Tom Petty always felt like an outsider growing up in Gainesville, Florida, and music helped open his eyes to a wider world outside of his suffocating surroundings.
When he got the chance to turn his back on Florida for good, Petty jumped at the opportunity in his early 20s and never looked back. However, just as how he never felt at home when he was on the West Coast, equally, Los Angeles never quite accepted him as an adopted son of their city either.
“I love the South,” he said regarding his childhood to Rolling Stone in 2013. “I don’t want them all writing me letters calling me a deserter. But I was born this geeky, artistic kid, and I always felt like a duck out of water there. I didn’t get a Southern accent, even though my whole family had one.”
As is custom for anyone of his generation, Elvis was his first introduction to rock ‘n’ roll during the late ’50s. From that moment, his tastes gradually developed, as Petty started to spend every spare bit of money he could clamber together on records.
The late singer’s childhood was full of trauma. His father was a drunk who would come home late and usually take his anger out on Petty’s mother, or sometimes, his children. “He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that,” Petty once heartbreakingly said about an attack when he was four years old.
“I was used to living in hell,” he added. “My parents’ marriage was hell. I lived through being terribly abused as a kid, and then I found myself in an abusive marriage”.
Music was the one place of calm throughout these troublesome times, and speaking to THR in 2011, Petty revealed the “AM radio” was his closest confidante. “It was a great time for music, and I’m lucky to be born when I was born,” he added.
Petty then remembered how R&B group The Marvelettes and their 1962 hit ‘Playboy’ was the first record he bought. At the time, he was only 12 with no disposable income and entrepreneurially cashed in Coke bottles to fund his burgeoning record collection.
The first record you buy with your own money is an unforgettable moment, no matter the song. Remarkably, unbeknownst to Petty when he made the purchase, despite The Marvelettes being a group from Michigan, one of their members, Gladys Horton, also came from Gainesville, and perhaps it is was fate that made him gravitate towards ‘Playboy’ on the shelf.