Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Synopsis of Pop Music

”And I'm free, free fallin'…”

At the age of seven, inspired by a handshake from one Elvis Presley (who was filming Follow That Dream in Florida at the time), it occurred to Tom Petty that he too wanted a little of that rock star mojo. His songs showcased everyday people, dreamers or tragic sorts who had been broken down by dreams. His band, the Heartbreakers, were perfect, powerful accompanists. Between the folk rock sound and the excellent videos, the occasional record label dispute and the reputation for stellar live shows, Petty undoubtedly got a hold of some of the very mojo he wanted as a kid.

In high school, Tom played bass for a band called the Epics, who were Beatles-inspired, right down the matching suits they wore on stage. After high school came Mudcrutch, with guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. The boys were Gainsville, Florida, favorites whose first recordings were funded by a music-loving bell pepper farmer. In 1974, Petty and his Mudcrutch cronies packed themselves up a van and headed west, making it as far as Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they signed with local label Shelter. Eventually, the label made it out to L.A. and so did the band, but after their heartbreakingly disappointing single debut, “Depot Street,” they disbanded. But Floridians of a feather flock together. Petty reunited with Campbell and Tench, added bass player Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch to their ranks, and released the album Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

The album didn’t garner much attention stateside, but in England, thanks to a smoking stint as the opening act for Nils Lofgren, they took off. When their popularity crossed back over the Atlantic, they started to sell out venues as headliners—venues that just weeks before, they were playing as supporting acts.

You’re Gonna Get It, the band’s second album, was a Top- 40 record, but the success was mitigated somewhat by Petty’s contract trouble with MCA, the parent to his Shelter label. He clung to his belief that artists should own their own songwriting copyrights, and had to file bankruptcy in ’79 thanks to this adamancy. Fortunately, the album released that year, Damn the Torpedoes, was a hit.

With Hard Promises in ’81, Petty was at odds with the MCA suits once more, because they wanted to sell the record for $9.98 instead of the regular $8.98. He organized fan protests and sat on the ready record until MCA agreed on the lower price. Later that year, Petty helped convince Del Shannon to come back to the spotlight, and produced his comeback album Drop Down and Get Me. He also wrote “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” for himself and Stevie Nicks. Following the 1982 release of Long After Dark, Rob Blair, tired of touring, left the band and was replaced by John Hiatt player, Howie Epstein.

The three years in the making of Southern Accents (with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart producing) proved difficult, and instead of record company stiffs, Petty found himself doing battle against plaster and white paint…the mixing of the record was going so badly one day that a frustrated Petty punched a wall and badly broke his hand. He was told he might never play guitar again, but these are the hands that shook Elvis’, remember, and with a metal rod inserted, he could soon strum again. Backing their “Don’t Come Around Here No More” single was the widely-played Alice in Wonderland-inspired video, wherein rockers invaded Alice's haunt and wreaked cake-eating rocker havoc. Hand healed, Petty and the Heartbreakers toured as an opening act for Bob Dylan, regaining the spirit and momentum that the album’s long gestation had milked out of them.

In 1987, a fire destroyed Petty’s Los Angeles home, but that loss seems to not have dampened things for him. The following year, as alter ego “Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr.,” Petty joined George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne as the Traveling Wilburys. Jeff Lynn went on to produce Petty’s first solo effort, Full Moon Fever, to great commercial success thanks to singles like “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty reunited with the Heartbreakers for 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open, another patented ‘middle eights’-laden triumph. Rick Rubin produced two tracks for 1993’s Greatest Hits, which connected younger audiences to his older work. After this release, Petty was contractually able to leave the MCA label for Warner Bros.' greener pastures, leading to albums like 1994's Wildflowers and 1999's Echo.

Petty scored his first movie, She’s the One, in 1996. He plays in numerous charity concerts, and insists that charity booths be able to flaunt their cause-devoted wares at his shows. Look out walls and look out anybody who thinks twenty years of music is all a good ole’ northern Florida boy had coming to him…this guy always comes out swinging.

Artist Release History

1976 – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
1978 – You’re Gonna Get It
1979 – Damn the Torpedoes
1981 – Hard Promises
1982 – Long After Dark
1985 – Southern Accents
1985 – Pack Up the Plantation (Live)
1987 – Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)
1989 – Full Moon Fever
1991 – Into the Great Wide Open
1993 – Greatest Hits
1994 – Wildflowers
1995 – Playback
1996 – She’s the One
1999 - Echo

Pop Sub Categories


Essential Music Albums

Greatest Hits (MCA)

Band Members

Tom Petty vocals, guitar
Mike Campbell guitar
Howard Epstein bass
Benmont Tench keyboards
Stan Lynch drums

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