Tom Petty Runyon, Mark, Tom Petty playing the Hangout Festive in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in 2013. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty (1950-2017) was born in Gainesville, Florida. His love for rock and roll began at the age of 10, when his uncle took him to meet Elvis Presley on a movie set in nearby Ocala. It was seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show a few years later that cemented his determination to play rock and roll for a living. After taking lessons for a time from future Eagles guitarist and fellow Gainesville resident, Don Felder, Petty committed himself to playing music and dropped out of Gainesville High School to form a band. 

By 1970, Petty and Tom Leadon, the younger brother of another Eagles guitarist, Bernie Leadon, had formed Mudcrutch. The group played mostly southern rock and country music, eventually relocating to Los Angeles in 1974 with the intention of signing with a major record label. When those aspirations didn’t come to fruition, the band broke up and Petty formed the Heartbreakers. 

In 1976, the group released their first of 13 records and launched a four-decade career with over 20 hits on the Billboard charts. In 2001, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Five years later, they received the keys to the city of Gainesville. 

Petty’s songwriting epitomized the heartland rock movement of the 1970s, emphasizing a frank, blue-collar style that harkened back to the roots of rock and roll. Authentic, straightforward and always lyrical, his songs have become embedded in the American lexicon of popular music.

Point of Interest

Tom Petty Park is nestled in the northeast corner of central Gainesville, approximately two miles from the University of Florida campus.

When rocker Tom Petty died unexpectedly on October 2, 2017, the community came together to create a beautiful mural in his honor. The mural reads “Love you always, Gainesville No. 1 Son, Tom Petty, Thanks, Tommy.” It lists his dates as “1950-Forever” over a red heart.