There’s something inexplicably captivating about the legends of rock, and Tom Petty is no exception. His enigmatic personality and unique musical style have kept fans enthralled for decades. However, even the most ardent admirers may not know everything there is to know about this iconic figure. As we uncover some lesser-known aspects of his life, we invite you to join us on a journey that goes beyond the stage lights and into the heart of a true rock legend.
Tom Petty’s life was a series of twists and turns, filled with stories that might seem more like fiction than reality. From his early beginnings as a teenage musician to his unexpected connection to the Salem Witch Trials, Petty’s life was anything but ordinary. So, buckle up and prepare to be surprised as we delve into the hidden corners of Petty’s world, exploring seven fascinating facts that are sure to spark your curiosity and deepen your appreciation for the man who gave us some of the most memorable music of all time.
1. The Sundowners: A 14-Year-Old Tom Petty’s First Band
Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, there were the Sundowners. Formed when Petty was just 14 years old, the band played their first gig during a high school talent show. Wearing matching blue shirts and jeans, the young musicians performed four instrumental songs, including ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Walk Don’t Run.’
Their performance was so well-received that they were invited to play at the next intermission and went on to win a contract to play every Friday night for the entire summer. Earning $100 per gig, the teenage Petty relied on his parents for transportation to and from performances.
2. The Birth Of ‘Free Fallin”
Petty’s hit song ‘Free Fallin” was written in just two days during a casual jam session with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra fame. In an interview with Billboard magazine, Petty explained that he and Lynne were sitting around trying to come up with a song, when Lynne got him to say ‘free falling.’
They recorded the song the very next day. The song wasn’t written about a specific person, but instead inspired by Petty’s frequent drives along Ventura Boulevard. ‘Free Fallin” went on to become the opening track of Petty’s 1989 debut solo album, ‘Full Moon Fever,’ with Lynne providing backing vocals and bass guitar.
3. Petty’s Cameo In ‘The Postman’
In 1997, Tom Petty made a cameo appearance in the film ‘The Postman,’ directed by and starring Kevin Costner. He played the role of the Bridge City Mayor, and although his character’s identity is never confirmed, it’s heavily implied that Petty is playing a version of himself. Costner’s character remarks, “I know you. You’re famous,” upon meeting Petty’s character, who replies, “I used to be.” This clever nod to Petty’s real-life fame added an extra layer of intrigue to his brief but memorable appearance.
4. Voicing Lucky On ‘King Of The Hill’
In 2002, Petty lent his voice to the character of Lucky, a recurring character on the animated TV show ‘King of the Hill.’ Showrunner Mike Judge reached out to Petty after describing the character as looking like ‘Tom Petty without the success.’
Petty not only agreed to voice Lucky but also became a regular guest star, appearing in 28 episodes between 2004 and 2009. Lucky’s backstory included a fortuitous slip-on urine in a Costco restroom, which resulted in a sizable cash settlement, earning him his nickname. Later in the series, Lucky married Luanne Platter, the niece of Hill family matriarch, Peggy Hill.
5. Petty’s Love For ‘The Simpsons’
A huge fan of ‘The Simpsons,’ Petty appeared in a 2002 episode called ‘How I Spent My Strummer Vacation,’ alongside fellow rock icons Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, and Lenny Kravitz. Petty’s character, a tutor to Homer Simpson, comically teaches him the art of lyric writing, composing a brief song about a drunk girl driving down the road while concerned with the state of public schools.
Later in the episode, Petty’s character loses a toe during a riot. He worked at the Rolling Stones Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, teaching aspiring rock stars alongside other legendary artists. After Homer disappointingly discovers he’s only there to test the microphone instead of performing, Petty and the other musicians chase him down in their vehicle, adding a humorous twist to Petty’s cameo.
6. Witchcraft In Petty’s Ancestry
In a surprising twist, Tom Petty’s ancestor, Elizabeth Petty, was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s. However, she managed to escape prosecution and left a remarkable legacy in the family’s history. The connection to the infamous trials adds an unexpected layer to Petty’s lineage, and it’s intriguing to consider how such a tumultuous period in history could be connected to the life of a rock legend centuries later.
7. Petty’s Artistic Side: Painting
Beyond his musical talents, Petty was also interested in painting and took up the hobby during his downtime. Some of his artwork has been featured in album artwork and merchandise, showcasing another facet of this multifaceted artist. Petty’s interest in visual arts demonstrates the depth of his creativity, revealing a passion for expression that extended beyond the stage and recording studio.
Tom Petty’s life was a tapestry of fascinating experiences, from his early days with the Sundowners to his foray into voice acting and his love for painting. These lesser-known facts about Petty serve to enrich our understanding of the man behind the music, revealing a complex and captivating individual whose influence on the world of rock will never be forgotten. As fans continue to celebrate his music and legacy, these intriguing facts add to the mystique and allure of the one and only Tom Petty.
The only fun fact I did not know was about the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600’s