Phil & Mel In The Afternoon

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers perform as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on September 17, 2006 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Matt Archer/Getty Images)

Without Elvis Presley, we might never have heard the music of Tom Petty. You could say that about a lot of musicians who came after Elvis, but this was a little different.

Born in Gaineville, Florida, Petty’s interest in rock and roll began at the age of ten when he actually met Elvis Presley. In the summer of 1961, Tom’s uncle was working on the set of Presley’s movie Follow That Dream, in nearby Ocala, and invited his young nephew to tag along. Shortly after that fateful meeting with the King, Tom traded his slingshot to a friend for a collection of Elvis 45s. In a 2006 NPR interview, Tom Petty said he knew he wanted to be in a band the moment he saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1960s. Little did the teenage Tom know that he would one day befriend and work with some of the Beatles.

Petty’s earliest bands included Mudcrutch, formed with fellow Floridians Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. Mudcrutch was popular in the Gainesville area but it wasn’t until they added Stan Lynch and Ron Blair that the full potential of the re-named Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be realized, beginning with their self-titled debut album in 1976.

Tom Petty released 13 studio albums with the Heartbreakers, as well as three solo albums. He was also a member of the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. Petty died of a cardiac arrest in 2017, at the age of 66, one week after the end of the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour.

  • Refugee (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - 1980)

    In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked “Refugee” No. 2 on their list of the 50 greatest Tom Petty songs. According to Songfacts,┬áTom Petty and the Heartbreakers made the video because they didn’t want to appear on The Merv Griffin Show in person. It worked. The band was able to promote the song on the show without actually being there. The video later received a lot of airplay when MTV launched in 1981.

  • End of the Line (The Traveling Wilburys - 1988)

    “End of the Line” was the second single from the super group’s debut album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, released in October 1988. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. Tom Petty sang the verses, while the other members sang the chorus. The video was filmed shortly after Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988. A shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair and a photo of Orbison are shown when his vocals are heard.

  • I Won't Back Down (Tom Petty - 1989)

    “I Won’t Back Down” was released in April 1989 as the lead single from his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. The song was co-written by Tom Petty and fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne. It topped the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart for five weeks. Mike Campbell (Heartbreakers), Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison appeared in the music video with Harrison’s former Beatles bandmate, Ringo Starr, playing drums even though Ringo did not play on the recording. Tom must have felt like it was a childhood dream come true.