In France, without being unknown, his name is not familiar to everyone. But on the other side of the Atlantic, in the country where he was born and grew up, Tom Petty has gone from being a discreet star to a rock monument. In his 40-year career and until his recent death in 2017, he composed countless hits and sold more than 80 million albums. Portrait of a gentle rebel!
A razor-sharp face contrasting with his azure blue eyes, Tom Petty is one of those who resisted when, in the 1970s, new wave and punk took everything in their path. With a few others to whom he will often be compared, Bruce Springsteen in the lead, he resists standing up in the storm. Better still, he quickly establishes himself as a discreet but unavoidable artist, an artist who sublimates traditions with a new freshness. And without ever overdoing it, who chains together unpretentious masterpieces with precision and delicacy.
With or without The HeartBreakers, one of the best backing bands in the history of rock, but always accompanied by his comrade Mike Campbell on guitar, he draws inspiration from his models. The Stones, of course. Dylan, of course. But also the Kinks, the nostalgic blues of Johnny Cash and his southern influences, with Little Richard and Muddy Waters in mind. Learning to Fly, Don't Come Around Here No More, Refugee, in each of his hits is a filigree tribute. For Tom Petty has never claimed to be a visionary. On the other hand, he is formidable.
But what set him apart from the others was not necessarily visible on stage. Straight in his boots, stubborn, generous, he didn't let himself be dictated to by any label, any record company. Scabby, he prefers to blow it all away! Like when he crushes his hand, in rage in a wall in front of the imperfection of an album in preparation. Because behind his big blue eyes and his apparent calm, Tom Petty, son of a prologue, has never let himself be dictated to!
At the age of ten, young Tom, born into a modest family in Gainesville, Florida, meets the man who will change his life. The King Elvis himself, then passing through for a film shoot in his town. It's decided, he wants to be a rock singer!
However, it is only at almost thirty that the artist will finally break through! In 1979, he released his third album, the excellent Damn The Torpedoes. The hits rained down and invaded the airwaves like the famous The Refugee. Tom and the Hearthbreakers, with their southerly sounds, had nothing left to prove!
Tom Petty has long since risen to the level of his idols and regularly accompanies them on stage or in the studio, from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan. In 1988, he officially joined the exclusive club of rock greats, forming the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne.
Six years later, he signed one of his greatest successes, this time as a soloist. Wildflowers is considered by many to be a masterpiece, a marvel that reveals all the sensitive maturity of a fiery artist finally caught up with the times. The stories are resilient, the acceptance melancholy at will, and the eponymous single is a perfect fit.
Forty years of career is something to celebrate. And that's exactly what Tom Petty had just done, accompanied by his lifelong friends from the Heartbreakers on a tour that was to give way to a less frantic pace. The rock prodigy had also just produced an album for Chris Hillman, the former Byrds member who had inspired him enormously in his youth. The circle was complete, but his sudden demise certainly turned a page in seventies rock.
On stage, Tom Petty is the essence of rock! The songs and lyrics are sublime, of course. But what warms the mood is the extraordinary connection he has with his musicians. The Heartbreakers haven't lost any of their ardour and it's really nice to see!
Tom Petty, a discreet, humble artist, always straight in his boots and with a punchy sobriety, left a lasting imprint on the rock music of the 70s. A free soul, certainly less known on our side of the Atlantic, but whose concerts were always unmissable events.
The evidence is that Petty was "the most consistent and effective songwriter I've ever seen," as ¬producer Jimmy Iovine put it. ...] The evidence was perhaps also to be found on the ground: on a two-lane road, at night, you would necessarily drive faster and, above all, longer with Here Comes My Girl, Century City, Breakdown, Refugee or Don't Do Me Like That in the record store.