Tom Petty’s Tribute: How an Elvis Song Could’ve Been America’s Anthem

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Tom Petty’s fascination with Elvis Presley began at the tender age of ten, triggered by a fortunate turn of events.

Thanks to his uncle’s job on the set of the 1962 movie, Follow That Dream in Florida, young Petty had the chance to witness the iconic arrival of The King.

Petty reminisced with Rolling Stone in 2011, “Elvis pulled up surrounded by a convoy of shimmering white Cadillacs. Fans were ecstatic, shouting and passing records through a chain-link fence, hoping for an autograph.

The radiance from his jet-black hair seemed to catch and reflect the sun’s rays. Even the slightest acknowledgment from him sent shivers down one’s spine. That sight, it got me hooked. I felt an electric charge for weeks after and began collecting every Elvis track I could find. His songs became the backdrop to my formative years.”

By that time, Elvis had already been producing hits for nearly a decade. His musical journey had its genesis at the famous Sun Studios in Memphis back in 1953.

This initiated a cascade of timeless songs. But for Petty, it was the haunting sounds of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ from 1956 that sealed his lifelong membership in the Elvis fan club.

In Petty’s words, “That song had the weight of an anthem. Its beat, the gentle entrance of the piano, was sensually rhythmic. The minimalism – the bass, the subtle piano, and D.J. Fontana’s deep groove – created a mystique around it.”

Petty had a penchant for Presley’s innovative tunes. Whether it was the unique cadence of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ or the casual brilliance of ‘That’s All Right’, Petty could instantly detect Elvis’ avant-garde touch. The latter especially resonated with Petty, casting light on Elvis’s genius.

Elaborating on it, Petty mentioned, “During a laid-back moment at a Sun studio session, Elvis and his crew started jamming to this tune. Sam Phillips, instantly recognizing its potential, caught it. Originally by Arthur Crudup, it astounded me that Elvis was even familiar with such an offbeat track. He transformed it, adding his distinct flair. There was this intriguing hiccup in his delivery – it’s hard to pinpoint its origin. But that’s the charm of the Sun recordings – raw, authentic, and brimming with a sense of novelty.”

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