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Posts Tagged ‘Gainesville’

“Elvis Presley kicked off my love of music. That was the dream I followed.”
Tom Petty

Just two days ago Tom Petty helped me solve a mystery that I’d been curious about for several decades.  It had to do with the day when Petty was 11-years-old and introduced to Elvis Presley by his Uncle Earl.

Earl Jernigan was a very interesting guy. He wasn’t a southerner. He was the only northerner in the family. And his love was film, motion pictures. And he had the only business in town that was a film business. He had the only place where you could develop film or buy it.

And anytime there was a shoot, probably within a hundred miles, he would go…He had done Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and he actually had one of the cool rubber suits of the creature in his house, and we thought that was so cool.”
Tom Petty (as told to Paul Zollo)
Homegrown in Florida (Edited by William McKeen)

Jernigan also worked on the Tv show Sea Hunt (1958-61) which was shot at Silver Springs —near Gainesville, Florida where Tom and Earl lived. And Jernigan also shot and developed film for the University of Florida football team.

Reading Petty’s account of his uncle reminded me of a question I’d had since I was a teenager. Back in 1981 when I was 19-year-old photojournalist for the Sanford Herald in Central Florida I went back to Lake Howell High School to cover a spring training football game. I ended up being given 16mm films from two of my best high school football games.

I remember when I was given the films I thought it odd that the label said Gainesville rather than the bigger cities of Miami, Tampa or Orlando. Why Gainesville? That was the mystery. So after reading Petty’s words I walked into my home office and quickly found the old 16mm films and sure enough the name on the label read Jernigan’s Motion Picture Service.  

Film.jpg

Mystery solved. Tom Petty’s uncle developed that film—or at least his company did. That also may explain why Petty talks about growing up poor but had 8mm family films and of his first bands that were featured in the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. (I grew up in a plain cement block house in Florida—without air-conditioning— and nobody that lived around me had a fancy 8mm camera.)

When Petty was 11-years-old Petty’s his uncle was working on the set of Follow that Dream (1962) starring Elvis Presley, and Petty’s aunt took him to a filming one day in Ocala, Florida (about half an hour from Gainesville) and the future rock star Tom Petty was introduced to the King.

“He stepped out, radiant as an angel. He seemed to glow and walk above the ground. It was like nothing I’d ever seen in my life. At fifty yards, we were stunned by what this guy looked like. And he came walking right toward us. And his hair was so black, I remember that it shined blue when the sunlight hit it. And he walked over and we were speechless. My uncle said, ‘These are my nieces and nephews, Elvis.’ And he smiled and nodded at us. I don’t know what he said because I was just too dumbfounded.”
Tom Petty
Homegrown in Florida

That first brush of fame marked Petty for life. He also took notice of the crowd of girls behind a chain link fence trying to get an autograph of Elvis and thought at the time, “That is one hell of a job to have. That’s a great gig—Elvis.” Petty went home and traded a Wham-O slingshot for a box of 45 records that included Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and Jerry Lee songs. He said he wasn’t thinking about being a musician then, just being a fan of music.

If Elvis kicked off his love for music it was the Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan show in 1964 that gave Tom Petty the idea that he could actually learn to play the guitar and start a band.

So there you have it, a kid from Gainesville inspired by a kid from Tupelo and some kids from Liverpool going on to have a 40 year musical career until his death last week. Here’s what it looked like in 2006 when Petty returned to Gainesville.

P.S. That Lake Howell v. Lyman football game that I got the films from was the first high school football my father ever saw me play. My mom and dad got divorced when I was seven and for whatever reason he didn’t come to a high school game until the two he attended my senior year. I scored a total of four touchdowns in those two games and that Christmas he bought me my first 35mm camera. That was by far the most expensive gift he’d ever given me and it helped set me on the creative path that I’ve been on ever since. In fact, that Konica TC was the camera I used when I worked for the Sanford Herald.

Related post:
Tom Petty’s Gainesville Roots

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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I got my own way of talkin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from
Tom Petty/ Southern Accents

“The reason to make it in Florida was to make it out of Florida.”
Warren Zanes
Petty: The Biography 

The Beatles had Hamburg to refine their sound, Tom Petty had Gainesville.

When Petty died earlier this week a few places mentioned that he was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida before his success as a musician on the world stage. But since a part of this blog is about a sense of place, I’d like to spotlight just what it meant that Petty was from Gainesville.

The first time I visited Gainesville I was struck how it was unlike any place I’d ever been. I was 17 years old and hadn’t ventured far from the Orlando suburbs where I was raised. I was part of a high school football team that made the two hour drive north to play a game on the same field where the University of Florida played their games.

