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Tom Petty credited The Beatles with making him want to be a musician. He remembered feeling inspiration like a bolt of lightning after first seeing the band on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Beyond just wanting to become a musician, Petty also wanted to look like the group. He said he’d been growing his hair out for some time, but after seeing the band, he stopped slicking it back. According to Petty, his school didn’t like this, and they kicked him out.

A black and white photo of Tom Petty with his hands clasped behind his head.
Tom Petty | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Tom Petty could remember exactly where he was when he first heard The Beatles

In 1964, Petty and his family turned on The Ed Sullivan Show and saw The Beatles for the first time. 

“I watched it with my little brother,” he said, per the Grammys. “My mom and dad were there, but they weren’t interested in it. They laughed at it and left the room. But my brother and me, both of us, we just flipped out. We thought it was the greatest thing ever.”

He’d been a fan of music ever since he briefly met Elvis, but The Beatles made him want to become a musician.

“This was the great moment in my life, really, that changed everything,” he said. “I had been a fan up to that point. But this was the thing that made me want to play music. You saw that it could be done. There could be a self-contained unit that wrote, recorded and sang songs. And it looked like they were having an awful lot of fun doing it.”

Tom Petty said his school threw him out because of The Beatles’ influence

After Petty met Elvis, he started growing out his hair and greasing it back in order to look more like the musician. 

“From that moment on I became a fanatic about Elvis, I bought all his records; I’d trade anything in school for one of his 45’s, even my Whammo slingshots,” he told Sounds in 1977, per The Petty Archives. “It gave me something to do. I mean, I was in the 5th grade and not into Little League. I started greasing my hair, letting it grow long.”

Petty’s father didn’t like the new look, and neither did his school. It became a bigger problem for them when he stopped greasing it back. 

“They threw me out of school because my hair was so long,” he said. “As long as it was greased back Elvis-style no one knew how long it really was but when the Beatles and their bangs came along I let my hair fall naturally. They took one look at me in junior high school and kicked me out.”

Petty’s ejection from school was not permanent, though. There are rumors that he dropped out of high school, but he explained that he just missed graduation because he was playing a show.

He met some of the former members of The Beatles

Years later, Petty lived his childhood dream when he recorded with former members of The Beatles. While Petty hadn’t met John Lennon, he did befriend the remaining members of the band. He played with Ringo Starr and, far more extensively, George Harrison, who he considered one of his closest friends. 


George Harrison’s Wife Said He Had Never Met Anyone Like Tom Petty

After Petty’s death in 2017, both Starr and Paul McCartney paid tribute to him in heartfelt messages.