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Petty: The Biography

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,538 ratings  ·  493 reviews
An exhilarating and intimate account of the life of music legend Tom Petty, by an accomplished writer and musician who toured with Petty

No one other than Warren Zanes, rocker and writer and friend, could author a book about Tom Petty that is as honest and evocative of Petty's music and the remarkable rock and roll history he and his band helped to write.

Born in Gainesville
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published November 10th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published October 20th 2015)
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Liberty Yes. Warren Zanes was the editor for the book that accompanied the RDAD documentary. This book feels very much like he's filling in the gaps! I had th…moreYes. Warren Zanes was the editor for the book that accompanied the RDAD documentary. This book feels very much like he's filling in the gaps! I had the opportunity to interview Mr Zanes for my Petty Archive website, and he said it wasn't his intention to fill in the gaps, but he was glad that it filled in gaps for me! (less)

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Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes is a 2015 Henry Holt and Co. Publication.

Think of me what you will, I’ve got a little space to fill…

I’ve shared with you my love/hate relationship with rock bios. I decided early on not to read this one because Tom Petty was so special to me. I did NOT want to read a botched biography of TP.

I had forgotten about it until recently, when I checked out the new biography of Stevie Nicks. This book was on one of those 'also recommended for you' listings, so deci
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, arc
I'll risk sounding like a loser and just admit that I wasn't super into Tom Petty before reading this book. Sure, I know (and enjoy) his big hits like anyone else, but not much beyond that. I basically started this book with a clean slate, more curious than anything else, and really just looking to learn.

Well, after finishing the biography, I can say with all honesty that I am now a legitimate Tom Petty fan. I have enormous respect for the man. I really had no idea he had been through so much. I
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-i-own
I finished this book last night with tears in my eyes as Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Live Anthology played quietly in the background. I have loved Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers since 1979 when Damn The Torpedos came out. He was such a heart throb to me and as he aged that never changed. His songs have always been a part of my life. I've been to many of their live shows and there was never a bad one.

When I found out he passed away I was so sad and I still am. My heart goes out to his family an
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: credshelf
The outstanding, definitive biography of a rock n roll legend. If you grew up loving Tom Petty's music, you should enjoy this read and wonder at the smarts of Petty the musician and at how much his brilliant creativity sourced from pains in his life (and a few times, from pleasures).

I cannot give it 5 stars because I think Zanes gave up some journalist integrity by skirting over Petty's drug problem--an addiction to heroin, which Zanes said, summarily, Petty had kicked. This paucity was made all
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's a southern accent, where I come from
The young 'uns call it country
The Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talkin'
But everything is done, with a southern accent
Where I come from

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Southern Accents

American rock music icon Tom Petty died in October 2017 of an accidental overdose. He was 66 years old. The coroner said that fentanyl, oxycontin and sleep medications were among the drugs found in his system. Petty left behind a unique legacy including twenty st
What I think about Tom is, ‘How did he become that writer? How does he know what he knows?’ He’s so good I have to ask those questions, like he’s that kind of figure to me. The songs are so compelling.” -- Jackson Browne

