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Tom Petty 

+ {Mudcrutch} + {Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers}

Since his days outside the fringes of the emerging new wave/punk scene in 1976/77, the amiable roots-rocker TOM PETTY has secured his spot at the top among the likes of his hero contemporaries, BOB DYLAN, ROGER McGUINN, BOB SEGER and MICK JAGGER. Almost wholly billed as TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS (alongside stalwarts comprising guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboard-player Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch), the literate singer-songwriter has had a string of major-selling albums topped by 1979’s `Damn The Torpedoes’.
Born Thomas Earl Petty, October 20, 1950, Gainesville in Florida, the high school dropout formed The Sundowners (later The Epics) before they evolved into Mudcrutch; Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, guitarist Tommy Leadon (brother of EAGLES man Bernie) and drummer Randall Marsh were also behind the band from the outset in 1970; note too, that their lead singer was Jim Lenahan. Relocating to L.A. around 1974, their demo tape eventually came to the attention of Denny Cordell (co-owner of Shelter Records with LEON RUSSELL), who was suitably impressed enough to sign the band in 1975. One solitary single, `Depot Street’, and an album’s worth of material was recorded, sadly always lurking in the vaults due to the band’s subsequent demise.
PETTY was retained by Shelter and in 1976 he instigated The Heartbreakers, together with the aforementioned Campbell, Tench, Blair and Lynch. Later that year, the band duly released the eponymous TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS {*8}, a raw statement on the future of roots rock’n’roll – The BYRDS and The ROLLING STONES are the most frequently cited references – which initially flopped in the States. Perversely, the album was relatively successful in the UK and Europe, PETTY and Co capitalising on the interest with a European tour that eventually wound its way back to the US during the summer of ‘77. TP&H had already hit the UK charts with two classy singles, `Anything That’s Rock’n’Roll’ and `American Girl’, while their initial US Top 40 hit `Breakdown’ was used on the movie FM, the following May. The strength of what seemed a perennial flipside, `Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)’, and the horizontal `Luna’ almost matched the aforementioned 45s for coolness at least.
At last there was a Stateside buzz surrounding the band and with their much-anticipated second album, YOU’RE GONNA GET IT! (1978) {*7}, the effervescent quintet scaled both the US and UK Top 40’s. Spawning two reasonably placed US hits, `I Need To Know’ and The BYRDS-esque `Listen To Her Heart’, one could only gripe at the total time at under the half hour – a sign of the times, possibly. `Too Much Ain’t Enough’, `When The Time Comes’ and one of a two compositions with Campbell, `Hurt’, came close to echoing anything from their debut.
Despite the ensuing critical and commercial success, PETTY filed for bankruptcy the following year, owing more than half a million dollars after the Shelter imprint was sold to A.B.C. and then M.C.A. Records; the latter company duly sued him for breach of contract. Fortunately, the warring parties came to an agreement when they decided to put his band on their Danny Bramson-run Backstreet label. Their late 1979 major label debut, DAMN THE TORPEDOES {*9}, sold only moderately in the UK, although it smashed into the US Top 3, sales of the album boosted by harder rocking tracks such as Top 20 singles `Don’t Do Me Like That’ and `Refugee’. Produced by perfectionist Jimmy Iovine, PETTY’s early primeval promise materialised on `Here Comes My Girl’ (another but not-so-giant US hit), `Even The Losers’ and `Century City’ combined for a blistering set to match the likes of SPRINGSTEEN and The Stones.
By this point PETTY was a major league star and he could afford to challenge his record company yet again, this time over the cover price of his pending album, HARD PROMISES (1981) {*7}, which the singer-guitarist deemed too expensive. His persistence eventually paid off and the album peaked at No.5 in the US, subsequently going platinum. Notable for its heartland-type singles, `The Waiting’ and `A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)’, the set has other fine songwriting moments in `Nightwatchman’, `Kings Road’ and `The Criminal Kind’. During its spell in the higher eschelons of the US charts (it peaked at No.5), PETTY hooked up with the delectable STEVIE NICKS on the Top 3 single, `Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’.
