Tom Petty died the first week of October after 41 years of touring with his band, The Heartbreakers. Petty’s down-to-earth, relatable style resulted in a series of radio hits and classic albums like the band’s eponymous 1978 debut, 1979’s Damn the Torpedos and Petty’s 1989 solo effort, Full Moon Fever. Petty was also a mainstay of the supergroup The Travelling Wilburys, along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison.
Despite Petty’s enduring popularity, his contributions to music remain underrated. In addition to his string of Billboard hits, Petty’s legacy includes generations of artists who were greatly influenced by his music. Here is our list of musicians who owe a good deal of their respective careers to Tom Petty.
Sheryl Crow: Like Petty, Sheryl Crow’s debut album was an instant smash hit. Like Petty, Crow’s style is grounded in rock but easily adaptable to country and roots music. Like Petty, Crow can’t seem to stop writing hits. Crow acknowledged Petty’s profound influence on her on Monday night then dedicated her performance, and the song “If It Makes You Happy”, to the late singer.
Kings of Leon: Singer Caleb Followill said Tom Petty was a huge influence on him, and that the first album he ever purchased with his own money was a Tom Petty and The Heartbreaks record. The Kings of Leon hosted Petty Fest in Nashville in 2013, with luminaries such as Nora Jones, Emmylou Harris, Jakob Dylan and Patrick Carney.
The Strokes: Although The Strokes liked to claim their flag was firmly planted in the 1970s New York punk scene of the New York Dolls, the Strokes are forever in Tom Petty’s debt. They finally admitted that the drum riff and guitar that opens “Last Night” was clearly taken from the introductory bars of “American Girl.”
John Mayer: A cover of “Free Fallin’” performed by John Mayer became an enormous viral hit in 2009. The live performance racked up an amazing 59 million views on YouTube. With his laid-back vibe and guitar work, Mayer clearly idolized Petty. If you listen to the guitar solos on “American Girl,” you’ll hear the basis for Mayer’s entire career.
Sam Smith: Although Sam Smith is mostly a purveyor of blue-eyed soul, we would be remiss if we didn’t include him on this list. In 2015, Smith paid songwriting royalties to Petty after fans pointed out that the chorus for Smith’s hit Stay With Me seems to be the exact same melody as Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
Norah Jones: Norah Jones has spoken frequently of her Tom Petty fandom. She has appeared at Petty Fest several times, including 2016, when she sang “You Don’t Know How It Feels” with Kristen Wiig. She said at the time that, “He’s meant a lot. I’ve been a fan for so long… You know every song even if you don’t realise you do. They’re such good songs.”
Stevie Nicks: Stevie and Petty were contemporaries, recording three duets together, including “Stop Draggin My Heart Around.” Nicks met Petty in 1978 and he inadvertently inspired her hit “Edge of Seventeen,” after Petty’s first wife described the way the two met. Stevie appeared on stage with him in July of 2017 when Petty and the Heartbreakers played Hyde Park in London. At the time, Petty called her “the official girl of the band.” Nicks commented on their musical connection, saying It’s really easy for Tom and I to be theatrical on stage because we both like it,” she explained. “If you have a duet and one of the [people] isn’t into being theatrical, you can’t do it because they think you’re stupid.”
Contemporary Country: Although Petty correctly called today’s radio country “bad rock with a fiddle”, no other rocker had a bigger influence on this generation of country music singers than Tom Petty. His Southern roots rock sound can be heard in bands like Lady Antebellum, and from singers like Keith Urban and Chris Stapleton.