Indeed, and that’s high praise coming from one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era. I’m not sure if author Warren Zanes, or anyone including Petty himself, can answer those questions. But Zanes, in one early passage captures the very essence of Petty. It doesn’t answer B
Donna Davis
Oh my my, oh hell yes! If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a band that lights your fire, you have to read this biography, which comes out Tuesday, November 10. You’ll be happiest if you can do it near a source of music, and the very best of all is to be near a desktop or other screen where you can view and hear the music videos as you read about their inception. Petty made it big just as I graduated from high school. By the time my first-born entered elementary school, I had a backseat full of ...more
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Tom Petty has always been in the background of my life. I grew up most of my life as a small town hillbilly girl and all the boys I had crushes on were a lot like Tom. Skinny, long hair, cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth and an ever present cool that was sexy as hell. As I got older my type did not change much except I wanted those boys to look the same but have that artistic bent-music, art..they were equally stimulating. I loved his music the minute I heard it and felt very drawn ...more
Tobin Elliott
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gotta say, this was easily one of the better rock biographies I've read (and I've read a lot). Despite what many are indicating in their reviews, this is not a "this happened, then this happened, then this happened" narrative. Yes, there's definitely some of that in there (show me any biography that doesn't do that), but Zanes also folds in some fascinating insights along the way, whether it's about the music scene in Florida, the weird conglomeration of Petty's group and the Felder/Leadon conne ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
this was a good bio on a great artist.
As a teen, Petty found respite from his father’s abuse by penning songs and making music. Gainesville was a burgeoning music scene in the late 60s/ early 70s, birthing many successful acts. It’s where hometown bassist Tom Petty helped form the locally popular Mudcrutch. As we all know, he eventually found commercial success with The Heartbreakers. In this comprehensive account, music biographer Warren Zanes takes us through the inception, the inner-workings, family tumult, musical friendships, d ...more
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
On the fandom scale with Petty, I was a Greatest Hits guy until ~ 2012, when a friend's persistent praise became impossible to ignore. A few used CD purchases, and my fandom increased to a modest level. Which is where I was... until I read what has to be one of the most enjoyable and intriguing biographies of my life.

All I know for sure is that, having read this biography, I'm desperate to fill in the many gaps of my Petty music collection, and songs that might never have made their way into my
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding. Warren Zanes took me places the Peter Bogdanovich film Runnin' Down a Dream couldn't. I suspect I'll always be a TP fan, but for even the casual listener this is a great read. Zanes has wonderful phrasing and an ability to put you right where he wants you to be while telling the story, whether it's the studio, on the road or in the midst of turmoil.
Highly recommended.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was really looking forward to this book because although I'm not a major fan, I do like his music. I even read all the reviews here first and was expecting it to be great. Guess I'm in the minority then because I thought it was boring. Hard to get into in the beginning. I had to keep forcing myself through it, hoping it would get better, but for me, it never did.
It read as fact to fact to fact: this happened, then that happened, then this happened, with no emotion, no soul, behind it. He write
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing

(review not final - there may be edits to this)

This is one of the best written biographies I have read in a long time. It did take me a bit longer to get through this since there was so much information packed into a very small space. That is one of the thing I loved about it. Every word had a place, no filler, much like Petty's music - where every note counts. I also loved that Zanes tried to be objective about his subject when you can tell he is a fan. Yes, he recounts the bad times but explai
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book truly does justice to Tom Petty, his music, and his life. Warren Zanes doesn't paint everything with a rosy glow, either. He tells about the bad times as well as the good. Zanes sums my feelings about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers up when he tells his kids about what it was like to grow up with Petty's music. "Imagine, I said, having someone make a record that goes straight into that place where the important records go, and then he keeps making them. Every few years, a new one, foll ...more
Larry Bassett
I haven’t read too many rock ‘n’ roll biographies and my musical interests lean more toward Joan Baez and Carol King and the Beatles and can’t get no satisfaction. A lot more familiar with Pete Seeger. But Tom Petty just died and he was 66. And I wondered about him. Who was he and what does it mean that he was younger than I am when he died.

I didn’t know that he was such a megastar. And I had heard of the traveling Wilburys and the illustrious stars who were part of that group but never knew he
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, kobo, music
In my 14,000 song collection, I count just 11 by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, as well as two when he went solo. In other words, I am just a casual fan of his hits. So Warren Zanes' biography of Petty was an eye-opener and gave me a lot of insight into what Petty is all about.

Warren Zanes is a musician who was in a band called the Del Fuegos. They opened for Petty on a tour long ago and he maintained contact with people in the band. This makes him very well qualified to write about the musical
Sandy Nawrot
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Whether you're a fan of Tom Petty or not, it's almost unavoidable that he has been a part of your life. He was an icon, with the most top 10's in the history of rock, his southern drawl delivering to us the soundtrack of our lives from the late 70's up until his death last year. But the man was private, tortured from a childhood of abuse and an abusive first marriage, which makes this biography even more enlightening and mind-blowing.

And there is no better person to tell his story than Warren Z
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The best book I've read this year! This biography on Tom Petty and to a lesser extent the band the Heartbreakers is absolutely fantastic. The writing is so well done that it reads like the best fiction and incorporates quotes from seemingly everyone who has played a role in Petty's life.

