When Tom Petty died on Monday at age 66, the leader of the Heartbreakers left behind a catalog of songs essential to classic rock.
But whether he intended it or not, he also had an enormous impact on today’s country music. His jangly guitar sound and classic song structure is all over country radio, which is why so many Nashville artists felt the weight of his loss.
Charlie Worsham tweeted “we all wanted to be Tom Petty when we grew up.” Margo Price posted lyrics from Petty’s song “The Last DJ.” And Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley told Rolling Stone he thought of Petty as “a musical legend.” (Kelley recorded Petty’s song “Southern Accents” for his solo project, with help from Petty friend and collaborator Stevie Nicks.) Just last night Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Patty Griffin joined Dave Matthews for a version of Petty’s “Refugee” at a benefit concert in Seattle.
Price once covered “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” a song she says was particularly meaningful to her.
“He was singing to a girl in Middle America who was maybe a little poor, or a little different,” she says of Petty. “And he had the ability to romanticize that and make it feel like it was all OK. He was so good at taking every day images, like on ‘Free Fallin’,’ he was just talking to me: about horses and Jesus and Elvis and mama. Just a sparsely written song, but he made those imagines so powerful. His music defied genre, and it defies politics.”