The man had an impact on everyone from Dave Grohl to The Strokes
Tom Petty’s death aged 66 has led to an outpouring of sadness from the music world. Since he started releasing music in 1976, he has contributed an enormous catalogue of iconic songs and left a huge impression on those that followed him. Here are 10 modern artists who wouldn’t have been the same without Petty.
1. Dave Grohl
In 1994 Grohl was invited to play Saturday Night Live with Petty and said: “It was the first time I’d looked forward to playing the drums since Nirvana had ended.” Though he was subsequently invited to join Petty’s band, The Heartbreakers, he declined, going on to form Foo Fighters and imbuing his own music with the same emotional weight that Petty did. Foo Fighters have covered Petty’s ‘Breakdown’ onstage 69 times over the years – more than any other band that isn’t a Tom Petty tribute act.
What he says: “Even when I was a stubborn, cynical, punk-rock asshole, I still loved Tom Petty. Because I felt like he was a stubborn, cynical, punk-rock asshole too.”
2. Ryan Adams
Why: Having received comparisons to Petty throughout his decades-long career, the alt-country icon Ryan Adams said in a 2011 Guardian interview that felt he was being sold as “radio rock, fucking Tom Petty”. That’s no disrespect to Tom – more a sign that Adams felt unable to escape the shadow of such a giant influence. Four years later, when asked by a fan on Twitter if he thought he was “this generation’s Tom Petty” he replied in a more nuanced way than before: “Tom Petty is this generation’s Tom Petty. He is a stone cold badass.” And in a since-deleted tweet posted yesterday evening, Adams wrote: “Thank you for giving so much, a lifetime of inspiration and love. Your music has changed this world for the better.”
What he says: “Safe passages to the summerlands, brother. You couldn’t have left more dreams here for us. Thank you.”
3. Bon Jovi
Why: Before becoming the frontman of rock’s gentle giants Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi was in a band called The Wild Ones, which was named after a Tom Petty song. In 1987 he told Spin: “I’ve always dug Petty” – and he’s saying the same thing now.
What he says: “I’m crushed… [by] the loss of one of one of my great influences, Tom Petty”.
4. Taylor Swift
Why: Petty’s ability to successfully mix elements of pop with Nashville country paved the way for the country-pop crossover phenomenon that is Taylor Swift.
What she says: “To me, Tom Petty represented a kind of songwriting I idolised: complex simplicity. His hits have defined rock radio since the Seventies, and he never stopped writing great music. It said so much in the lyrics, the concepts, the stories, the message, the nuances … but always brought you back to a hook that got stuck in everyone’s head. He motivated thousands of guitarists to learn to play just because they wanted to be able to play ‘Free Fallin”. Count me as one of them.”
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5. Vampire Weekend
Why: You might compare Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig’s keen, open vocals to Tom Petty’s own – and the straightforwardness of VW’s first album’s songwriting isn’t far from Petty either. Former bandmate and producer Rostam Batmanglij has been totally upfront about how much Petty meant to him.
What he says: “Tom Petty’s songs have always given me strength in hard times since I was a kid. I’ve always felt a deep connection to him.”
6. The War on Drugs
Why: Other than Ryan Adams, The War on Drugs are probably the artist most often compared to Petty, because frontman Adam Granduciel’s voice is so Petty-like – and because they both make the kind of panoramic anthems that are perfect for the open road.
What they say: “I love Tom Petty the way a lot of people love him. He’s got so many amazing songs, and you know them by heart. They’re classics. So I guess they’ve just always been a part of my life.” (Adam Granduciel)
7. Cage The Elephant
Why: In 2016, Matt Schultz – the frontman of Kentucky rockers Cage The Elephant – paid tribute to Petty by playing at California’s Petty Fest, celebrating 40 years of The Heartbreakers’ classic rock’n’roll. Before playing ‘American Girl’ Schultz said: “I wish I wrote this next one… I wish I wrote them all, to be honest.”
What they say: “He was such a sweet person to us, and a once-in-a-lifetime artist.”
8. Kings of Leon
Why: Southern rock crew Kings of Leon were hugely influenced by Petty, as they’re only too happy to admit. “Tom Petty was the first album I ever bought with my own money,” frontman Caleb told Billboard years ago. “I’ve been listening to him ever since, so I know there’s a huge influence on me.”
What they say: “Tom Petty was one of the biggest inspirations for me as a musician. This one will hurt for a long time.” (drummer Nathan Followill)
9. Noah & The Whale
Why: On their third and fourth albums – ‘Last Night on Earth’ and ‘Heart of Nowhere’ – the London-formed band hit a soft-rock groove that was almost universally attributed to the influence of Springsteen and Petty.
What he says: “Our guitarist Fred [Abbott] – a big Tom Petty fan – lent me the Peter Bogdanovich documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream [which tells the story of Petty’s career], and that is outstanding. It was watching that, hearing the way he talks about songwriting, the way they’re a band, and this gang – I loved that. That was the moment.” (frontman Charlie Fink)
10. The Strokes
Why: After they released ‘Last Nite’, The Strokes admitted they’d stolen the riff of ‘American Girl’. Frontman Julian Casablancas explained: “People would say, ‘You know that song ‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty? Don’t you think it sounds a little like that?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, we ripped it off. Where you been?’” Petty loved the response and didn’t take any legal action – “It doesn’t bother me,” he said.
What he says: “I grew up with your music. I’m gonna miss you.” (guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.)