Tom Petty & The Band Before the Heartbreakers

If you excavate the history of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, you'll eventually hit the story of Mudcrutch. This Gainesville, Fla., rock band emerged in 1970 from Petty's primordial combos, The Sundowners and The Epics. And somehow, Mudcrutch is still alive.

Petty has deep connections to the players. The original lead singer, Jim Lenehan - who wore an eye patch for effect - has been doing Petty's lighting ever since he was replaced. A newspaper want-ad brought drummer Randall Marsh to the band, as well as his roommate, Mike Campbell. (The band name would later be lent to Mudcrutch Farm, the tin-roofed shack where Marsh and Campbell lived.) Petty still tells with great amusement how Campbell informally auditioned with a cheap Japanese guitar to play Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." As Petty recalled for Paul Zollo in "Conversations With Tom Petty," "When the song ended, we said, 'You're in the band, man.' " Mudcrutch was rounded out by guitarist Tom Leadon, whose brother Bernie helped found the Eagles, and Benmont Tench, who Petty convinced to drop out of college to join the band full time.

Shelter Records' Denny Cordell lured Mudcrutch from Los Angles to a Tulsa, Okla., studio to record an album that was never released. Discouraged, Mudcrutch disbanded, but soon Petty and Campbell were invited to play with Tench's nascent band - and soon The Heartbreakers were born.

Mudcrutch re-formed in 2007 with Petty, Marsh, Leadon and Tench. A self-titled album, a short tour (and live EP) and a documentary arrived in 2008. Petty says a new release is coming in a few months. 

-Fred Schruers


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