Rock and Roll Never Dies

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There are few bands, or songs for that matter, that have echoed out of both the speakers of my dad’s 1979 Pontiac Firebird and my 2010 Subaru Outback.  Tom Petty was one of those rare artists.  

Tom Petty, a songwriter, singer, and guitarist, whose unique style revitalized old time rock and roll and created many timeless hits, died Monday in his Malibu home.  His cause of death was a result of cardiac arrest.  He was taken to UCLA Medical Center with a pulse, but after being stabilized, he was taken off life support by his loved ones.

It takes a truly talented musician to capture feeling and emotion within their lyrics like Petty, who has written lyrics that have become commonplace adages within American slang, such as “I’m-a-free, Freefallin’” or “I Won’t Back Down.”  In addition to these classics, Petty’s “Greatest Hits” collection-album premiered in 1993 and stayed on the Billboard charts until the turn of the new millenium in 2000.  

Petty was known for his blend of Southern Rock and the “Southern California sound,” which was a throwback from the 1960’s when the late 80’s music scene was dominated by pop and techno.   “Petty is a favorite of musicians and fans alike,” said Ben Dugo, senior and amatuer guitarist.  “His songs are hits, and carry many themes that are universal and timeless.”  Petty’s songs have inspired many since their creation, and their usual coageous-underdog themes have resonated.  After all, it was Petty who sang, “You can stand me up at the gates of Hell / But I won’t back down.”

Other signatures of Petty were his heavy guitar riffs and iconic solos.  “I love playing Tom Petty’s music; most of it is easy to play just because it’s so dang good,” Dugo said.  While Petty was famous for his sunburst Fender Stratocaster guitar, he wrote all of his songs on an acoustic guitar, something he learned from his mentor, Bob Dylan.  “I think Petty’s style comes from his time in the Wilbury’s, where Bob Dylan taught him how to write and George Harrison taught him how to rock,” Dugo continued, “and that’s what I like about his songs, is that his lyrics have depth and they aren’t watered down by wild guitar licks,” said Dugo, as he strummed his own acoustic guitar.  You couldn’t call Petty’s lyrics political like Bob Dylan’s, but there certainly was a certain bite to them. For example, he sang, “She was an American Girl / raised on promises” on his Heartbreakers debut album. “She couldn’t help thinkin’ / there was a little more to life somewhere else.”

Petty’s death has been mourned around the world, but his influence and legacy remains in the fact that his words will always be here, echoing over the radio waves, being sang in some kid’s basement band, or over the loudspeaker at sporting events.  Tom Petty is one of the few artists who truly belong among the “Wildflowers.”