History is dotted with ‘where were you’ moments, singular events that change the course of society in an instant. One such occasion was the the murder of John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980. On that day, fellow rock icon Tom Petty had been in the studio working on his Hard Promises LP, while also hoping he’d get a chance to meet the famous former Beatle.
“I was working with Jimmy Iovine, who was a friend of John’s,” the rocker recalled in the book Conversations with Tom Petty. “And Ringo was working next door that week. The talk right around that time was that John was coming to sing on Ringo’s album. So we were kind of jazzed up, thinking we were going to meet John.”
Sadly, fate had other plans. Lennon was gunned down that night outside of his home at the Dakota in New York, the victim of a deranged fan. Petty was still in the studio when he got the news.
“A call came and said John had been shot,” Petty recalled. “We just thought it was nonsense. And then a call came right back in about 15 minutes that said that John’s dead.”
Petty and his team stopped working and eventually went home for the night, still shaken by what had happened. They’d later add a special tribute to Lennon onto the run-out groove of the album. “We were working on ‘A Woman in Love’ that night. We were signing it,” Petty recalled. “If you ever see a vinyl copy of Hard Promises, etched in the run-out groove, you’ll see, ‘We love you, J.L.’ We etched it in the groove at the mastering plant.”
“It was a terrible day,” the rocker surmised decades later, reflecting upon Lennon’s death. “You just can’t fathom something like that.”
Though Petty never got the chance to meet Lennon, he’d go on to work or perform with each of the remaining Beatles, most notably George Harrison with whom he was a member of the Traveling Wilburys. In 1989, Harrison provided guitar and backing vocals for Petty’s classic “I Won’t Back Down.” Ringo Starr would also appear in the song’s music video, despite the fact that he didn’t play on the track.
Even as Petty befriended the Beatles on a personal level, he maintained a reverence for the group.
“It’s strange, you know, the Beatles paid such a huge cost,” Petty opined while reflecting on the Fab Four’s influence. “They were people who could have done anything and they chose to do good. And John was murdered. George was viciously attacked in his house, stabbed many times,” Petty noted, alluding to a 1999 knife attack that nearly killed Harrison. “So I’ve always found it odd that they were paid back so maliciously.”