Tom Petty Said Elvis ‘Grunted’ at Him When They Met: ‘We Didn’t Really Have a Conversation’

TL;DR: 

  • Tom Petty was a massive fan of Elvis.
  • When Tom Petty was young, his uncle introduced him to Elvis but they didn’t talk much.
  • Meeting Elvis at a young age had a profound effect on Tom Petty.
Tom Petty wears a black suit and holds a guitar. He stands in front of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame background.
Tom Petty | Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Tom Petty dreamed of being a musician from a young age. As it turns out, a meeting with Elvis Presley inspired this desire. Though the moment was influential for the young artist, he didn’t have an in-depth or inspiring conversation with Elvis. In fact, they didn’t really speak at all. Petty shared that Elvis offered him a grunt, but the passing moment shaped the rest of Petty’s life.

The Heartbreakers frontman thought that people were afraid of Elvis

Petty spoke about his appreciation for Elvis’ music in the HBO documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher. In his interview, he wondered if some of the blowback against Elvis had to do with the power he held at such a young age. 

“I don’t know this but I often wonder … if there had ever been like a 21-year-old that had that sort of power,” he said, per the LA Times. “That could mobilize millions of youths with the wave of his hand. [People in positions of authority are] clearly afraid of him.”

He added that he didn’t think this had to do with the type of music Elvis performed.

“Even though he makes gospel records, and he loves his mother, and he knows all the ground rules to follow … you can see that glint in his eye,” Petty explained. “And I think it frightened them maybe.”

Why did a young Tom Petty meet Elvis?

Petty saw firsthand the type of influence that Elvis had over audiences. When he was 10, his uncle worked on the set of the Elvis film Follow That Dream. Petty stopped by, and his uncle introduced him to the star.

“When I met Elvis, we didn’t really have a conversation,” he told Esquire. “I was introduced by my uncle, and he sort of grunted my way.”

Despite this quick meeting and the lack of a conversation, Petty said the moment made a lasting impact on him.

“What stays with me is the whole scene,” he explained. “I had never seen a real mob scene before. I was really young and impressionable. Elvis really did look — he looked sort of not real, as if he were glowing. He was astounding, even spiritual. It was like a procession in church: a line of white Cadillacs and mohair suits and pompadours so black, they were blue.”

Tom Petty began pursuing music as a young teenager

After this meeting, Petty was all-in on his dream of becoming a musician. 

“I was high for weeks,” he said, per Rolling Stone. “It lit a fever in me to get every record I could, and I really digested it. Elvis became the soundtrack of my early years.”

He formed a band in high school and decided to forgo college to pursue music. In 1976, he started Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with whom he performed until his death in 2017.

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