One of Rock’s legends, Tom Petty, is no longer with us, having passed October 2, 2017. We all know him as the frontman for the band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with such hits as ‘Free Fallin,’ ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream,’ ‘American Girl,’ ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More,’ ‘Don’t Do Me Like That,’ and many more. Throughout his career, he collaborated with such notables as Johnny Cash, George Harrison and Nobel Laureatte, Bob Dylan. In 2002, his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In his career, he sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Although Petty is rightfully remembered for his passion in music, he is also remembered for his passion in protecting the rights of artists and his concern for fans.
Petty came from humble beginnings in Gainsville, Florida, had blue-collar work ethic and learned to be resolute when he felt he was being taken advantage of. When his first label Shelter Records was sold to MCA, he was confronted with unfavarable contract terms which left him financially strapped. Although this was the norm for artists in the 70’s to live off advances given by the labels, this system of advances left many artists in financial difficulty. Petty complained that when his contract was transferred to MCA, he had not wanted to be “bought and sold like a piece of meat.” When his new label attempted to enforce the terms of the one-sided contract, Petty did what he had to do to survive. Petty financed the record himself and refused to release it. When MCA would not relent, Petty filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. This made the MCA contract void and put Petty in a position to re-negotiate a more favaorable agreement with the label. Petty was a pioneer in taking on the labels and, in subsequent years, other groups would follow suit using Petty’s move as a template to stand up for their rights as artists.
In 1981, Petty again stood his ground with his new label MCA when it attempted to raise the price of his new album, Hard Promises, from $8.98 to $9.98. Petty was not interested in the label making an extra buck at the expense of his loyal fans. Petty told MCA that he refused to release the album and if he was forced to he would name it Eight Ninety Eight until the label agreed to take the then standard rate of $8.98. MCA finally relented. Petty proved that an artist who had a solid fan base was capable of leveling the playing field with the big labels. “Sometimes there’s a communications breakdown and, when that happens, you just have to stand up for yourself,” Petty told The New York Times in 1981.
When it came to live music performance in the late 1990s and early 2000’s, Petty did not like that tickets were beginning to become too expensive for his fans who he cared for deeply. Petty moved to cap his concert ticket prices at $50. “I’ve had business people come to me several times and tell me, ‘Your peers are charging much more and you should too,’ ” Petty told the Chicago Tribune in a 1999 interview. “And I just think it’s not a good idea. We ought to try to keep this music affordable. … I know when I was a teenager I could not have remotely afforded these prices. I just don’t think it’s worth that much, for one thing, and we don’t need the money that badly. We’re making a nice wage.”
Although Tom Petty will be greatly missed, his music will continue on to be celebrated as a Rock and Roll gold standard. Equally true is that his legacy will stand for a man that was never afraid to take on excess power and to be a protector of the fan.
- Wikipedia Contributors, “Tom Petty” Wikipedia.com website, November 27, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Petty, Accessed 7 December 2017.
- Haden, Jeff, “Tom Petty Fought the Good Fight for Music–and for Musicians,” Inc.com website, October 2, 2017, https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/what-you-didnt-know-about-tom-petty-he-took-on-business-of-music-won.html, Accessed 3 December, 2017.
- Biography.com Editors, “Tom Petty Biography.com.” The Biography.com website, A&E Television Networks, October 3, 2017, https://www.biography.com/people/tom-petty-201299, Accessed 3 December 2017.
- Palmer, Robert, “The Pop Life; Tom Petty: Ready To Fight The Good,” NYTimes.com website, May 6, 1981, http://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/06/arts/the-pop-life-tom-petty-ready-to-fight-the-good-fight.html, Accessed 3 December, 2017.
- Jules, Gary, “That Tiem Tom Petty Wouldn’t Back Down,” Los Angeles Times website, October 9, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-jules-how-tom-petty-took-on-the-music-industry-20171010-story.htmlAccessed 3 December, 2017.
- Kot, Greg, “Tom Petty, Heartbreakers frontman who sang ‘Breakdown,’ ‘Free Fallin’ and other hits, dies at 66.” ChicagoTribune.com website, October 3, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/ct-ent-tom-petty-dead-1003-story.html, Accessed 3 December 2017.
By Todd Gardner