Losing Tom Petty: What it means to me

It was November 1979. My mom was giving me a ride to my job at Burger King in Madison. We were listening to the radio when I first heard Tom Petty’s song, “Don’t Do Me Like That”.

It was so catchy. Right away, I was hooked. And I’ve been hooked on his music ever since. I’ve collected his albums and learned how to play his music and sing his songs.

Now my songwriting hero is gone.

Though I never met him, losing Tom is like losing a friend. Really. I fought back some tears and it chokes me up to write this.

His songs bring back many memories like when I lived in Hanover and my son, Neil was 4 years old, smiling and riding on his toy horse, singing “Yer So Bad.” He knew every word. I have the video to prove it.

Or the time when I sang in a band called Roadwork. “Jammin’ Me” had just been released and we played it at a little bar called Footlights in Carrollton, Kentucky. That song and “Running Down A Dream” lit the room on fire.

After my divorce in 1993, I was living in a cabin overlooking the banks of the Ohio river in Madison when “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” came out on Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. I bought the album and began performing the song at my shows.. I still play that song at some of my shows - it still stands strong, just like nearly every song he wrote.

Then in 1995, thanks to my friend Chris Vogler from Jasper who got me the ticket, I was able to sit in the fourth row center stage to see him at Roberts Arena in Evansville. It was spiritual.

There’s an old saying stating that one can count their true friends on one hand. I believe that’s also true with my favorite songwriters. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp wrote a lot of hits. For me, Tom Petty stands right beside them.

I’m a songwriter and I really love playing songs I’ve written but in this business you sometimes have to play cover songs that people are familiar with. Tom Petty has given the world so many great songs. I owe a lot to him. I’ve borrowed his tunes and have been able to make a living playing music for more than 30 years. I’ll continue to play his music as long as my fingers can move around the neck of my guitar and as long as I have a voice.

-Rusty Bladen

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