(Featured video, Tom Petty’s final concert in September at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on their 40th-anniversary tour).
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first started recording at a time that lots of folks couldn’t quite “place” their music into a certain genre.
The group’s first, self-titled album came out in 1976 to little notice…at first. But a full 18 months the song “Breakdown” found its way into the American Top 40 for one week.
Still, it was clear that Tom Petty had what it took to be force in music. Great guitar and a primal new sound that was appealing.
Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida just a skip and a jump from the Deep South and his interest in becoming a musician started with being on an Elvis Presley movie set as a kid where Presley came over and nodded to him. Petty said at that moment he became a convert and wanted to make music.
Petty was a “tender, emotional kid,” as he put it, unlike his tough as nails father. Petty told a journalist once “He was really hard on me. He wanted me to be a lot more macho than I was.”
Regardless of criticism, Petty knew he had to follow his musical dream and started to write songs, grow his hair and seek out other players.
Fast forward to the 70’s and his band called Mudcrutch. A band that would have some members (like guitarist Mike Campbell, and keyboardist Benmont Tench) move forward with Petty into the Heartbreakers later on.
Mudcrutch went to L.A. in the hope of getting a recording contract and through impressive determination called up everyone in person out of the phone book, eventually getting an offer from London Records that they planned to take until they got a chance call from another label called Shelter, who wanted to engage them instead.
They decided to go for it and met producer Denny Cordell, a guy who had worked with some impressive talent like Procol Harum and Joe Cocker. The result? They canceled their London offer and decided to work with Cordell.
It was a rough start and the Mudcrutch album was a flop. The label only wanted Tom as a solo artist after that, but, in the end Petty emerged with several band members, in a new formation now called the Heartbreakers. They put together Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The band got some notice but nothing major until a New Wave station in L.A., the mighty KROQ, began to play the album.
The Heartbreakers’ second album was basically done before the first one broke. You’re Gonna Get It had a couple of great tunes that got some airplay, but didn’t really go anywhere. Then Petty met up with record producer Jimmy Iovine, and Damn the Torpedoes dropped with singles like “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee”.
Petty’s unique voice, songwriting and guitar style combined with a great band made for a winning combination. Torpedoes went multiplatinum and from there Tom became a star. Many successful endeavours would happen after that including other great albums and new projects like the Traveling Wilburys and solo work like Full Moon Fever that featured big hits like “Free Fallin’, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “I Won’t Back Down.” A decade on from Torpedoes, with 5 million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
Tom Petty died on Monday of cardiac arrest at the age of 66, having toured on and off with his band, the Heartbreakers, right until the end which included their 40th anniversary tour at the Hollywood Bowl in September.
A true rock legend that will not be forgotten.
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