Tom Petty Brought His Friend With Him as a Third Wheel on Dates


  • Tom Petty became close friends with one of his childhood neighbors.
  • Tom Petty frequently let his friend tag along on his dates.
  • When he was young, Tom Petty tried to protect himself from romantic relationships.

Tom Petty met one of his longtime friends and musical collaborators, Tom Leadon, when they were both children. Though Petty was a bit older, they soon became close friends. Eventually, they were practically inseparable. Not only did they play in a band together, but Petty often let Leadon tag along on dates as a third wheel. Leadon explained that it couldn’t have been an easy dynamic for Petty’s dates to navigate.

Tom Petty met one of his longtime friends as a child

Petty and Leadon met when Leadon’s family moved into a home across a field from the Petty family. They didn’t immediately click, likely because Leadon was a bit younger than Petty. Eventually, though, a mutual love of music drew them together. They began performing together in a band, and Leadon became a frequent guest at the Petty home, even though he couldn’t understand the rest of the family’s thick southern accents. 

“Probably because he watched so much television,” Leadon said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “He just didn’t sound like them. I could understand him.”

Tom Petty often brought his friend with him on dates

By the time they were teenagers, Petty and Leadon were practically inseparable. According to Leadon, he became “part of the deal” in Petty’s life. He would even join Petty on movie dates. If he couldn’t go, Petty would describe the film in intense detail.

“He’d sit there and spend an hour, tell me the whole movie,” Leadon explained. “The dialogue, the scenes in detail. He did it several times. I was amazed that he could remember all of it. I think it was real to him in a way. Like he was experiencing it. It’d be like, ‘They came over the hill. The credits were rolling …’ And he had a way of looking you right in the eye like he wanted to make sure you were getting it. Even if you were driving.”

If Leadon missed a movie, Petty would take the time to describe it to him, even if his girlfriend was around.

“I learned that I just couldn’t sit in the backseat if he was describing a movie, or he’d never see the road,” Leadon explained. “I’d get into the front seat with him and Jan [Mathews], or Jane [Benyo], whoever it was at the time. It was less dangerous that way. But it couldn’t have been easy on the girlfriends, with the three of us sitting in the front seat.”

The musician found early romantic relationships taxing

Petty and Leadon were close, but it’s also possible that Petty brought his friend with him on dates as a way of protecting himself. He felt romantic slights and disappointments acutely when he was young. 

“When I ‘got my feelings hurt,’ I really couldn’t have felt worse,” Petty explained. “It was physical. My throat clamped up, and I just wanted to die. I would radiate pain.” 

He added that he tried to avoid romantic relationships so that he wouldn’t feel this way.

“I felt like I had to protect myself, almost had to close part of myself down,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Enough chasing these beautiful girls around junior high. I’m not cut out for this.’”

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