That was 1978 before cable Tv and the internet so I didn’t really have a frame of reference of what a college town looked like. We pulled into Gainesville and it was magical. The late afternoon sun hitting historic brick buidings that seemed more at home at an Ivy League school than in Florida. We drove down fraternity row where some guys were drinking beer next to a firetruck parked on a frat house lawn, and it seemed as if every coed was jogging around campus. (Jogging was big in the ‘70s.)

This was not the part of Gainesville where Petty came from, but it helped pave the way for his success.

I was in the redneck, hillbilly part [of Gainesville]. I wasn’t part of the academic circle, but it’s an interesting place because you can meet almost any kind of person from many walks of life because of the university. But it’s really surrounded by this kind of very rural kind of people that are — you know, they’re farmers or tractor drivers or just all kinds of — game wardens, you name it. So it’s an interesting blend. 

My family wasn’t involved in the college. They were more of ‘white trash’ kind of family. And so I have that kind of background, but I always kind of aspired to be something else, and I made a lot of different friends over the years that were passing through.”
Tom Petty
NPR interview with Terry Gross

The closet Petty got be a student at the University of Florida was working as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida. But the large campus, and the Lipham Music store where students and local muscians hung out, did help him get his musical education.

“Gainesville, Florida [in 1972] had become fully hippie, with a lot of mushroom-potion drinking going on.”
Jeff Calder

(To get a taste of the kind of interesting people connected with the University of Florida during Petty’s time there, check out the post Writing Quote #40 about author and professor Harry Crews.)

Gainesville has long had a reputation as a party school, and in Petty’s day that gave bands nightly musical opportunities to play. A step up from the teen dances and Moose Lodges he started doing when he was 14.

A lesser know fact is Petty took guitar lessons for 18 months as a teenager from Don Felder—as in Don Felder, member of the Eagles (1974-2001)—and co-writer of the song Hotel California. Felder himself took slide guitar lessons from Duane Alman. That’s the kind of musical talent kicking around Gainesville in the 60s and 70s.

“Tom Petty came in [the music store where I taught] one day, gosh, he must’ve been 12 or 13. He had been playing bass in a band called the Epics that I knew as the Rucker Brothers Band and he wanted to play guitar… so I started teaching him to play and went over to his house a couple of times and hung out and heard him play and went over to two or three of the Rucker Brothers’ shows ’cause it was a bit of a train wreck. I kind of helped put them together in the sense that one of them would play rhythm and one of them would play lead while Tommy was playing bass and just help sort through their band to help these kids put their garage band together…. Growing up together in Gainesville and seeing one of my students blossom as an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter has been one of my most fulfilling experiences in this life.
Don Felder
Billboard article by Gary Graff 

Both Petty and Felder would both go on to become more than local legends. And they weren’t alone.

“Eight musicians with musical roots in Gainesville in the ’60s and ’70s have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash; Buffalo Springfield), Don Felder and Bernie Leadon (the Eagles), and the original lineup of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair. That’s a remarkable showing for a small college town.”
How One Sleepy Southern college town changed the history of rock ‘n’roll

”An unusual number of people came out of that small little north central Florida town that went on to become platinum-selling recording artists and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. The closest thing I can draw it to is the same sort of phenomenon that happened at Motown or around Memphis or in Nashville, where in certain areas there were so many people that kind of influenced each other or developed a similar style and that same group of people went on to stay involved in music because of that love and excitement in music.”
Don Felder

As Petty and third band Mudcrutch (after the Sundowners and Epic) became a popular regional band playing clubs and large music festivals (“mini-Woodstocks”) and they even opened for the Jacksonvile-based band Lynyrd Skynyrd. By the time Petty headed to Los Angeles in 1974 the 24-year-old had a solid ten years of playing and performing experience. He would go on to sell 80 million albums.  But the seeds were planted and nurtured right there in Gainesville, Florida.

“However long it had been since he’d run away from Gainesville, Florida, from the rednecks and college boys calling out for ‘Satisfaction,’ however long it had been since that town had both loved him and kicked him down its main streets, he knew it was the place that made him. He didn’t find rock and roll in Malibu. He’d brought it with him.”
Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography

In the world of film outside of Los Angeles, Austin and Portland have an excellent track record of having that kind of iron sharpens iron vibe that Gainesville had musically back in the day. And over the years I’ve tried to show little pockets around the world where people come from on their way to bigger success.

Yes, screenwriters can even have roots in Iowa. Three solid examples are Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls and screenwriter/podcaster John August (Big Fish), who both studied journalism and/or theater at Drake University in Des Moines, and Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was media studies student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City).

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Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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