Tom Petty and Elvis Presley are poster boys of America. Both have used the country’s beating heart to fuel their music, even if they are on two separate ends of the creative spectrum, painting different images of the nation that made them who they would become.
While Presley passed away in 1977, just a year earlier, Petty made his s glistening arrival in 1976 with his debut effort. Over the next 40 years, he would carve out a niche for himself that is incomparable and entirely unique to Petty. While every young musician wishes they could have been Tom Petty, there was only one original, but a handful of people helped forge his artistry.
Undoubtedly, he is recognised as one of the greatest American songwriters of all time. Additionally, he continuously operated from the outside, looking in, expertly crafting mainstream hits from the periphery. Like many of his counterparts, Petty had a distinct sound, one he had honed to a tee and religiously stuck with over his career to leave a permanent marker on music.
Like many people of the same age as Petty, Elvis was his first introduction into the debauched world of rock ‘n’ roll. Before Petty’s eyes and ears caught the attention of ‘The King’, he lived an innocent childhood in Gainesville, but that came to an abrupt end after he heard the devilish tones of Presley.
In 2014, Petty spoke with CBC and talked about his early love of Elvis. The musician ignited a fire in his belly, one which would change the direction of his life even if Petty was blissfully aware of it at the time. “Elvis was before The Beatles,” Petty explained. “My picture of Elvis was the American dream. Elvis was a kid from the south who had broken all the rules, he had become his own man, and looked like he did whatever he wanted, whether adults liked it or not,” he said with wry laughter.
“That was kind of the picture I had, but that didn’t look like something you could be for me. To be Elvis? Nobody has ever pulled that off, you’d have to be Elvis. You’d have to look like that for one thing, and orchestras would have to come out of the shrubbery and onto the beach. That just doesn’t happen, but, The Beatles looked like something that could be done to me,” he added.
Even though there was something unattainable about Elvis from the beginning, Petty couldn’t hold bad his adoration. However, in his heart, he knew that a kid like him could never be in line to the throne. Yet, Elvis was his first gateway into music, one that sent him down a rabbit hole where he explored, experimented, and eventually discovered his own voice.