Tom Petty has seen several developments in the history of rock and roll over his career. Petty was always intrigued by the idea of being the frontman of a rock and roll band and performing the genre of music that first captivated him as a young child after seeing Elvis Presley strumming a guitar across his chest. Petty was able to quickly return to his favorite records, but he was also conscious of the changes taking place in the music industry.
Petty was frequently linked to the up-and-coming punk bands during the majority of his golden years in the late 1970s, as seen by his decision to wear a bullet belt and leather jacket on the front cover of his first album. Even though Petty never really like bands like the Sex Pistols, he saw a change around the end of the 1980s. Since he was a stalwart of the rock scene, Petty started to pay attention to bands that were just starting to gain popularity. He frequently took The Replacements on tour.
Tom Petty had songs like “Free Fallin” during his solo career, made friends with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, and was becoming a legend despite his passion for underground music. With the emergence of Nirvana, the ’90s turned a corner and a new revolution began.
Rock music altered overnight when Kurt Cobain’s lyrics about irony and disenchanted youth swept the airways, rendering performers from the 1980s almost irrelevant to make way for the new generation of grunge bands from Seattle. Petty remained a tremendous admirer of the band despite the fact that Cobain single-handedly destroyed the majority of other rock music.
Tom Petty ranked Nirvana with some of the best rock bands in history after the release of their massive album Nevermind, telling Vh1: “Nirvana to me were the most significant group to come since The Beatles. Very powerful vision and a very honest man behind it. I loved him. He was amazing.”
Petty competed on an equal footing with the majority of the grunge rock favorites, whilst other veteran rockers were being passed aside. Despite being an established rock artist of a certain age, Petty helped launch the grunge movement by giving guitars to some Pearl Jam members and experiencing a career revival while working with Rick Rubin on the album Wildflowers.
Tom Petty maintained tight relationships with various Nirvana members even after Cobain’s death, including a period when Dave Grohl was rumored to be permanently playing the drums in The Heartbreakers. Grohl was already well ahead of the game, working on his earliest demos for the Foo Fighters at home and respectfully declining Petty’s idea to have one of the godfathers of grunge behind the kit.
Instead of becoming angry, Tom Petty politely accepted Grohl’s choice and chose Steve Ferrone to perform for him instead. Petty continued to create the music that he had grown to love, but he never lost sight of the responsibility he had to leave a legacy for future generations. Petty would always have a particular place in his heart for the music that had helped to raise him, but he could always tell sincerity from shallowness, and Cobain had neither.