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Where Tom Petty Met Elvis

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It's been a while since I read "Conversations..." but it seems a lot of this info was aggregated from it:

When Tom Petty met Elvis Presley in 1961

By Bill Dean (Source: New York TimesAug 27, 2007)

One summer morning in 1961, an 11-year old Tom Petty sat on pine straw in his front yard, wondering how he was going to spend his day. By the end of the afternoon, he knew how he would spend his life.

The difference that afternoon made added another notch to rock 'n' roll history, and a tantalizing addition to Florida lore. For by the end of the day, the young Petty would encounter none other than Elvis Presley, the "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" who died 30 years ago on Thursday. And by that evening, the Gainesville, Fla., youngster would be forever fascinated � and hooked � on rock 'n' roll.

"I caught the fever that day and I never got rid of it," Petty later said in Paul Zollo's book, "Conversations With Tom Petty."

"That's what kicked off my love of music. And I'd never thought much about rock 'n' roll until that moment."

As young Tom sat under a pine tree in his Gainesville home's front yard, Presley was filming, appropriately enough, a movie called "Follow That Dream," with location shooting in Ocala, Tampa, Crystal River and other locations.

Petty's uncle, Earl Jernigan, owned a local film developing business and worked on location shoots whenever filmmakers came to the area. So when Jernigan's wife, Tom's Aunt Ellen, rolled into the driveway and asked her nephew if he'd like to "go and see Elvis Presley," he was more than game, he was licking his chops at what would in a few hours become the adventure of his young life.

"I remember this vividly," said Petty, who at that point primarily knew Elvis as a character who had "caused some controversy," likely due to those swiveling hips when Tom had been about 5 or 6 years old.

"He was known to me as a fellow who wiggled," Petty recalled. "And I did a little impression with a broom of wiggling like Elvis."

After driving 30 miles, Aunt Ellen, Tom and two of his cousins pulled up near the film set in downtown Ocala, where Elvis was to shoot a scene of him pulling up in a car and entering a bank. "There was a huge crowd; the biggest crowd I've ever seen in the streets of Ocala," Petty said.

"And then I swear to God, a line of white Cadillacs pulled in. All white. I'd never seen anything like that," he remembered. "And I was standing up on a box to see over everyone's head, because a big roar started up when the cars pulled in."

Guys in mohair suits and pompadours began bounding out of each car � to Petty's startled cry of "Is that ELVIS?" every time.

When the real Elvis finally appeared, Petty knew.


"He stepped out radiant as an angel," Petty said. "He seemed to glow and walk above the ground. It was like nothing I'd ever seen in my life. At 50 yards, we were stunned by what this guy looked like. And he came walking right towards us."

Elvis' hair was so impossibly black that it glistened a deep blue when the sunlight hit it. And that's when Elvis walked directly over to Uncle Earl, Aunt Ellen and little Tom Petty.

"We were speechless," Petty said. As Uncle Earl introduced Elvis to his nieces and nephews, the King of Rock 'n' Roll smiled and nodded to each open-mouthed youngster.

"I don't know what he said, because I was just too dumbfounded," Petty said. "And he went into his trailer."

Then, young Tom got "really excited" as hundreds of girls pressed against the chain-link fence. Many brandished album covers and photos, which one of Elvis' "Memphis mafia guys," as Petty described it, dutifully took into the trailer and returned, bearing authentic Elvis autographs.

Petty and his cousins stayed the rest of the day and watched as the crew spent hours filming that one scene of Elvis getting out of the car and entering the bank. And every time Elvis' car rolled up, the crowd went "insane," breaking through the barricades and charging toward the star.

"And I thought at the time, 'That is one hell of a job to have. That's a great gig � Elvis Presley,' " Petty said.

Young Tom began collecting anything he could find on Elvis. He stayed inside the house � constantly � and did nothing but listen to Elvis music. "My dad was concerned that I didn't go outside, that I just played these records all day."

Three years later, young Tom became even more enamored of rock 'n' roll when The Beatles arrived on American shores, appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and performing in live concerts.

But Tom Petty's fascination with music began with Elvis Presley in Ocala. And though he never saw Elvis again, the flames from that fire never waned or went out.

"I learned all of those early Elvis songs," Petty said in Zollo's book. "And having that kind of background in rock 'n' roll, of where it had come from, has served me to this day.

"It became an invaluable thing to have. So for that, I thank him."

From http://www.elvis.com.au

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