While there was production work for DEL SHANNON’s `Drop Down And Get Me’ (with backing from The Heartbreakers), LONG AFTER DARK (1982) {*5} continued his/their flow of mainstream successes, albeit much weaker than his previous pair. Major US hits `You Got Lucky’ and `Change Of Heart’ carried the album somewhat, as PETTY played it by the book on the likes of `Deliver Me’ and `A One Story Town’; Howie Epstein had now superseded Blair who’d left in ’81.
Co-produced by Tom, together with Jimmy Iovine and EURYTHMICS guitarist Dave Stewart, the acclaimed SOUTHERN ACCENTS (1985) {*7} marked a newfound maturity, both lyrically and musically. The brooding, neo-psychedelic `Don’t Come Around Here No More’ furnished PETTY and Co with their biggest US/UK hit single to date, while the loose concept depicting life in modern-day “south” embraced at least three fine songs in `Spike’, `Rebels’ and the uptempo soul cut `Make It Better (Forget About Me)’ – the latter two minor US breakers.
Following a prolonged bout of touring and a live double-disc, PACK UP THE PLANTATION: LIVE! (1985) {*5} – featuring no less than five covers: The BYRDS’ `So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star’, The SEARCHERS’ smash `Needles And Pins’ (another hit duet with NICKS), bookended with Goffin & King’s `Don’t Bring Me Down’, The ISLEY BROTHERS’ `Shout’ and JOHN SEBASTIAN’s `The Stories We Could Tell’ – it was a rather average listen. Maybe one had to be there.
Spending 1986 as backing band for his idol BOB DYLAN (a title single from the movie `Band Of The Hand’ and a duet on the bard’s “Knocked Out Loaded” debacle were hardly worthy), TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS delivered their seventh studio album, LET ME UP (I’VE HAD ENOUGH) (1987) {*5}, to a mixed response and relatively disappointing sales. DYLAN reciprocated by way of a co-credit on the set’s only Top 20 entry, `Jammin’ Me’, but all ’n’ all PETTY and Co seemed a little punch-drunk as the title suggested.
PETTY once again found himself in the company of rock’s oldster hierarchy DYLAN, plus GEORGE HARRISON, JEFF LYNNE and ROY ORBISON, courtesy of the TRAVELING WILBURYS; two albums appeared from 1988 to 1990. In between times, TOM PETTY also released his highly successful debut solo album, FULL MOON FEVER (1989) {*8}, garnering backing from a collection of HEARTBREAKERS (Campbell, Tench and Epstein) plus another newfound songwriting buddy, JEFF LYNNE. One of Tom’s most overtly commercial outings to date, the record spawned the soaring `Free Fallin’’ (a US Top 10) and contained what should be the man’s signature tune (and Top 20 hit) in the defiant `I Won’t Back Down’. Campbell’s contributions came through `Love Is A Long Road’ and third hit, `Runnin’ Down A Dream’ (alongside Jeff), while there was room for a classic BYRDS cover of `I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’.
The previous album seemed to have breathed fresh life into PETTY’s musical partnership with his HEARTBREAKERS and they teamed up once more for 1991’s INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN {*6}, another highly melodic opus previewed by the impassioned `Learning To Fly’ single. With stalwart producer JEFF LYNNE afforded several co-compositions, there were of course many who thought this was just ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA fronted by TOM PETTY and his backers, especially on the minor hit title track. But for `Kings Highway’ and/or `All The Wrong Reasons’, the formulaic and derivative approach was wearing thin on the ears of many fans. The obligatory “Greatest Hits” package comprised all the usual suspects and a few secondary delights via a cover of THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN’s `Something In The Air’ and its US counterpart hit, `Mary Jane’s Last Dance’; the video of which starred Kim Bassinger.
