Vale Tom Petty: an infinitely cool artistic tightrope walker

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Henry Wagons pays tribute to the legendary Tom Petty.

I am still struggling to completely process that Tom Petty is gone.

Through his music, he forged such a powerful and formidable world, full of hope and reflection, freedom and fantasy.



There has always been something transcendent and indefinable about Tom Petty for me, ever since I first saw his ghostly pale presence on the TV as a kid in the ‘I Won’t Back Down’ video clip. I didn’t quite understand what I was hearing, but its hypnotic, grounded strength overtook me.

I loved it, and most importantly, I immediately believed it.

Tom Petty was an artistic tightrope walker. He seemed to always balance somewhere, hovering in an infinitely cool place. Somewhere in between rock and country, forging a path for modern day Americana.

While his songs were always grounded in the minutiae of American life, they somehow simultaneously sailed far above the everyday.

He and his music could set the rowdiest Texas blues bar alight, yet he also leaned on a British Invasion sense of melody, and often looked like a lost member of The Rolling Stones. Exactly how he brought it all together, as one nebulous musical force, I have no idea.

As a testament to this, since his passing, people have asked exactly how I would define his music. Don’t try. This is the greatest source of his genius. He was a man who paved his own road, as a creative and authentic dynamo until the end. 

Three shining examples of Tom Petty's immense influence 

Tom Petty had an enormous catalogue of amazing songs, these are three of his biggest that all show a different side to the incredible artist. 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – ‘Here Comes My Girl’


I feel I can hear Petty’s influence stretch across decades in this tune. From the contemporary cool of Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, as well as stretching back to the finest in 70s glam rock. This song has it all. 

The Travelling Wilburys – ‘Handle With Care’


Tom Petty is my favourite Travelling Wilbury, and that is saying a lot given who else is in the band!

It’s worth remembering his band mates here – some the greatest songwriters in the world – were all huge fans of Petty’s, even before the supergroup came together. What an immaculate bunch of cronies!

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – ‘Into the Great Wide Open’


Petty notoriously had ongoing arguments with the music industry cogs through various stages of his career. This song, like so many of his others, keeps a sense of wide-eyed hope, even in the face of the most dire situations. 

Tom Petty tribute this week on Tower Of Song:

I’m going to dedicate my entire show to a celebration of Tom Petty’s life and musical legacy this week on the Tower of Song.

In these times, in which we seem to be losing so many of the greats and all that is dark and uncertain in the world seems to be looming large, let’s share our own memories of the imprint Tom Petty’s music has left on us. It’ll be good for us.

Share your memories of Tom Petty's music and life with us here.