14 acts who were influenced by Tom Petty


A long list of singers and bands owe Tom Petty, who has died aged 66, for influencing their sounds – from rock and pop stars to country acts and even, in a roundabout way, rappers and the legendary Spinal Tap.

Here are some of those who took inspiration from Tom Petty.

Sam Smith

In 2015, Tom Petty and his collaborator Jeff Lynne were added to the songwriting credits for Sam Smith’s hit Stay With Me because of similarities to his 1989 track I Won’t Back Down. Smith’s people said it was “a complete coincidence”.

“All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen,” a sanguine Petty later said. “Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”

Kings of Leon

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“Tom Petty was the first album I ever bought with my own money,” singer Caleb Followill has said. “I’ve been listening to him ever since, so I know there’s a huge influence on me.”

The Kings of Leon hosted Petty Fest in Nashville in 2013, celebrating the singer-songwriter with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones and Jakob Dylan.

The Strokes

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The opening riff and drum pattern of The Strokes’ second single Last Nite bore a striking resemblance to the intro of American Girl, from the 1977 album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Petty himself had no hard feelings. He told Rolling Stone in 2006: “There was an interview that took place with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’ It doesn’t bother me.”

Mark Ronson

“Growing up in the 1980s in MTV America, Tom Petty might as well have been the Beatles,” the hitmaker wrote on Instagram, calling Petty “culturally important”. He added: “It was the music you wanted to hear in your car. It was the music you’d hear at a baseball game.”

Petty’s song Running Down A Dream was “the first lyric I heard as a pre-teen that maybe made me understand what grown-up melancholy was”, Ronson said, while as he grew up, You Got Lucky and American Girl “resonated with a rawness that spoke to me on another level”.

Foo Fighters

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After Nirvana ended in 1994, Dave Grohl was recruited to perform with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – who were without a drummer at the time – on Saturday Night Live.

Petty was said to have been so impressed that he offered Grohl a permanent place in the band. But Grohl turned him down and started Foo Fighters instead. The biggest musical influence can be seen on the Foos’ Wheels, which pays some homage to Petty’s Learning To Fly.

Big Boi

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A ridiculously deep voice chants the words “Thom Pettie that ho/Free falling, we out all night” on a song titled Thom Pettie on the former Outkast rapper’s 2012 album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.

Big Boi explained that it was inspired by Petty’s hit Free Fallin’. He said: “If you’re going out for the wild night and you never know where the night is going to take you, we call it free falling. That’s called Tom Pettying! If you Tom Petty for the night, you don’t know where you’re going to end up at in the morning.”

Lady Antebellum

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“We’ve all been trying to copy him,” Dave Haywood of country megastars Lady Antebellum told BBC Breakfast. “Everyone’s been trying to emulate what he does… He’d be in our top five of influences for us as a band.”

Bandmate Charles Kelley added: “Tom Petty is probably even a bigger influence to our generation of country artists than even some of the traditional country artists, just because that’s what we grew up on. Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw… I would say they would put him in their top 10 of artists that influenced them.”

Ryan Adams

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Petty and Adams both released albums in 2014. That led Billboard to snark that “the best Tom Petty album to come out this year may be the one by prolific singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Ryan Adams”.

Asked on Twitter earlier this year whether he was “this generation’s Tom Petty”, Adams batted back: “Tom Petty is this generations @tompetty. He is a stone cold badass.”

Bryan Adams

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Some fans saw parallels between Adams’ 1984 hit Run To You and Petty’s single Refugee, which reached number 15 in the US chart four years earlier.

Norah Jones

Jones performed a few times at Petty Fest – performing a cover of You Don’t Know How It Feels with Kristen Wiig in 2016. She also appeared when Petty was named the Grammys’ MusiCares Person of the Year earlier this year, alongside an all-star cast that also included George Strait, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne and Stevie Nicks.

“He’s meant a lot,” Jones said of Petty before that show. “I’ve been a fan for so long… You know every song even if you don’t realise you do. They’re such good songs.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Petty showed his relaxed attitude to being borrowed from again when comparisons were made between the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2006 hit Dani California and Petty’s 1993 single Mary Jane’s Last Dance.

Petty told Rolling Stone: “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock ‘n’ roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry.”

John Mayer

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Kings of Convenience

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Lots of artists have covered Free Fallin’, which is among Petty’s most enduring songs. But my favourite version is by delicate Norwegian due Kings of Convenience.

They covered it live, leading the audience in a spine-tingling a capella sing-along refrain. That was captured live and released on their Failure single in 2001.

Spinal Tap

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The scene in This Is Spinal Tap in which the fictional band get hideously lost in the bowels of a venue in Ohio as they try to find their way to the stage is one of the more unlikely moments in rock ‘n’ roll history to have been inspired by Tom Petty.

Writer and star Christopher Guest said: “We saw a tape of Tom Petty playing somewhere in Germany, where he’s walking backstage and a door’s opened and he ends up on an indoor tennis court and there’s just this moment of stunned, you know, ‘Where am I?'”

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