The Tom Petty Legacy

Paige Lesko

“American Girl,” “Refugee,” and “Free Fallin’” are some of the classic singles released by Tom Petty that have left an impact in Americans for decades. Born on October 20, 1950, in Gainesville Florida, rock musician Petty began his ambitious career with a group called Mudcrutch. Eventually, they evolved into the legendary group Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their 1976 debut launched Petty’s lifetime of success that inspired the world and touched the lives of decades to come. Throughout his career, Petty collaborated with many other rock legends Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Johnny Cash.

Petty’s legacy began in high school where he found himself consumed in music. The dedicated rock icon dropped out of high school to perform with his band, Mudcrutch. Petty quickly rose to the occasion as the frontman writing the songs for the group and he did not disappoint.

1974 was a cardinal year for Petty as he had married his wife, Jane, and moved with Mudcrutch to Los Angeles where they signed with Shelter Records. After the failure of their first single together, the group disbanded, however, that was certainly not the end for Petty.

The label took particular interest in Petty’s talent and offered him a solo contract which would prove to be a pivotal decision with rewarding repercussions. Two years later, the group reassembled and negotiated a deal with Shelter and released their first album in November 1976.  The album was an initial failure in terms of publicity, however, this was reversed after a tour of England with Nils Lofgren.



This newfound overseas popularity sparked their publicity in the US when their album was rereleased. This time, their single “Breakdown” made it to No. 40 on the charts and gave the group a sense of accomplishment and a will to succeed.

When Shelter switched ownership to MCA, Petty switched to Backstreet Records to start creating their next album. This is where the magic happened. Petty’s career took off with an astounding 3 million copies of his album sold and a No.1 hit single secured.


After countless successes in the music industry, Petty decided to switch gears a bit in 1989 when his first solo album was released. This work by Petty left the world in awe of his ability and proves to be his most successful pitch yet as it ranked No. 3 on the charts and became multi-platinum in a short time.

Throughout the nineties, Petty continued to perform with his band and released two hit albums Vol. 3 in 1991, and a Greatest Hits album in 1993.

 After the release of his second solo album Wildflowers in 1994, Petty divorced his wife Jane after 22 years of marriage which began Petty’s heroin addiction and led to a difficult period for the rock legend.

Nevertheless, this did not stop Petty from rising out of the ashes and being in control of his successful life. Expelling his heroin addiction, Petty married Dana York and released the album The Last DJ in 2002.

Petty’s life was uphill from there and provided him with much success.

In 2017, a week after Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at a 40th anniversary shows on tour at the Hollywood Bowl in California, Petty went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to UCLA Medical Center where he passed away peacefully on October 2, 2017.

Petty’s legacy is one of few that will never be forgotten. Petty once said, “If you’re phony, they will feel it in the furthest row of the arena.”

Petty was a man of authenticity and originality that contributed greatly to the music industry and to the greater good of the world. Petty ended his career with an impressive three Grammy Awards. Tom Petty made his dreams come true and left a legacy that continues to inspire the world.

“You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.” – Tom Petty