Tom Petty – circa 1979
“You better watch what you say / You better watch what you do to me / Don’t get carried away” – ‘You Got Lucky’ (Tom Petty, Mike Campbell)
The judge looks down on the man with the long blonde hair who is standing in his courtroom. It is 23 May 1979 and U.S. rock star Tom Petty is filing for bankruptcy. The judge has to consider whether to let the petitioner take his band on the road (and possibly run up more debt) in order to get some cash from ticket sales. There is no such animal as a ‘sure thing’ in the rock ‘n’ roll business, but the judge, in his wisdom, decides to allow Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers to take their chances in the marketplace. Suffice to say this is a turning point in Petty’s career – not the end of it. He displays enough grit and tenacity to continue on his chosen career path.
Thomas Earl Petty (20 October 1950 – 2 October 2017) is born in Gainesville, Florida, in the U.S.A. His father is an insurance salesman. Young Tom has a difficult relationship with his macho father who expresses dissatisfaction with the boy’s more artistic and creative instincts. Tom remains close to his mother and his brother, Bruce.
Tom Petty meets Elvis Presley in 1961. Part of the latest movie starring the famed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, ‘Follow That Dream’ (1962), is filmed in Gainesville, Florida. “[Presley] didn’t have much to say to us,” Tom Petty recalls, “but to a kid at an impressionable age, he was an incredible sight.” The next day, the 11 year old Petty trades his slingshot for rock ‘n’ roll records. He soon purchases a guitar from Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail order catalogue.
While still attending Gainesville High School, 14 year old Tom Petty begins playing in a local band, The Epics. Another member of The Epics is Tom Leadon. At 17, Petty quits school and works in a ‘variety of low-paying jobs.’ In 1971 he forms a new band. This outfit has the rather unattractive name of Mudcrutch. The line-up is: Jim Lenahan (vocals), Tom Petty (backing vocals, bass), his old buddy from The Epics, Tom Leadon (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards) and Randall Marsh (drums). Mudcrutch is a ‘boogie’ band, playing guitar-heavy hard rock along the lines of The Allman Brothers Band or the soon-to-be-famous Lynyrd Skynyrd who, like Mudcrutch, hail from Florida.
In 1972 Tom Petty and his girlfriend, Jane Benyo, have a daughter, Kim (a.k.a. Kimberley Violette Petty a.k.a. Annakim Petty).
Mudcrutch struggle along for a time but undergo a membership reshuffle in 1973 that puts Tom Petty in a larger role. The new version of Mudcrutch is: Tom Petty (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass), Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Danny Roberts (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Charlie Souza (bass) and Randall Marsh (drums).
On 31 March 1974 Tom Petty marries Jane Benyo. The couple go on to have a second daughter, Adria (born 28 November 1974).
In April 1974 Mudcrutch makes the decisive move to relocate from Gainesville, Florida to Los Angeles, California.
They release one single, ‘Depot Street’ in 1975, before the group breaks up in the same year.
Shelter Records, a tiny new label, is willing to sign Tom Petty as a solo artist. Shelter is set up by Denny Cordell and pianist Leon Russell (the latter best known for his work with British vocalist Joe Cocker). Without a regular group, Tom Petty feels a bit unsure of his prospects. He ‘drifts through bands.’ Eventually he finds two of his old comrades from Mudcrutch, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. They are working on some of Tench’s demos with the rhythm section of Ron Blair and Stan Lynch. The latter duo also comes from Gainesville. The band is called The Heartbreakers. Tom Petty begins working with this crew. After a meeting with Shelter Records, an agreement is reached to sign the act as Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. The founding line-up in 1976 is: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar), Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards, backing vocals), Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums, backing vocals).
Although Mudcrutch may have been a ‘boogie’ band, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers are a somewhat different proposition. They borrow from mid-1960s acts like The Byrds and The Rolling Stones. The twelve-string guitar, an instrument noted for its ‘jangling’ sound, was a hallmark of The Byrds and other folk rock acts of the time. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell are the first mainstream musicians to make use of the iconic Rickenbacker guitar in almost a decade. After them, other acts such as The Church, R.E.M. and The Smiths will also employ the twelve-string guitar. Although both The Byrds and The Rolling Stones had two guitarists, the Petty-Campbell team leans more towards the bumptious grind of the latter band, perhaps as a legacy from their ‘boogie’ days. So through these influences, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers unite delicacy (The Byrds) with force (The Rolling Stones).
