When The Beatles first came to America, only a few months had passed since the tragic assassination of JFK, and our nation was still in mourning. Their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show – then a Sunday night American instituion – was a well-needed shot of joy for the whole country still in shock. But it was also, famously, a profoundly galvanizing event in the lives of countless musicians who recognized their futures that night.
Tom Petty was one. Before that night, the idea of a self-contained band – writing, singing and playing the songs themselves – had not occurred to him. After that night, it was the only way.
Ann Wilson and Tom Petty are the same age, both born in 1950, so both took that in at that most impressionable age, and both decided then to become rock & rollers for life. And unlike almost all the other kids then making that same decision, they both succeeded. Ann did it with her little sister Nancy. Here she is, from an interview we did back in 2014, on the impact of The Beatles in her life.
ANN WILSON: I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that first time. Like so many American kids, Nancy and I, and our other sister Lynn, were seated cross-legged in front of the TV.
I was 12, Nancy was 8. So we were just little girlies watching that thing. And it changed our lives. There was something about it that really messed with our minds, and we were never the same after that! [Laughs]
It wasn’t because they were sexy. It was because Nancy and I were budding musicians, so it was more about the music — mixed in with their characters. And that came out on that show, in that short time that they had to play.
Seeing that made us pressure our parents, and our grandparents, to help us get guitars. We didn’t want to be the girlfriends of the Beatles, we wanted to be the Beatles! That’s a different reaction than a lot of girls had.
The day after the show we wanted to learn how to play an E chord, and play “P.S. I Love You” and all that stuff. From that time on, we were gone. We were goners!
But unlike a lot of parents who don’t know what their kids are doing behind locked doors, our parents knew what we were doing up in our bedrooms. They could hear the guitars! We were in there learning.
Singing in harmony, like they did, was a great inspiration for us. We always sang harmonies in the family, just for the fun of it. My older sister Lynn, who was 16 then, was probably the biggest Beatles fan of all. Nancy and I, thinking of ourselves as musicians, looked at what kinds of guitars they played, or if one of them broke a string, which we thought was cool.
I still love them so much. I have all their albums on vinyl, and I put one on the turntable, and wow, it’s such amazing music.
So yes, that night changed my life. It got me here.