Tom Petty Said He Got The ‘S*** Kicked Out’ of Him for the Way He Looked

Tom Petty got his start performing music when he was a teenager in Florida. He performed in and around his hometown of Gainesville and picked up a fan following. Though they were successful in the Gainesville music scene, not everyone was a fan of Petty. He explained that because of his looks, he sometimes got beaten up, both at shows and at home. 

Tom Petty wears sunglasses and a vest while sitting on a tour bus in Florida.
Tom Petty | Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images

Tom Petty grew up in Florida

Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida. His family had lived in the South for generations, but he began to look to California as an escape.

“Los Angeles – television city,” he told Men’s Journal. “That became my way out.”

He realized that music could help him get there.

“The minute I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, there was the way out,” he said. “There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. This really spoke to me. I had been a big fan of Elvis, but I really saw in The Beatles that … here’s something I could do. It wasn’t long before there were groups springing up in garages all over the place.”

Tom Petty said he got beaten up in Florida because of his appearance

Petty was still in high school when he began playing in a band so, naturally, his early shows were in Florida. He explained that because of his appearance, he was at risk of getting beaten up at performances.

“I did get beat up a few times, for no reason other than the way I looked,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “The Epics had this circuit of gigs they survived on, small towns. But it’s also where you got your a** kicked. A couple of times I got pinned against the band’s truck. Thank God the other band members showed up.”

Petty explained that this also happened at home.

“My dad and I fought all the time. About having long hair, and dressing the way I did,” he told Paul Zollo in the book Conversations With Tom Petty. “It looked really bizarre. It looked really freaky, in that time period. This was before the hippies. It was so weird. I can see why it weirded him out. To see somebody like me, or the guys I was running around with — people wouldn’t serve us in restaurants. They didn’t like it. Especially in the Deep South. And you could get your a** kicked if you were in the wrong spot.”

He explained that his father didn’t like to go out in public with him because he was embarrassed. They would have “constant physical fights” where Petty got the “s*** kicked out” of him. This didn’t have any impact on the way he dressed, though.

“It was kind of like that, to have Beatle-style hair, and boots, and the kind of clothes we were wearing,” he said. “We thought it was super-hip and we were into it, but older people, they didn’t dig it at all, which made us like it more.”

The Heartbreakers frontman considered himself a Californian

Despite his Florida upbringing, Petty thought that both himself and his band were products of California. 

“I often see us included in Southern [rock]. But honestly, when the Southern rock thing happened, we were long gone for the most part,” he told the LA Times. “I think we’re really Californians. I’ve been in California longer than I was in Florida. Certainly where you grow up is always going to be deeply embedded in your soul. I don’t know, but sometimes it kind of hurts my feelings that were not included in discussions of Southern California music. The Heartbreakers formed here. We really are an L.A. band.”

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