Tom Petty had an enormous impact on our lives. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that The Coffis Brothers wouldn’t exist had it not been for Tom Petty. Myself, Jamie, Kyle, and Aidan all wrote a little something about Tom Petty and his profound influence he’s had on all of us.
After hearing about the horrific events at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, the only thing I wanted to do was sit in my room, play guitar and sing. It seemed like the only thing to do. I was never able to do that on Monday as the news of Tom Petty came shortly thereafter, but if I had I surely would have played a Tom Petty song…or ten Tom Petty songs, because that’s what I’ve always done. I sit on my bed, strum some chords on my guitar, and at some point I break into a Tom Petty song. I never know which one it will be but inevitably I play one. Or like I said, ten.
The connection I’ve felt to Tom’s music is one that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. It’s touched me in a way that’s difficult to explain and even understand. Most of the great music in my life was introduced to me from my parents, but I discovered Tom Petty myself. I can remember the feeling I had the first time I listened to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits album on my friend’s Ipod driving back from a soccer game. I remember buying tapes of Wildflowers and a live bootleg from the Fillmore at a yard sale and playing the shit out of that Wildflowers tape that Summer until it didn’t play anymore. I remember getting Hard Promises and Long After Dark on my 15th birthday, the time Jamie brought a burned copy of Echo home from college, or the Summer before my senior year in High-School when Highway Companion came out and listening to it over and over again and making all my friends listen to it over and over again. There was a certain feeling I got listening to Tom Petty songs and then another feeling of singing and playing Tom Petty songs. It was addicting. I was compelled to sit down and play his songs. I would come home from school and couldn’t do anything else until I played the song I needed to play. In the past few days I’ve heard multiple people say Tom Petty played the soundtrack to their lives. Well, that’s probably true for me too, but I’m pretty sure Tom played a bigger role for me. He didn’t just play the soundtrack to my life, I’m pretty sure he’s directed the whole damn thing.
I was a musician before I first heard Tom Petty but after I heard Tom, everything changed. He taught me how to write a song, how to sing, how to deliver a lyric, how to perform, and how to lead a band. Tom taught me what rock and roll was and what rock and roll could be, and who better to learn from than Tom? For a teenager who wanted to sing and play guitar, there was no better role model than Tom. For a 27 year old there’s no better role model than Tom. Tom was passionate and stubborn in his beliefs, he fought back when he sensed injustice, he was gracious and loyal to his band, peers, and fans, and he always seemed to stand on the side of right. Tom Petty was just fucking cool. Tom Petty was my hero.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Tom. I saw Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers two times last month at the Greek Theater in Berkeley and the shows moved me every bit as much as it did the first time I saw them 12 years earlier at the Greek. And in typical Tom fashion, he put on a show that was unforgettable. Although I believe Tom still had a lot to give, Tom gave me (and all of us) so much and I am so grateful to have been touched by his music the way I’ve been. I know I’ll never experience anything like that again.
I am far from the first person to say this, but Tom’s songs are timeless and relatable in a way that’s uncanny. You can love one of his songs, listen to it 100 times and suddenly on the 101st listen you’ll hear the song like you’ve never heard it before, and then on the 200th listen it’ll happen again. I’ve experienced this feeling over and over again as I’ve gotten older. On Monday night I listened to Jamie who was DJ’ing at KPIG where he played all Tom Petty. Some of the songs he played I hadn’t heard in a couple years while some I’d heard just days before and once again I started to hear the songs in a new way. I’m sure these songs will change for me in 5, 10, and 20 years from now. The only thing that won’t change is that I’ll always be listening to Tom Petty and I’ll always be sitting in a room playing his songs.
Tom Petty’s influence on me is profound. It can’t be overstated. The reason I like the music I like is because of Tom Petty. The reason I play the music I play is because of Tom Petty. I am devastated by his passing but I am so grateful to have had Tom Petty in my life. It’s one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced.
I remember finding a cassette tape of Wildflowers in our garage the summer before I went to college. That was really what got the ball rolling. That album struck me in a very unique way. Songs like “Wildflowers,” “You Wreck Me” and “Honeybee” made my ears perk up immediately. I had heard Tom Petty’s hits as everyone has, many of them are unavoidable if you have even a mild interest in rock and roll. I thought they were all good songs, but this was different. This was exotic and extremely intriguing and it made me re-examine the hits. All of a sudden those were really interesting to me as well. A seed had been planted.
As college dragged on I became a bit disillusioned and rudderless. I was going through a pretty unproductive time in my life, except for the fact that I was busy diving head first into Petty’s catalog. I had developed an unquenchable thirst for Petty. I was swallowing album after album, bonus track after unreleased rarity and becoming intimate with all of it. Kellen was something of a sherpa in this endeavor as he was doing the same thing back home, but always a record or two ahead of me. I can remember him showing me the She’s the One soundtrack during a weekend I was back home. The song “Walls” killed me. “Change the Locks” captivated me every time it came on. Record after record, I was finding pure gold, I was digging through a seemingly endless supply of songs that I wanted to listen to over and over again. Petty was blowing my freaking mind.
