by Tom Petty
Influences on Tom PettyTom Petty has enjoyed three long decades of success and it couldn't have come without some powerful influences. And it started with The King himself. As Billboard magazine reports, "for all this, we have Elvis to thank. As an 11-year-old growing up in Gainesville, Fla., Petty briefly met the King in an encounter that changed his life. 'Everything became pretty clear at that moment,' Petty says. Being a rock star 'looked like a great job.' He subsequently traded his beloved Wham-O slingshot for a box of Presley singles and never looked back…. "You weren't prepared to have your life changed in a minute. It really had that sort of impact. It wasn't like meeting Jesus, but it was close.""
Along with the King, Petty had a few other "a-ha" moments growing up, including seeing The Beatles play live on the Ed Sullivan Show: "That was when the world turned to color from black and white. All of a sudden Technicolor. I was 13 or 14, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, no question. It still baffles me a little bit as to why the lightning bolt hit me, but it did."
Aside from idolizing Elvis and The Beatles, Petty was heavily influenced by some of his contemporaries, including Jeff Lynne from The Electric Light Orchestra (who helped him along when he was writing "Free Fallin'") as well as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and others.
When The Heartbreakers broke up briefly in the late 1980s, Petty got an amazing opportunity: he was invited to be part of a new band with his musical heroes, Bob Dylan, George Harrison (of the Beatles), and Roy Orbison. They called themselves The Traveling Wilburys and many have hailed them as the greatest rock "supergroup" of all time. Petty loved playing with the Wilburys. "That was a really good, good place for me to be at that time in my life," Petty later said. "I really kind of felt like friends took me in. The nicest thing about the Wilburys for all of us was that not any one of us had to carry the load. I think it freed us all a great deal. George had wanted a band for a long time; he hated being a solo artist. It was George's dream. And I'm just glad it got to come true for him. We were proud being Wilburys and it was a lot of fun, but the greatest thing to me was there were some really long-lasting friendships made, and that's a kind of gift that you just don't get all the time."