St. Paul guitar shop owner reflects on times with Tom Petty

Tom Petty played in Minnesota nearly 20 times over the last 40 years. He inspired a generation of musicians to follow in his footsteps and in the process became a true American icon.

At Willie's American Guitars in St. Paul, owner Nate Westgor shared a love of vintage guitars with superstar Tom Petty.

Westgor even sold Petty a few guitars when he would come through town on tour.

Now his head is spinning over the death of his rock 'n' roll idol.

"A lot of my friends have been consoling one another. This was really a surprise," Westgor said.

Beginning in the late 70's with a string of songs like "American Girl," "Refugee" and "Don't Do Me Like That," Petty and his band The Heartbreakers rebelled against the synthetic sound of disco which many believed would be the death of rock 'n' roll.

"And Tom Petty came out and had a black jacket and a funky old guitar. He wasn't really punk by definition, but he was the inspiration for getting rock back to its roots at the time," Westgor said.

By the late 80's, he'd released some of his most accessible music with hits like "Free Fallin’" and was a fixture on MTV.

But Petty was also a musician's musician, co-founding the super group the Traveling Wilburys with Minnesota native Bob Dylan and fellow superstars George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of ELO.

"He stood out as a musician who didn't overplay. Most of his songs are simple 3 chord progressions. Most Tom Petty songs are simple songs with simple themes, but they are extremely catchy and communicate to people. That's what music is all about," Westgor said.

Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Westgor says Petty will be remembered as part of the rock 'n' roll pantheon whose legacy will live on.

"We'll all miss him terribly, on so many levels," Westgor said.

Petty just played a concert at the Xcel Energy Center back in June. As a gift, the X staff gave him a banner with a timeline of all his appearances in Minnesota over the last 40 years.