There is a half-hearted attempt to categorise Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers as a new wave act because, in their early days, they seem so unlike the rest of the U.S. music scene. Latterly, they are more commonly regarded as a heartland rock act. This makes them spiritual brothers to Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp (though they precede the last-named). These acts are working-class, blue-collar rockers without great artistic pretensions, but with integrity to burn.
As a vocalist, Tom Petty owes a certain debt to Bob Dylan, the 1960s folk rock titan. This ties in with Petty’s Byrds fixation too since some of The Byrds’ biggest hits were covers of Dylan’s songs. Petty and Dylan have a similar nasal whine to their voices, though Petty may be a little more accessible to the uninitiated since he is, arguably, more tuneful. Petty has a tendency to chew his words like a baseball player working on a plug of tobacco. Additionally, there is an inbuilt drawl to his pronunciation. The overall effect is the aural equivalent of a sneer. “Not being able to hear the words clearly gives people the incentive to listen more closely,” says Petty, half in jest.
Initially, Tom Petty writes all the songs recorded by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. But, as time goes by, he frequently co-writes with Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. Mainly, they offer up love songs, but there are a number of odes to staying true to your beliefs as well. Petty is also the king of the great opening lines. Many of his compositions start with an arresting couplet that makes it hard to see how he is going to turn this into a full song. Of course, he accomplishes this trick, but it’s a tactic that doesn’t grow old.
The debut album, ‘Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ (1976) (US no. 55, UK no. 24, AUS no. 57), is produced by Denny Cordell. The album shows ‘great promise.’ Though it doesn’t make a big immediate commercial impact, it generates a lot of good word-of-mouth for the act. Chief among the delights of the set is ‘Breakdown’ (US no. 40). This has the first of Petty’s trademark great opening lines: “It’s alright if you love me,” he coos before adding blandly, “It’s alright if you don’t.” With incomprehensible arrogance he assures, “I’m not afraid of you running away / Honey, I get the feeling you won’t.” The slinky verses of this song crash into the full-throated chorus. The chiming guitars of ‘American Girl’ (UK no. 40) clearly demonstrate Petty’s debt to The Byrds. This is repaid when Roger McGuinn, former mainstay of The Byrds, records a cover version of ‘American Girl’. Guitarist Mike Campbell shares a songwriting credit with Petty for the robust ‘Rockin’ Around With You’. The riffing ‘Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (UK no. 36) finds Petty’s narrator boasting, “Didn’t go to bed / Didn’t go to work / I picked up the telephone / Told the boss he was a jerk.” Some of the backing vocals on this album are provided by Phil Seymour, a rising singer who goes on to a brief career of his own.
When this is album is ‘ignored in the United States’, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers tour England as a support act to guitarist Nils Lofgren. This leads to the U.K. audience giving the act a warmer reception and Petty being adopted as a new wave artist. Returning to the U.S.A., Petty and company find renewed interest at home thanks to the foreign attention they have received.
Denny Cordell is joined by Noah Shark and Tom Petty for production duties on the ‘even stronger’ follow-up album, ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ (1978) (US no. 23, UK no. 34, AUS no. 60). “I Need To Know’ (US no. 41) adopts a blistering pace with Petty, in high anxiety, exclaiming, “If you think you’re gonna leave / You better say so.” ‘Listen To Her Heart’ (US no. 59) has the familiar jangling twelve-string guitar. In this track, Petty wards off a love rival, saying, “You think you’re gonna take her away / With your money and your cocaine” and concluding that, “She might need a lot of lovin’ / But she don’t need you.”
Following this album, Shelter Records runs into problems. Its parent company, ABC Records, is purchased by MCA. Shelter is shut down and MCA contends that Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers are now contracted to MCA, a situation that doesn’t sit well with Petty since he chose Shelter precisely because it wasn’t a big corporate concern like MCA. Tom Petty tries to renegotiate his contract with MCA and things get ugly. This is how Petty winds up in bankruptcy court in May 1979. “I read a report somewhere that I only had twelve dollars in the bank! It never got quite that low,” Petty says with a snigger. Eventually, a deal is ironed-out with MCA creating a boutique subsidiary label, Backstreet Records (probably named after the 1975 Bruce Springsteen song ‘Backstreets’), expressly for Petty.
