Tom Petty Biographer Warren Zanes Remembers His Friend, on the WBGO Journal

Oct 5, 2017

Warren Zanes says Tom Petty asked him to write his biography
Credit Warren Zanes for WBGO

Legendary rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Tom Petty died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 66. 

Petty biographer Warren Zanes stopped by the WBGO studios to talk about Petty's influence on him and the music world.

Zanes penned Petty: The Biography in late 2015.

During the emotional interview, Zanes discussed why he was so interested in Tom Petty, the man and the musician.

"I was 12 when I first heard the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers record and you know to my ears I heard  the best of early rock n' roll and the best of '60's soul merged with a kind of rock sensibility, but if you listen to the song Breakdown which was their first single, it's closer to a Booker T. & the M.G.'s feel than what we were accustomed you with Styx and Foreigner, so it felt like closer to the earth for us but it also gave us a feeling that our music, not our parent's music was on the way, being delivered to us."

Zanes, a writer and musician as well, says many of Petty's idols were attracted to the Gainesville native's music.

"I think the important thing to recognize is not that Tom was going and seeking all these people out, they saw something in him. His brand of cool...I remember George Harrison talking about this..he said you know we were trying to be something, Tom was that thing.  You know this southern kid with that southern sensibility that was so important to the rock n' roll spirit.  You know Tom had it.  He was cool.  He was musical.  He was serious about the music as any scholars I've ever met."

Zanes' father died a few months ago but he had only seen him a couple of times in 35 years.  It's been a different experience losing his friend. 

"When Tom Petty died, it was different because I wasn't ready for it.  I'm not going to say this guy was paternal to me, but if I can do something for my sons like what Tom Petty did for me, I'd say it was good fathering. My boys did get to see me experience that loss over the past couple of days and you know they should see it, they should see a grown man missing another man.  It's very positive.  They know this guy enriched my life. I'm gonna miss him."

Warren Zanes and Doug Doyle in the hallways of WBGO
Credit Steve Williams for WBGO News

So, what pops into his mind when you say Tom Petty?

"I just think about that pile of material that has blown me away over decades."

Zanes says to his knowledge, Petty didn't have a vast jazz and blues collection but that didn't mean has was not connected to that scene.

"He's a product of the time when there was a fluidity between pop, rock and R & B and the blues and he came into music at that time, say you hear the R & B, you hear the blues."