A second TOM PETTY solo set, WILDFLOWERS (1994) {*7}, was his first release for the Warner Brothers stable, the singer having been back in the spotlight again after allegedly keeping the deal secret from M.C.A. bosses. Taking on board the enigmatic Rick Rubin as his producer, the singer kept up his US chart momentum via `You Don’t Know How It Feels’ and the not-so giant, `It’s Good To Be King’. Much like NEIL YOUNG, Tom remained a stubborn maverick, refusing to play record company games and staying true to his muse.
Fast forward to ’96, PETTY once again gathered together The HEARTBREAKERS for the delivery of SHE’S THE ONE {*6}, the soundtrack to the Ed Burns film of the same name starring Jennifer Aniston. Commendable as it was, it saw a relaxed PETTY get back to the bare bones Americana roots he once tracked. All the aforementioned TRAVELING WILBURY connections are here in PETTY’s heart rather than in his soul. Minor hit, `Walls (Circus)’ is DYLAN personified, although you can almost hear the background vox of LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM alongside shards of ROGER McGUINN’s Rickenbacker and ROBERT PALMER’s “Some Guys Have All The Luck”. Slow-burner – like life itself I suppose – `Grew Up Fast’ gets rid of the melancholic ruminations to become an out-and-out rock ballad. `Zero From Outer Space’ takes PETTY on to another level – he swears! – while the song is like a pastiche of many 60s-styled ROLLING STONES songs. PETTY once again takes the DYLAN mantle but this time he metamorphoses into “Cinnamon Girl”-period NEIL YOUNG using the brilliant HEARTBREAKERS as some sort of CRAZY HORSE backing. Track 6, `Angel Dream (No.4)’, sees PETTY get all spiritual in the mould of SPRINGSTEEN, DYLAN or even JOHNNY CASH. Tom kept the cinematic theme going when made his major acting debut in 1997 via the Kevin Kostner epic, The Postman; ten years earlier he made a brief appearance in Made In Heaven.
Normal service was resumed on the harder-ballad rocking ECHO (1999) {*6}, Rick Rubin again adding a bit of production muscle to another dual-HEARTBREAKERS outing. The melancholy material such as `Lonesome Sundown’ and the title track comes by way of recent divorce (he was married for 20 years), while most of the tracks exorcise his demons by way of good old rock’n’roll: i.e. `I Don’t Wanna Fight’ and `Free Girl Now’.
Come the new millennium, PETTY and his HEARTBREAKERS sounded somewhat desperate on THE LAST DJ (2002) {*4}, clutching at rather bitter lyrical straws berating the worst aspects of the corporate music business which he’d been an integral part of for so many years. While the record made the Top 10 in the US, it failed to register in the UK chart, the first such absence in many a year. But for the very Sgt. Pepper-esque `Dreamville’, the 50-something Tom was straining to gain a grip of what made his great in the first place.
HIGHWAY COMPANION (2006) {*6} – his third solo effort – was an indication of Tom grappling with his bombastic inner self. Joined by old muckers Mike Campbell and producer JEFF LYNNE (although not credited in songs), the space-age concept of the ultimate road-trip from earth to wherever, was indeed intuitive for PETTY. Opening with the crunching `Saving Grace’, and helped along by PETTY introspections such as `Down South’, `Jack’ and `Turn This Car Around’, he was at least back in the US Top 5.
Inspired by a recent Peter Bogdanovich rockumentary of TP, via Runnin’ Down A Dream, MUDCRUTCH were resurrected for a one-off eponymous surprise US Top 10 set, MUDCRUTCH (2008) {*7}. Completed by Campbell, Tench, Leadon and Marsh the previous summer, the record ticked all the right boxes for lovers of GRAM PARSONS, The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS and any BYRDS connection. While there were tinges of modern-day mirth (`Scare Easy’), each stamped out their individual worth in a handful of the songs, while two trad pieces (`Shady Grove’ and `June Apple’) complemented covers of Earl Green & Carl Montgomery’s `Six Days On The Road’ and ROGER McGUINN’s `Lover Of The Bayou’.