On 23 September 1979 Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers perform at ‘No Nukes’, an anti-nuclear power concert put on by MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy). Never much inclined to politics, Petty’s involvement seems largely based on Bruce Springsteen being one of the headliners. If it’s okay for this fellow heartland rocker to say ‘No Nukes’, then Petty and company are willing to fall into line. On the night, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers play a cover version of ‘Cry To Me’, a song originally recorded by soul man Solomon Burke in 1962 – though Petty’s take may owe more to The Rolling Stones rendition from 1965.
The first release for Backstreet / MCA also happens to be the all-time best album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ (1979) (US no. 2, UK no. 57, AUS no. 15) in October uses a military motif in the title for its general backs-against-the-wall stance. “We all have our torpedoes to look out for,” Tom Petty tells an interviewer. “Ours missed by this much,” he adds, referring to the group’s recent scrape with the law and big business. In any case, it’s a galvanising performance on this disc that resonates with anyone who’s known troubled times. Leading the charge is the surging ‘Refugee’ (US no. 15), where Petty sneers, “Honey, it don’t make no difference to me, baby / Everybody’s had to fight to be free.” Mike Campbell co-writes both ‘Refugee’ and the sashaying beat of ‘Here Comes My Girl’ (US no. 59). More pop-oriented is ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ (US no. 10), which makes good use of Benmont Tench’s keyboards work with both a staccato piano line and a reedy organ. After hearing a friend’s tale of romantic woe, Petty’s narrator warns his lover, “You better watch your step or you’re gonna get hurt yourself.” At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Even The Losers’ – “Get lucky sometimes / Even the losers / Keep a little bit of pride” – Petty reports in this whooping struggle for self-esteem. ‘You Tell Me’ is sullen and ‘What Are You Doin’ In My Life’ is frustrated, but humorous. Part of what makes ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ so successful is the beginning of Tom Petty’s three album stint co-producing with Jimmy Iovine. Having previously worked as an engineer (a kind of assistant producer) on recordings by artists like John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, Iovine brings a clear, dynamic classicism to the finished product. ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ is ‘Petty’s breakthrough release.’
‘Hard Promises’ (1981) (US no. 5, UK no. 32, AUS no. 21) in May hosts the best single by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, ‘The Waiting’ (US no. 19). This fuses together the major strands of Petty’s work – the jangling twelve-string guitar, a gutsy rock-solid bottom end, and Jimmy Iovine’s crystalline focus – into a definitive statement. It is also, simply, a very good pop song. “Oh baby, don’t it feel like heaven right now? / Don’t it feel like something from a dream?” sings Petty from within a rosy glow where he finds waiting to see his love is “the hardest part.” Mike Campbell contributes one of his best guitar solos to this song and co-writes three others, ‘A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)’ (US no. 79), ‘You Can Still Change Your Mind’ and the almost funky ‘Nightwatchman’. The latter track ties in with the album’s most common theme, small-time crooks. This crops up again in Speedball’s shifty plans for ‘Something Big’ and the accusatory ‘The Criminal Kind’. Stevie Nicks, the vocalist from Fleetwood Mac, guests on ‘You Can Still Change Your Mind’ and, more noticeably, on ‘Insider’, the ballad that supplies the album’s title: “And I’ve had to live / With some hard promises.”
The Stevie Nicks connection is partly due to Jimmy Iovine, who is producing her debut solo album, ‘Bella Donna’. Tom Petty is asked to write a song for her album and he donates one he has co-written with Mike Campbell. ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ (US no. 3, UK no. 50, AUS no. 10) is performed as a duet by Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. It is released as a single in July 1981.
‘Long After Dark’ (1982) (US no. 9, UK no. 45, AUS no. 77), the fifth album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, is heralded by ‘You Got Lucky’ (US no. 20). With its ominous synthesisers, this song suggests the group may be exploring synth pop, though the twangy guitar and Petty’s characteristically outrageous arrogance say otherwise. In fact, ‘Long After Dark’ turns out to the nearest thing to heavy metal in the Petty catalogue. ‘Deliver Me’ has a great riff, ‘Change Of Heart’ (US no. 21) is a crushingly brutal piece, ‘The Same Old You’ is glam rock, and ‘Between Two Worlds’ is an exercise in grinding eroticism: “A woman’s body is only flesh and bone.” Mike Campbell co-writes four tracks: ‘You Got Lucky’, ‘Finding Out’, ‘The Same Old You’ and ‘Between Two Worlds’.
‘Long After Dark’ is bassist Ron Blair’s final outing with The Heartbreakers. Howie Epstein is brought in to replace him and bolster the group’s backing vocals as well. Ron Blair opens a bikini shop.
