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Posts Tagged ‘Homegrown Florida’

“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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