Farewell, Tom Petty, a hardcore American troubadour - The Buffalo News

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Farewell, Tom Petty, a hardcore American troubadour

The universe feels particularly cruel, cold and uncaring today.

While the pop world was in full free-fall and reeling from the unspeakable horror of the Las Vegas concert massacre on Monday, it suffered a further blow late in the afternoon with the announcement, first that Tom Petty had been found unconscious and rushed to the hospital in full cardiac arrest, and later that night, had died.

Petty's loss will be felt keenly, not just by his family and close friends, but by anyone who cared about American songcraft, rock 'n' roll, and consistently outstanding live performance over the past 40 years, a period during which Petty crafted some of the finest rock songs in the post-Beatles canon, and fronted the Heartbreakers, one of the most dynamic and inspired bands to ever call the road home.

Petty was routinely tossed into the stylistic ring with his American troubadour contemporaries and forebears, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp among them, but to my ear, he always had much more in common with the British Invasion bands – and the American artists those British bands directly influenced – than with Americana or folk music.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform in 2006 at Darien Lake. (News file photo)

Petty took the ebullient jangling 12-string Rickenbacker guitar clarion call favored by George Harrison of the Beatles and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and married it to a songwriting acumen equal parts punkish sneer and pure pop sensibility. He didn’t seem capable of writing a bad tune, one bereft of a magical and memorable hook. And when his bandmates got ahold of those songs, they urged them toward the heady air of transcendent pop.

In Western New York, we felt the majesty – there's really no other word for it – of Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert on many occasions. Routinely during the band's marathon sets, I would find myself marveling at the depth of the man's catalog. Tune after tune after tune, running a broad stylistic gamut, from the chilling, emotional devastation of, say, "Echo," to the gritty four-on-the-floor barrage of "I Need To Know," the eloquent, soaring balladry of "Insider" and "Free Fallin" to the more esoteric poignancy of "It's Good To Be King" or the frankly funky and sly grit of "The Nightwatchman." Petty seemed to have a limitless bag of tricks to pull from.

Time's passing will underscore the fact that Petty never faltered, his skills as a songwriter seeming to deepen as he matured, and his catalog benefiting from several late-career masterpieces. His body of work is one of the most consistently inspired and inspiring in the history of rock music.

One of the last of the true hardcore troubadours is gone. He leaves behind a massive footprint on the rock music landscape.

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

 

 

 

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