Tom Petty America’s Average Joe Hero
Photography By Randy Podolsky
Tom Petty October 20, 1950- October 2, 2017
During a time when it seemed as if the world was riding the British rock wave of the late 1970s, a young man rose out of the south. From a small town in Florida, Petty grew up modestly, which helped him to find the voice and words that would speak to not only Americans, but also the whole world. He was a writer for the working class, the blue collars, and the everyday average American. He was Tom Petty.
Mostly touring with his band The Heartbreakers, Petty made a dent in the American rock & roll scene, even being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame later in life, in 1997. His fellow band members that were also inducted included Ron Blair (bass), Mike Campbell (guitar), Howie Epstein (bass), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards). Petty was the roll to the rock, the ease in the chaos, and the hand in the darkness when no one else was reaching out; America’s average citizen hero.
He had a gift with words, as if he knew what all the struggling Americans needed to hear, which he credits to his mothers nightly poetry readings before bed. This gift with words contributed to his successes, as he was often quoted as writing the lyrics with simple chords at first, so as to make sure he got his meaning through to the ears of his listeners. People listened, and they listened, and they listened…and then had their children listen, as his records were never ones to collect dust on a shelf.
Here in Del Mar, just weeks after the massive music festival Kaaboo, we have lost this legend. Kaaboo is a fairly new festival, however the acts in the lineup range from fresh and new to the classics that many never thought they would get to see. For those who got to see him while he was here, it may seem like a dark time, but remember the words he wrote and don’t “back down”. What an honor to have been one of his final shows with only two more after that concluded his 40th Anniversary tour. Even weeks before the event, the majority of people asked who were going wanted to see Tom Petty more than any other act. Because of his rock legend status, his crowd was one of the largest of the weekend. It was a beautiful sight to see people young and old singing every word to every song. Bringing together Americans in the old rock & roll way.
His timeless classics including “Free Fallin”, “American Girl”, and “Won’t Back Down” hit the ears of the crowd and made it seem as if the energy would never stop. For us in San Diego, Petty’s death comes as a shock. Just weeks before he was gracing the stage right in front of the beaches of Del Mar, moving around the stage and belting his lyrics. Seeming to be young at heart, no one saw the tragedy coming.
It’s a hard pill to swallow considering all of the deaths within the music industry seemingly happening at a rapid pace. We will never “know how it feels” for Tom Petty, but we will never forget how we felt about him.