Tom Petty, Standard-Bearer for Classic Rock, Dies at Age 66

In Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen, Bill Bentley remembers the singer-guitarist who forged a unique place in American rock

Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and Tom Petty jam at the Troubadours of Folk Festival on the campus of UCLA in 1993. Bill Wasserzieher
Tom Petty show in Detroit, July 2010. Encore. American Girl. Taken from the front row. I got tickets 2 days before the show at a huge discount. When we got to the show we were talking with the people just to the left of us. The seat had been reserved for this woman's mother-in-law, who had cancer and was a huge TP fan. She had passed away in May. We all cried together. Mb Perrot
Mike Campbell and Tom Petty jamming in concert, 2010. Susan Molls
This photo highlights the energy within a Petty and the Heartbreakers show, 2012. Rachel Naomi
It's all about the moment. Petty was moving about the stage @ PNC Bank Arts Center and appears to be conducting while the Heartbreakers jam behind him, 2014. Kevin Papa
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform live at SAP Center in San Jose, 2014. Jerome Brunet
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform live at SAP Center in San Jose, 2014. Jerome Brunet
Tom Petty in fine form, PPL Center, Allentown, PA Rick Ziegler
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live in concert at the Verizon Amphitheater outside Atlanta, April, 2012 Bob Holman
Close up of Tom Petty at nightclub Dooley's where he walked on to sing with Del Shannon in 1981. Dorian Boese
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in concert, Toronto, Canada, 1995 Brent Davis
Tom Petty plays with a spotlight during his show in San Francisco, California 1984. Bob Larson
I was photographing for a fanzine in Boston (can't remember the name) during the late 70's and early 80's. I didn't get paid, just access to photograph the show. The bands were all great and allowed me to photograph with no restrictions, 1978. Catherine Vanaria

Tom Petty's laconic Florida drawl and laid-back persona have never camouflaged his sharp intellect and penetrating intuition. Meeting Elvis Presley at age ten, and seeing the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964, pointed Petty (b. 1950) toward an escape route from his abusive upbringing at the hands of his father, so he left home to follow a winding highway on his way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The singer-guitarist's early compositions cut deep, circling around an ineffable absence at the heart of American life, and audiences quickly identified. Petty moved ace six-stringer Mike Campbell (b.1950), keyboard crackerjack Benmont Tench (b. 1953), bassist Ron Blair (b. 1958), and drum behemoth Stan Lynch (b. 1955) to Hollywood to chase the rock-and-roll dream as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their third LP, 1979's Damn the Torpedoes, shot "Don't Do Me Like That," "Here Comes My Girl," and "Refugee" up the charts, making the band standard-bearers for a new species of rock rooted in 1950s Americana—blues, country, folk, and even garage rock and pop.

Petty and the Heartbreakers didn't follow the currents of the New Wave, and neither did southern rock define them. Through shifting lineups, solo endeavors, and his 1980s stint with the Traveling Wilburys—George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne—Petty carved out a unique place in American rock, and he did it with a knowing smile and a quiet laugh. 

The above text is excerpted from Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen by Bill Bentley, a new release from Smithsonian BooksThe rarely seen photos in the book, as well as in this article, were submitted by noteworthy music photographers as well as rock enthusiasts from around the world.

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