Remembering Tom Petty, a Florida Rock Legend

MALIBU, CA (970 WFLA) -- The death of Tom Petty at age 66 hits close to home in the Tampa Bay area. 

Petty, born and raised in Gainesville, nurtured his career right here in Florida. Ron "Big Rig" Michaels of our sister station 98 Rock, says Petty climbed to the top after years in the background and years of grinding it out in Florida bars. 

"He would go to Jacksonville and be a session musician, for Lynyrd Skynyrd... he worked with the Eagles... he was such a behind the scenes player", Michaels says. 

Michaels recalls that Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at 98 Rock's first birthday party... at the long-gone Curtis Hixon Hall, back in 1978. He has the ticket to prove it. Cost: $2.98. 

Michaels points out that before the Heartbreakers, Petty first enjoyed success with Mudcrutch with Mike Campbell in the 1970s. 

The news on Tom Petty is prompting a lot of memories for his longtime fans. Virg Fabian of Tampa first saw him in the early 80's, when he was a student at the University of South Florida, and Petty was performing at a club in Micanopy, a small town just south of Gainesville. 

"We used to just sit around... hell, half the time we'd have to help him sing the song," Fabian recalls. "I still think to this day Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (are) one of the best, if not the best, one of America's best rock'n'roll bands of all time. And that gets into a heated discussion", Fabian said.

Petty and his band had just completed a tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Heartbreakers.

Big Rig has been blogging on Tom Petty's  situation and his storied career here

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