be revived.

Born in October 1950 in Gainesville, Florida, Petty’s rock career was sparked by two events: meeting Elvis Presley on the set of his movie Follow That Dream in 1961 and seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. In the late 1960s he formed The Epics, who would evolve into Mudcrutch in 1970. Although Mudcrutch only released two singles, after the band’s demise guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench would stay with Petty to form his backing group The Heartbreakers. Their self-titled début album reached #24 in the UK in 1977, spawning two top forty singles Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and American Girl, but subsequent albums were far more successful in the US than the UK: Damn The Torpedos (1979), Hard Promises (1981), Long After Dark (1982) and Southern Accents (1985) were all top ten hits on the Billboard album chart without reaching the top twenty in the UK.

Petty returned to UK chart success in 1988 as one of the Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup in which he played with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Their début single Handle With Care reached #21 in the UK while their album The Traveling Wilburys Volume 1 went to #16, but the band’s success was derailed by Orbison’s sudden death less than two months after the album’s release. Nevertheless Orbison, along with Harrison and Lynne, contributed to Petty’s subsequent solo album Full Moon Fever, his first top ten success in the UK which included his only top thirty single I Won’t Back Down. The surviving Wilburys regrouped for a second album, confusingly titled The Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 in 1990, which again reached the UK top twenty, before Petty reunited with the Heartbreakers for 1991’s Into The Great Wide Open which gave him his biggest UK success, reaching #3. (The two Wilburys albums finally reached #1 in the UK in 2007 when they were reissued as a box set The Traveling Wilburys Collection.)

Inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002, Petty continued to release albums, both with the Heartbreakers and occasionally solo, finally returning to the UK top ten with 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Just last week Petty and the Heartbreakers concluded their fortieth anniversary tour with three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl, a tour Petty suggested would be his last: “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in December 2016. “We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”

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Many tributes have already been paid by Petty’s friends and colleagues as well as those he influenced. Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone “I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.” Jon Bon Jovi tweeted “I’m crushed,” while Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx called him “One of the greatest songwriters of our generation.”

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