Late rock icon Tom Petty once admitted he wished he hadn’t featured a Confederate flag at past concerts — 30 years after he prominently displayed the controversial Southern symbol throughout his 1985 tour.
The Gainesville, Fla., native — who died Monday at 66, a day after going into cardiac arrest — told Rolling Stone in 2015 that he regretted using the flag during shows on his “Southern Accents” tour, contending he was “ignorant” about its true meaning.
Some look at the flag, which was flown by the South during the Civil War, as a symbol of racism.
“The Confederate flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, Florida. I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo,” he told the music outlet shortly after South Carolina officials opted to remove the flag from their statehouse.
“I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant. It was on a flagpole in front of the courthouse and I often saw it in Western movies,” he continued. “I just honestly didn’t give it much thought, though I should have.”
Petty, who supported South Carolina’s decision to take down the Confederate flag, said he used the flag as a marketing tool for the tour since it was meant to accompany his album about the South, also called “Southern Accents.”
He explained that a song on the album titled “Rebels” was about a Southerner who had adopted views from his forefathers. Petty felt at the time, he said, that the Confederate flag served as a representation of that created character.
“I wish I had given it more thought,” he said of using the flag on the tour. “It was a downright stupid thing to do.”
Petty also told the outlet that in 1987 he asked audience members to stop wearing Confederate garb to his concerts.
“I noticed people in the audience wearing Confederate flag bandanas and things like that. One night, someone threw one onstage. I stopped everything and gave a speech about it. I said, ‘Look, this was to illustrate a character. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn’t who we are.'”
Remembering the iconic life and career of Tom Petty
He said he never saw a Confederate flag in his audience again.
Petty’s longtime manager confirmed his death on Monday night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer racked up three Grammy wins and 18 total nominations over the course of his legendary career.