OA Rock Column Aug. 21, 2009
Tom Petty and company did Gainesville, Fla., proud
With all due respect to the Florida Gators, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of Gainesville, Fla., is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, either solo or together. Most of the members of the Heartbreakers came from the band Mudcrutch, originally formed in 1970 with Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Tom Leadon, whose brother, Bernie, was one of the original members of the Eagles.
Petty recently brought Mudcrutch back together for a terrific self-titled 2008 release.
“Back to Breakdown” was the first exposure that I had to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and I was captivated by its originality. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1976 right at the end of the greatest 20 years of rock ’n’ roll ever, and right at the beginning of the disco craze.
“You’re Gonna Get It,” from 1978, was the band’s second record and it rocked much harder than their first recording, leading some to say that their music bordered on punk.
They also said that about the Cars, but I am not sure what “they” were listening to. Maybe too much Clash?
To my ears, the Cars and the Heartbreakers were just good rock ’n’ roll bands who were trying to keep rock alive in the late 1970s.
On another note about “You’re Gonna Get It” and particularly track No. 4, “I Need to Know,” Kenda and I were living in a duplex around that time and I vaguely recall a stereo war with the folks living above us and thanks to Tom and the boys, we were victorious.
When Petty’s third album, “Damn the Torpedoes,” was released in 1979, I was working at Smokestack Records on North Fifth Street. Joe Bradley was the manager at that time and he played that record and nothing else that entire day. In an eight-hour work shift, I went from curiosity to familiarity to contempt for the recording that really put Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the rock ’n’ roll map.
I finally recovered to the point of realizing how great that recording is. This classic record, which was a mix of new songs with some of the original Mudcrutch songs, featured “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Complex Kid,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Even the Losers” and the classic “Refugee.”
In 1988, Tom Petty was part of the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Now, there is no way that you could be in a band with Harrison, Dylan and Orbison and not have some of their magic rub off on you. In my opinion, Tom Petty’s songwriting and therefore his music was more consistent
and of higher quality after his work with the Wilburys than before that time, and the proof is in the pudding.
“Full Moon Fever” from 1989, “Wildflowers” from 1994, 1999’s “Echo” and 2006’s “Highway Companion” are four of their five best records, with the other being “Damn the Torpedoes.” Mudcrutch’s 2008 release, which is basically Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Tom Leadon, should also be on that list. I once had a customer tell me that Tom Petty sucked. I felt inclined to break rule No. 1 and told them that you may not like him, but Tom Petty doesn’t suck. In fact, I think that he is great!