‘Long After Dark’ is also the last release under the Backstreet imprint. From this point on, the work of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers is released on MCA itself, the parent company and Petty having apparently made peace.
Work on the next album is complicated. Sessions are started with three different sets of producers: (i) Tom Petty and Mike Campbell; (ii) Dave Stewart – from British synth-pop outfit Eurythmics; and (iii) Robbie Robertson of The Band, Bob Dylan’s former backing group. Things become so fraught that Tom Petty punches a wall in the recording studio. The wall is damaged, but Petty’s right hand fares worse. It is so severely injured that it is feared his guitar-playing days might be over. The Heartbreakers take to calling him L.V. (as in Lead Vocalist), since that may be all he can do. Ultimately, Petty’s hand is repaired with steel inserts and he recovers his ability to play in short order.
What emerges in March is the diverse ‘Southern Accents’ (1985) (US no. 7, UK no. 23, AUS no. 53). Three songs co-written with Dave Stewart survive. The single, ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ (US no. 13, UK no. 50), is the first of these. Oddly disorienting, this is a slice of psychedelia featuring what sounds like a sitar, the Indian instrument resembling a guitar. As the song swims in and out of focus, there is a break where Petty declares, “I’ve given up (stop) on waiting any longer / I’ve given up on this love getting stronger.” It seems like the inverse of ‘The Waiting’ from 1981. Petty and Stewart decided what they had in common was a love of late 1960s soul music so Stewart’s other tracks, ‘It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me’ and ‘Make It Better (Forget About Me)’ (US no. 54), are attempts to reinvent soul for the 1980s with blasting horns. The bulk of the album is the wreckage of a semi-concept album about the southern parts of the U.S.A. (remember Petty comes from Florida, the southernmost State in the mainland). This is, of course, where the title track, the affecting piano ballad ‘Southern Accents’, comes in. ‘Rebels’ (US no. 74) has another of Petty’s great openers: “Honey, don’t walk out / I’m too drunk to follow.” This tale of mad, bad, latter-day confederates is partnered with the ragged glory of ‘Dogs On The Run’ and the allied ‘Spike’, about a “man with a dog collar on.” The poppy ‘Mary’s New Car’ rounds out the Petty / Campbell sessions with ‘Dogs On The Run’ being co-written by Campbell. The album closes with the Robbie Robertson produced ‘The Best Of Everything’, a bruised-heart ballad. The album’s a mixed bag.
Next is a live recording, ‘Pack Up The Plantation’ (1986) (US no. 22, AUS no. 24), in November. As well as the expected Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers hits, this set also has live cover versions of The Byrds’ ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star?’ from 1967; The Searchers’ ‘Needles And Pins’ from 1964 (the Petty version (US no. 57) is a duet with Stevie Nicks); The Animals’ ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ from 1966; The Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’ from 1958; and John Sebastian’s ‘Stories We Could Tell’ from 1974.
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers then act as a backing band for Bob Dylan for a series of shows in 1986. Each performance starts with a short set by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers alone, then Dylan comes on stage and the bulk of the night consists of a run through of material from Dylan’s repertoire. Stevie Nicks joins this circus for their shows in Australia.
‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’ (1987) (US no. 20, US no. 59, AUS no. 63), the next album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, is co-produced by Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell. This duo shares a songwriting credit with Bob Dylan for the opening track, ‘Jammin’ Me’ (US no. 18), an abrasive rant against all manner of annoyances including the actors Vanessa Redgrave, Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy. The bookend to this is the Stonesy swagger of the title track, ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’. Mike Campbell also co-writes this song and ‘Runaway Trains’, ‘My Life / Your World/ and ‘All Mixed Up’. This album is notable for a clutch of songs that come closer to country music than anything The Heartbreakers have normally done: the twanging ‘The Damage That You’ve Done’, the rural ‘A Self-Made Man’ and the heartsick ‘It’ll All Work Out.’