Not particularly desperate to try his hand with the band once again, TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS (aka the bearded PETTY, Campbell, Tench, Blair, ex-IGGY POP guitarist/harmonica-player Scott Thurston and drummer Steve Ferrone) found their MOJO (2010) {*7} on a fresh bar-land R&B set. Featuring compositions from the man himself styled on Chess Records of the 50s and 60s, this was TP’s first ever sojourn away from the staid mainstream. `U.S. 41’, `Takin’ My Time’ and `Jefferson Jericho Blues’ were uncharacteristic of PETTY, but they did help boost sales of the Top 3 album; one could almost hear respective tidbits of LED ZEP or NEIL YOUNG in `First Flash Of Freedom’, `Running Man’s Bible’ and `The Trip To Pirate’s Cove’.
On a footnote to this set of original compositions, TP&H have recorded many a cover version (some R&B), several appearing in the retrospective boxed set, THE LIVE ANTHOLOGY (2009) {*7}; namely:- `I’m In Love’ (BOBBY WOMACK), `I’m A Man’ (BO DIDDLEY), `I Just Want To Make Love To You’ (WILLIE DIXON), `Diddy Wah Diddy’ (DIDDLEY & DIXON), `I Want You Back Again’ (ROD ARGENT), `Friend Of The Devil’ (GRATEFUL DEAD), `Mystic Eyes’ (VAN MORRISON), `Green Onions’ (BOOKER T. & THE MG’S), `Goldfinger’ (JOHN BARRY), `Any Way You Want It’ (The DAVE CLARK FIVE), `Oh Well’ (FLEETWOOD MAC) and `Good, Good Lovin’’ (JAMES BROWN); others over the years have included:- `Psychotic Reaction’ (The COUNT FIVE), `I Fought The Law’ (Sonny Curtis), `Route 66’ (Bobby Troup), `Somethin’ Else’ (EDDIE COCHRAN), `Lonely Weekend’ (CHARLIE RICH), `I’m Tired Joey Boy’ (VAN MORRISON)…
Re-focused via his resurgent stint in Mudcrutch, a garage-punk-fuelled TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS plugged into the mains for the their chart-topping HYPNOTIC EYE (2014) {*8}. If Anything That Rock And Roll was fine, then tasty tracks like `Red River’, `Fault Lines’, `Forgotten Man’, `Power Drunk’ and `American Dream Plan B’, also had the new wave spirit of ’77. With that unmistakable cow-punk drawl from Tom complementing a fast ’n’ furious fuzz of fury from his Heartbreakers five, there was also gangly, gooey grunge from finale piece, `Shadow People’.
Unexpected but nonetheless welcomed by fans of PETTY’s “anything that’s rock’n’roll” manifesto, MUDCRUTCH reconvened for the Top 10 album 2 (2016) {*7}. Allocating one track to each and every member: Leadon (on the country cooler `The Other Side Of The Mountain’), Tench (on the boogie-woogie `Welcome To Hell’), Campbell (on garage groover `Victim Of Circumstance’) and Marsh (on power-popper `Beautiful World’), the anti-star democratic aspect of the amiable band was pleasing to hear. Having said that, it was PETTY’s `Trailer’ (imagine KNOPFLER within TRAVELING WILBURYS), `Dreams Of Flying’, `Beautiful Blue’, The BYRDS-ian `Save Your Water’ and the rebellious `Hope’ that stole the show.
Unexpected and out of the blue (although about to chalk up his 67th year on Planet Earth), the heart-breaking news on October 2, 2017, was that the great TOM PETTY had died of a cardiac arrest in Santa Monica hospital – anything that’s rock’n’roll was not fine, for once.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD/BG-MCS // rev-up MCS May2012-Oct2014-Oct2017

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