It’s not often a rock star opens up his bedroom closet to the world.
Tom Petty did and the results are on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is showcasing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in an exhibit that opened Friday.
When representatives from the Rock Hall visited Petty’s Spanish-style ranch in Malibu, Calif., in April looking for artifacts, he invited them into his bedroom, then into his rather sizable closet.
Petty pulled out a flowered shirt he wore in the video for his biggest chart hit, “Free Fallin’,” and the gray jacket he wore as a member of the esteemed Traveling Wilburys. He also produced a nylon bag of notebooks filled with handwritten lyrics.
“We left his house pinching ourselves,” said Howard Kramer, Rock Hall curator.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, inducted into the Rock Hall in 2002, are a classic American band, a blue-collar act that has always stuck to the basics.
While Bruce Springsteen has become the iconic American rocker of the last few decades, Petty’s laid-back, homespun style has made him and the Heartbreakers the country’s house band — one with a catalog of hits that could fill a five-hour set.
“In terms of continuity, you don’t have many guys like this,” said Warren Zanes, the Rock Hall’s vice president for education.
Zanes, whose band the Del Fuegos toured with Petty in the mid-‘80s, says Petty and the Heartbreakers resonate because they play what comes to them, what feels right.
“Petty has stuck closer to the great American tradition of the garage band,” Zanes said. “In doing so, he’s the guy who best represents the coolest thing about rock ’n’ roll.”
The exhibit comes at a momentous time for Petty, who is on a 30th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers and is releasing his third solo album, “Highway Companion,” on July 25. The band also will be the subject of a documentary being filmed by director Peter Bogdanovich.
Petty, 55, told The Associated Press last month that he’s happy to be on the road. The band ranked in the Top-10 tours last year, according to Pollstar, a concert-industry trade publication. But Petty said he may cut back on the band’s touring schedule because of the many recording projects he wants to pursue.
“We’re in such a nice position right now, things have gone so well,” he said. “I have people approach me on the streets and say, ‘Thanks for writing the soundtrack to my life.’ I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel as a songwriter.”
From the band’s self-titled debut album in 1976, to the watershed “Damn the Torpedoes,” to Petty’s first solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” the Gainesville, Fla.-native has consistently churned out hit tunes, and groundbreaking videos.
The exhibit includes a montage of the band’s videos, including the psychedelic, “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Petty’s oversized hat from his “The Mad Hatter” role is a permanent part of the museum’s collection.
Coincidentally, Petty is the fourth member of the Traveling Wilburys to get the museum’s spotlight treatment this year. It opened an exhibit on Roy Orbison in April and a major exhibit exploring the early years of Bob Dylan’s career in May. An exhibit on George Harrison was on display last year and will reopen this summer.