The musician Tom Petty considered to be a “genius”

Tom Petty could have legitimately claimed to be a product of the rock and roll era for the entirety of his career. The heartland rocker understood what he wanted to achieve with his life when he heard Elvis Presley for the first time, believing that the music was more than just a good beat and a few chords. Despite becoming a living legend shortly after founding the Heartbreakers, many regarded Petty as one of the closest things to a musical genius among his peers.

Following his modest beginnings in Gainsville, Florida, Petty was well-known for associating with accomplished individuals in their fields. Petty was praised for his songwriting abilities even before he signed a formal contract with his band; he was allowed to live at Leon Russell’s home as a resident songwriter.

However, Petty realized he had something more than standard rock and roll by the time he discovered the other members of his band performing on the circuit. Songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown,” which paint fantastical tales about what he saw in America, would usher in a new age of rock and roll, with Petty growing increasingly more infatuated with his heroes from the 1960s than the punk movement that was taking place at the same time.

Despite facing several challenges in releasing albums such as Damn the Torpedoes, Petty had also begun to hone his storytelling skills. Petty famously broke his hand trying to make the song “Rebels” sound exactly the way he envisioned it in his thoughts. Petty continued to explore this idea of creating textures with his music throughout albums like Hard Promises and Southern Accents.

Nevertheless, Petty would strike it lucky to work with the Traveling Wilburys when he eventually got the chance to perform with an ensemble other than his main one. Though it’s probably always a good thing to see musicians like Bob Dylan and George Harrison develop songs, Petty was impressed by Jeff Lynne’s producing techniques.

Petty, who collaborated with Lynne on his solo debut album Full Moon Fever, believed that Lynne was in a class by herself in the rock music industry. Petty discussed how simple it was to work with Lynne in an interview with Paul Zollo, stating, “Jeff was such a genius in the studio. Just so good. He made things that had been really difficult seem so easy all of a sudden. Like getting a good take. It just all came so easy with him. He taught me a lot. A lot about singing, a lot about harmony, a lot about arranging. Everything”.

For the first time, Petty and Lynne had a writing collaborator, and they would frequently create songs in a matter of hours. Petty is famous for having made up the song “Free Fallin” in an effort to make Lynne laugh. Although Petty’s career was at its peak with Full Moon Fever, Lynne would collaborate with the heartland rocker again in the future.

Because of his connection with Lynne, Petty produced the Heartbreakers’ following album, Into the Great Wide Open. However, his friendship with Lynne would only resurface when Petty collaborated with her on the 2007 album Highway Companion. Even though Petty’s lifelong musical soulmates were The Heartbreakers, his collaboration with Jeff Lynne transformed his career from a heartland rocker to a legendary figure in classic rock in a matter of hours.

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