The same year that Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers issue ‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’, George Harrison releases ‘Cloud Nine’. The former member of 1960s rock sensations The Beatles employs Jeff Lynne to produce this album. Lynne is best known for his band, Electric Light Orchestra, who added elaborate violins and cellos to their pop music. Lynne is in Los Angeles and has a chance encounter with Tom Petty. Lynne and Petty begin to talk about working together. Through this connection, Petty also meets George Harrison. The ex-Beatle has plans for a good-natured supergroup, enlisting both Petty and Lynne. Additionally, Petty’s recent work with Bob Dylan is helpful. Harrison already knows Dylan too, so he is invited along to the enterprise. Completing the act is another celebrity acquaintance of Harrison, Roy Orbison, the almost operatic pop singer from the 1950s and 1960s. The five musicians pose as a fanciful (fake) collection of siblings called The Traveling Wilburys. Petty’s tag is Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. The Traveling Wilburys’ ‘Volume One’ (1988) (US no. 3, UK no. 16, AUS no. 1) in October features contributions from all five members, though if anyone can be said to lead the troupe it is George Harrison. The aggregation is relatively brief because Roy Orbison passes away on 8 December 1988.
Tom Petty resumes work with Jeff Lynne and ‘Full Moon Fever’ (1989) (US no. 3, UK no. 8, AUS no. 13) is released as Petty’s first solo album. Actually, faithful guitarist Mike Campbell is present on many of the tracks, but the rest of The Heartbreakers are absent. If there were any fears that Jeff Lynne’s style would overpower the apparently dissimilar Petty, they are soon discarded. Lynne, who co-produces with Petty and Campbell, lets his client’s music come through loud and clear. Jeff Lynne co-writes seven of the album’s twelve tracks with Tom Petty (or eight, if a co-write with both Petty and Campbell is counted). George Harrison shows up to lend some acoustic guitar to the album’s highlight, ‘I Won’t Back Down’ (US no. 12, UK no. 28, AUS no. 16). This is a welcome return to the resolute approach of ‘Damn The Torpedoes’: “You can stand me up at the gates of hell / But I / Won’t back down.” ‘Free Fallin’’ (US no. 7, UK no. 59) is an aching acoustic piece: “She’s a good girl / S’crazy about Elvis / Loves horses / And her boyfriend too,”…and Petty’s narrator notes, “And I’m a bad boy / For breaking her heart.” These two songs are Petty-Lynne efforts. Mike Campbell joins them as co-songwriter for the headlong rock of ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ (US no. 23, UK no. 55). Aside from these songs, the best of the rest are a note-for-note recreation of The Byrds’ 1965 song ‘Feel A Whole Lot Better’ and ‘The Apartment Song’, a kooky Petty solo composition about feeling lonely.
The four surviving Wilburys reunite for their second (and final) album, the perversely titled ‘Volume 3’ (1990) (US no. 11, UK no. 14, AUS no. 14) (There is no volume two). All the fictitious brothers have changed their names for this set and Tom Petty is now Muddy Wilbury.
Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne again join forces for ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ (1991) (US no. 13, UK no. 3, AUS no. 28), but this time it is a Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers album rather than a Tom Petty ‘solo’ set. Mike Campbell shares production credit with Petty and Lynne. The single from this set is the Petty-Lynne composition ‘Learning To Fly’ (US no. 28, UK no. 46, AUS no. 44). This pairs a spiralling acoustic guitar with a sighing electric guitar. “Well the good ol’ days / May not return,” Petty acknowledges in the lyrics to this song. Half the tracks on the album are credited to Petty-Lynne, a third to Petty alone, and a couple to the songwriting triumvirate of Petty, Lynne & Campbell. The title track, ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ (US no. 92), is written by Petty and Lynne. Aside from ‘Learning To Fly’, the best moments are the songs where The Heartbreakers shift up a gear into hard rock: ‘Makin’ Some Noise’ (Petty, Lynne & Campbell) and ‘Out In The Cold’ (Petty-Lynne). The last named has the witty couplet “Did I just fall from your arms / Down in to your hands?”
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers wind up their contract with MCA with a ‘Greatest Hits’ (1993) (US no. 5, UK no. 10, AUS no. 16) set. This includes two new tracks co-produced by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Rick Rubin, the trio who will oversee the act’s next three albums. One of the new tracks is a cover version of Thunderclap Newman’s 1969 hit ‘Something In The Air’ (UK no. 53). The Petty original, ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ (US no. 14, UK no. 52), is marked by searing guitar, Tom Petty playing harmonica, and lyrics like, “Oh my my, oh hell yes / Honey, put on that party dress.”
‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ is the last outing for Stan Lynch. In 1994 Steve Ferrone assumes Stand Lynch’s role as the band’s drummer. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joins as well, bringing the band up to a six-piece.
