Tom Petty’s legacy won’t back down

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It was the first song that made me want to be the bad boy. It was the second song I learned on the guitar. Rolling Stone magazine named “Free Fallin’” one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. The No. 1 hit from 1989 has been covered by countless others such as Grammy Award-winning artists Keith Urban and John Mayer. None came close to the original.

The man who wrote it and sang it, Tom Petty, died Monday in Los Angeles.

Petty and I share the same reason we wanted to learn to play the guitar — The Beatles. When Petty saw the four youngsters from Liverpool on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, he knew he wanted to be in a band.

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“The minute I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show — and it’s true of thousands of guys — there was the way out,” Petty once said. “You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with. I had never been hugely into sports. … I had been a big fan of Elvis. But I really saw in the Beatles that here’s something I could do. I knew I could do it.”

The Gainesville, Florida native wrote some timeless music. From songs you hear at every fraternity party like “American Girl” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” to my personal favorite “I Won’t Back Down,” to one of the most beautiful love ballads you’ll ever hear,  “Wildflowers,” they’re all songs I can’t turn off when they come on the radio (which happens quite frequently).

Earning awards came naturally to the late 66-year-old. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2005, he earned a Billboard Century Award — the organization’s highest award for creative achievement — joining fellow musicians like James Taylor, Emmylou Harris and Stevie Wonder.

She’s a good girl, crazy ‘bout Elvis

Loves horses and her boyfriend, too

I’m a bad boy ‘cause I don’t even miss her

I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

It was already a terrible week in America with the senseless killing of 59 people in Las Vegas attending a music festival. Another 500 were injured.

And just when I thought my sad bucket was full, I heard Tom Petty died.

For the moment, I’m free fallin’.