Tom Petty: October 20, 1950 — October 2, 2017

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photo: musicisentropy (CC by 2.0)

Tom Petty, one of the biggest and best-selling musicians of all time, has died after suffering a massive cardiac arrest.  After a period of prolonged uncertainty — and retractions — the singer was officially pronounced dead late Monday evening (October 2nd).

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ longtime manager, Tony Dimitriades, confirmed the death.

“On behalf of the Tom Petty family, we are devastated to announce the untimely death of of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived.  He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”

Tom Petty suffered a full-blown cardiac arrest in his Malibu home Monday morning, according to details now confirmed.  The singer was rushed to hospital care while still showing a pulse — and struggled on life support throughout the day.  Petty was subsequently removed from life support.

Tom Petty had just finished a string of dates with the Heartbreakers.

That included a Hollywood Bowl show, where Petty played well-worn hits while also digging up some deeper cuts.  Of course, the crowd loved it all, with most singing every word (at least to his hits).

Petty experienced a taste of success early in his career.  But after a short stint with the fast-rising Mudcrutch, Petty found himself in Los Angeles rebuilding with a new group: the Heartbreakers.  The rest, as they say, is history, though Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers struggled for most of the 70s.

The group got a major label deal, but failed to gain serious traction after their 1976 debut.  The opening single, ‘Breakdown,’ never caught on — at least initially.  But some traction existed, and Petty’s hit-writing capabilities soon came forth.  By the late 70s, Petty had experienced significant success but struggled financially.  Blame major label jockeying and other shenanigans, though a string of hits and success emerged as the 80s dawned.

It’s a headache that probably took a few years off the guy’s life.  But after considerable wrangling and protracted litigation involving two major labels, Petty’s career took flight.  Damn the Torpedoes, released in 1979, became a multi-platinum release.  Powering the success were tracks like “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee”.

Of course, that was just a prelude to a massively-successful solo career.

These days, songs like ‘Free Fallin'” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” are classics.  But Petty’s reliance on simple chord progressions became a focus of criticism, particularly given his penchant for litigation.

That recently included an aggressive legal attack against Sam Smith, who was intimidated into a settlement for plagiarizing a three-chord progression for ‘Stay With Me’.  The supposedly-copied track, ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ does bear similarity to Smith’s hit.  But Smith, in his young 20s, argued that he’d never heard Petty’s song from the 80s.

Either way, Petty and his attorneys were accused of using legal threats and intimidation to force aggressive settlements.

Sadly, Petty’s situation was overshadowed by the deaths of more than 50 concertgoers in Las Vegas on Sunday evening and Monday morning.  It was all part of a pretty depressing day in the music world — and the world in general.