I really liked the way the author wove in family history as a way for readers to understand how and why Petty handled different issues the way he did over the course of his life. I also appreciated the selection
Jamie Miles
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Made me nostalgic for old Gainesville and 70s music played on the radio coming through cheap speakers riding the car and on the beach. Tom Petty’s incredible story from a little ranch house in Gainesville to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only was he a one-of-a-kind songwriter, he was an incredible business man that some how kept his band together for four decades.

Petty’s very honest about his demons and the toll they took on him and his family. But in the end, one gets
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I couldn’t put this down. It’s so heartbreaking that the frontman of rock and roll’s last bands is gone. What an amazing ride! I am very disappointed that Tom and Mike did not attend Howie Epstein’s funeral tho. That is unforgivable.
Nevertheless, I am so fortunate to have grown up in the golden age of music. Although I’m sad that’s it’s over.
Oct 03, 2019 marked it as to-read
This is still on my to read list, but want to share a nice story I read today on

Tom Petty’s Biographer on the Story He Didn’t Tell: A year after Petty’s death, author Warren Zanes shares a tale of loss, memory, and the search for the perfect cup of coffee
Armand Rosamilia
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Some great insight and stories into not only Tom Petty but The Heartbreakers as well, and the book shows some of the warts and problems, too. A ton of interviews, some of them conflicting in their facts, lends another great layer to the history.
Tim Healy
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I waited a long time to start this book. It's been in my queue since before Petty died in October. After, I couldn't quite face it for a while. I'm a huge fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and they've often been a "go to" when I wasn't ready to deal with things. I really wasn't ready to deal with Tom's passing.

I saw Warren Zanes and his band, the Del Fuegos, open for the Heartbreakers twice on the Rock and Roll Caravan tour in the mid-80s. He was in a unique position to address Petty's lif
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Many of the criticisms about this book focus on the fact that Petty and author Warren Zanes are friends to some degree and the result is that the book paints a very favorable portrait of Petty. There is certainly plenty of that -- in some places the glowing praise of Petty becomes almost difficult to read.
The bigger issue, however, might be that Zanes' familiarity with his subject causes some problems with the story telling in terms of where he places the focus and how he tells the story. For ex
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really like rock biographies, but this one somehow manages to be dull and gloomy (not at all what I was looking for after Tom's recent passing). It's more an info dump than it is entertainment, and for all the positivity in Petty's music, this biography is mostly gloom. If you're looking for fun band facts or crazy stories I guess you'll have to look online, because what you have here is the chronology of everything that went bad after each good thing happened. What's worse, both Tom and his b ...more
Noah Gittell
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
As an enormous Petty fan, I was disappointed by the first half of this book. It focused too much on the business of being in a band and not enough on the songs that I loved. Zanes spends just a couple of sentences, for example, on the "mini-Woodstocks" that took place at Mudcrutch Farms, where Petty and his band first got started. My guess is there are plenty of good stories from those days, but Zanes leaves them on the cutting room floor.

And yet as Petty matures, so does the book. The sections
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Love me, Love Tom Petty. That's my motto. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit but I do love Tom Petty. That's a style of rock n' roll I can really chill to and it's one of the most-played styles of music in my iTunes library. I've watched a lot of biopics about Tom Petty's life and I've researched where I could so there wasn't a lot of new information in here but it was a solid read nonetheless.

The only thing that it's important to note about this book is that the author, Warren Zanes, is a friend of
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Zanes holds a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester. He was a member of the Del Fuegos and is set to release his fourth solo recording. He has worked on films including Twenty Feet from Stardom and Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living in the Material World and his writing has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times. Zanes served ...more

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“Tom Petty,” Jim Lenahan insists, “is really good at getting people to quit school and join his band. He got Benmont to do it. He got me to do it. He got Mike to do it. He got a lot of people to quit college so they could be in his band.” 3 likes
“It’s like Tom Waits said,” Petty remarks. “‘I’m an artist, but I’m still in show business.” 2 likes
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