‘Wildflowers’ (1994) (US no. 8, UK no. 36, AUS no. 38), Tom Petty’s debut at Warner Brothers, is ostensibly his second solo album after ‘Full Moon Fever’, but most of The Heartbreakers are present anyway. It is an ‘overtly acoustic and mellow collection’ that is home to ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ (US no. 13, UK no. 119), ‘You Wreck Me’ (UK no. 101) and ‘It’s Good To Be The King’ (US no. 68).
‘Songs And Music From “She’s The One”’ (1996) (US no. 15, UK no. 37), released in August, is the soundtrack to a movie starring Edward Burns.
ON 9 September 1996 Tom and Jane Petty divorce.
‘Echo’ (1999) (US no. 10, UK no. 43) is the next album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
On 3 June 2001 Tom Petty marries his second wife, Dana York. Petty first met her back in 1993. The marriage sees Petty gain a stepson, Dylan, the child of Dana York’s first marriage.
Howie Epstein is dismissed from The Heartbreakers. Epstein dies on 23 February 2003 from ‘complications due to drug use.’
‘The Last DJ’ (2002) (US no. 9, UK no. 179) is ‘a scathing attack on the corporate greed inherent in the music business.’ This set sees Ron Blair return to The Heartbreakers as their ‘new’ full-time bassist. George Drakoulias co-produces this album with Tom Petty and Mike Campbell.
‘Highway Companion’ (2006) (US no. 4, UK no. 56) is Tom Petty’s third and – so far – last solo album. It is also his last release for Warner Brothers. Jeff Lynne is recalled to act as co-producer with Petty and Mike Campbell for this disc.
Reprise Records, Tom Petty’s new home, gets a surprise with his first work for them. ‘Mudcrutch’ (2008) (US no. 8) is credited to the band of the same name, Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers outfit. Tom Petty (again on bass, rather than guitar) and fellow Heartbreakers / Mudcrutch veterans Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench are joined by old buddies Tom Leadon (vocals, guitar) and Randall Marsh (drums).
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers reconvene for ‘Mojo’ (2010) (US no. 2, UK no. 38, AUS no. 52) with Ryan Ulyate sharing production duties with Tom Petty and Mike Campbell. The album boasts a rough, ‘live’ feel. ‘Hypnotic Eye’ (2014) (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 30) is co-produced by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Ryan Ulyate. Though on individual tracks this disc experiments with such styles as blues and jazz, it is notable for putting the emphasis back on Petty’s familiar sneering rock.
Tom Petty dies on 2 October 2017. He was 66 years old. At first Petty’s death is attributed simply to a heart attack. The coroner’s report on 19 January 2018 reveals that Petty died from an accidental overdose of pain medication. His family reveals that he had been battling medical issues for a number of years. These issues included emphysema and a fractured hip sustained on his final concert tour. It was felt that this pain led to the accidental overdose.
Bankruptcy didn’t break Tom Petty. If anything, such duress only inspired him to greater heights in his music. Much of Tom Petty’s career was built around such fortitude. The damage to his right hand in 1985 could have also been equally damaging to his fortunes, but this too was survived. Changes in partners – both marital and musical – did not derail him. The distractions of working as Bob Dylan’s backing act, The Traveling Wilburys excursions, and the one-off Mudcrutch reunion, all proved to be sideshows, not career changers. If Petty’s work from the turn of the 1990s onwards was not the equal of what went before, that was a hazard associated with a lengthy career. At his best, Tom Petty fought to be free, would not back down, and proved that even the ‘losers’ got lucky sometimes. Tom Petty ‘liked hard work and stiff challenges [and this was] reflected by the high quality of his music…’ Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers ‘created a distinctively American [music] hybrid that recalled the past without being indebted to it [and]…never departed from their signature rootsy sound…’
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- adriapetty.com as at 14 October 2013
- discogs.com as at 14 October 2013
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- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 51, 64
- ‘BAM’ magazine – Tom Petty interview conducted by Blair Jackson (14 December 1979) (reproduced on thepettyarchives.com)
- ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 359
- mudcrutch.com (3 February 2008)
- wilburysinfo.disc.htm as at 14 October 2013
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Roy Orbison’ by Ken Emerson (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 157
Song lyrics copyright Gone Gator Music (ASCAP) with the exceptions of ‘You Got Lucky’, ‘Refugee’, ‘Between Two Worlds’ (all three Gone Gator Music / Wild Gator Music (ASCAP)); ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ (Gone Gator Music (ASCAP) / BMG Music); and ‘I Won’t Back Down’, ‘Free Fallin’’, ‘Learning To Fly’ (all three Gone Gator Music / EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP))
Last revised 21 January 2018