This obsession was what eventually brought me back to the piano. I had taken lessons as a youngster and an adolescent but I had drifted away from playing music in my later teens. I was being consumed with this music though and I felt compelled to sit down and play. I was out of practice, and basically a novice at piano (I still pretty much am, I digress) but I was just proficient enough to pick out a few of them. “Walls”, “Free Falling”, and “Learning to Fly” were among the first I learned to play and sing. Almost immediately my obsession became two fold, listen to Tom Petty, and then play and sing Tom Petty, and then repeat. I started cutting class to go to the practice rooms at San Francisco State which were just a couple of hallways in the Creative Arts building lined with a dozen or so rooms about the size of a closet with a piano in them. I’d spend hours in these rooms. I’d go down on the weekends sometimes, hoping the doors would be unlocked and sometimes they were! I was addicted. Tom Petty was at the center of it. I branched out a little eventually. The catalog of Jeff Lynne, who was the producer of several Petty records, front man of E.L.O and a member of The Traveling Wilbury’s, was devoured promptly. Other Petty related artists fared similarly. Petty had given me the playbook and I was giving myself a crash course in rock and roll while at the same time re-discovering some of the music I was exposed to and loved as a child. (thanks mom)
I was dabbling with my own songs a little bit also, but nothing much was doing on that front until I was played a CD by my parents of some songs Kellen had written and recorded. These were extremely rough recordings mind you but it didn’t matter. The fire was officially lit. The new obsession now was trying to write songs. I was coming up with a bunch of stuff, most of it not very great admittedly, but some of it was kinda sorta ok. Ok enough to think I was maybe on to something. My sensibilities were firmly intact thanks to Tom and his band. I now spent just about all of my time trying to think of something that sounded like a Tom Petty song whether or not I was in front of a piano. About a decade later hardly anything has changed.
Kellen and I started performing around town after I came home from college and eventually got a band together with our fellow Petty fan boy friend and guitarist Kyle Poppen. A lot has occurred since, including brainwashing bassist Aidan Collins, and really, anybody that would listen into joining our unofficial fan club, meanwhile covering “You Wreck Me” I don’t even know how many times. There were plenty other Petty related milestones along the way as well. Seeing him live several times was monumental obviously, as was the release of a handful of new records, all of which were greeted with significant Coffis Brother fan fare. We even got the chance to open for and meet a member of the Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell. To this day probably the coolest thing the Coffis Brothers have ever done in my opinion.
Monday was a real shitty day. Details from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas were still unfolding and then more terrible and shocking news followed. I can’t really explain how I was feeling, maybe numb was the word? I was scheduled to D.J at KPIG that night which just didn’t sound fun at all. A really nice text from my boss Laurie breathed some life into me and I was told to play all Petty all night and bring in some stuff I might have that the station wouldn’t. I felt a bit like I had a duty to fulfill. I started going through the collection and grabbed a couple of CD’s that I thought might have some cool stuff on them but looked like they wouldn’t work. I put the first one in and skipped through until I found a track that actually played, it was a bad ass song called “God’s Gift to Man,” just a random outtake that I hadn’t heard in a few years. Right around the end of the first chorus, I was flooded with emotion and I broke down. An intense mixture of nostalgia and grief poured through me. The rest of the night I was riding waves of emotion as I listened to and recalled many of the songs that had help guide me to where I am today.
I read a quote from Tom Petty once several years ago that lead to a sort of breakthrough for me. He was asked what advice he would give to young people who weren’t sure if they should enter the music industry and he said something along the lines of “If its a ‘choice,’ then you probably shouldn’t be doing it”
Tom and his band The Heartbreakers have been my role models since before I conceived that being a musician could be a reality for me. I am so grateful for the incredible music they’ve given to the world and for the dignity, class and integrity with which they’ve carried themselves. I would like to think that at least in the smallest of ways, Im helping to carry the torch that they have passed down to the next generation of rock and roll.
Growing up an only child, most of my discovery in music was done on my own. I knew who Tom Petty was, I liked his hits when they came on the radio. I didn’t necessarily know they were all his at the time. I remember the day in 10th grade when Kellen called me on the phone to tell me about Tom Petty and that he kept digging and couldn’t find a bad song. I pulled out his greatest hits and could confirm that yes, there was nary a bad song to be found. Fast forward several weeks and the record has been on repeat since the phone call. This was the beginning of the rabbit hole. The Coffis’s had a Wildflowers tape that would play in the Volkswagen Cabriolet driving Kellen and I with the top down to and from soccer practice. I didn’t know it then but these songs were becoming a part of me. Part of my identity and shaping my views. I was there when Highway Companion was released and anticipated the releases of Mojo and Hypnotic Eye. Church was in session and the preacher was Petty. He always had a way of making me feel like he was talking right to me. It was like we had a personal relationship and I could lose myself in his music anytime no matter the mood. He taught me about love before I’d fallen in love, heartache before I’d had my heart broken and gave me a better perspective from which to view the world. He showed me the magic in music and the power it can have. He gave me a foundation to look back on should I ever question myself. My life is forever richer because I was alive in the era of Tom Petty.
Out of my friends I was a latecomer to the Petty party but like most everyone who falls in love with the music of Tom Petty, I fell very hard and very fast. What I love most about his songs are how deeply personal they feel. Tom Petty has a way of making you feel like he’s singing directly to you, connecting with you like an old friend. In the car he was my constant companion. I can’t count how many long drives I’ve spent singing Tom Petty at the top of my lungs, feeling like he was my passenger; singing with me and keeping me company. Even now it still feels like that, maybe more so than ever. If his passing has reaffirmed anything for me it’s how powerful music can be and how many people it can have a profound affect on. Everyday I’m filled with overwhelming gratitude not only for the music he left behind, but that I got to be alive during his all too brief stay on this planet. I take great comfort knowing that Tom will live on in our hearts and through his music forever. To quote a recent favorite of mine: “And it feels so good to know I got you where you belong, here in my heart, right by my side, honey you’re getting me by, yeah you’re keeping me alive.”