My three favorite artists are Cheap Trick, Prince & Tom Petty (in ALL of his incarnations). And, if I were to sprinkle in some R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates and Talking Heads, you would have the backbone of my music collection. To some, those artists make for an odd menagerie. But, for me, it’s all normal and logical. Today, I would like to focus on Tom Petty.
I discovered Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers back in 1978 on the FM Soundtrack. Now, while the movie was the typical “let’s stick it to the Man!” message of the Seventies, the soundtrack was the first collection of songs that we would now call Classic Rock. The album had songs from such west coast mainstays as Steely Dan, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffett, Eagles, among many others that were standards at the time and are still today. At the time, any record that had Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” on it had to be a classic. At the time, and still today, I was hooked on the song. But the song that changed my listening habits forever was “Breakdown”, the now-classic song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That three-minute slice of bluesy rock was different than anything else being played on the Indianapolis radio. And I wanted, or was it needed, more.
Over the next year, I became a huge fan of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers after acquiring his first three albums: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, You’re Gonna Get It and, a gift from my second family down the streets, the Dunwiddies, Damn the Torpedoes. I was now on my way to become a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fan.
Petty with the Heartbreakers is a rock and roll machine, rhythmically based in the rock lessons of late-Sixties era Rolling Stones, mixed with the jangling guitars of the Byrds and the melodicism of The Beatles. The motto, as expressed by long-time guitarist Mike Campbell has always been “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” And the band has lived by that credo throughout their career.
However, it was by the late Eighties that Petty had an itch to scratch. That itch was creating a solo career. Now, this solo career would still hold on to Petty’s basic songwriting sense, but it would allow him to scratch his inner Bob Dylan and Neil Young itches that he wanted to scratch. Where Petty with the Heartbreakers was a full-born blast of American rock and roll, solo Petty was more of a songwriting and singing troubadour living out a rocking folkie dream of creating music. And, some of his most powerful music he ever created was done so as a solo artists. C’mon! Just ask yourself, would have the album Wildflowers been as powerful as a full-fledged Heartbreakers album? No, because some of the intimacy of that album would have been lost in the Heartbreakers’ bombast.
Still, little did we know that lurking in Petty’s psyche was a third voice. And that voice included his original early-Seventies band Mudcrutch. You see, Petty and Campbell arrived in Los Angeles in the early Seventies to land Mudcrutch a recording contract. Instead, Petty got the contract, and he created the Heartbreakers as his backing band. As the years past, Mudcrutch became a fading memory. That is, until 2008, when Petty wrote some songs that seemed suited for his original band. So, he gathered his old mates: Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, along with guitarist Tom Leadon, brother of former Eagle Bernie Leadon, and drummer Randall Marsh. This configuration allowed Petty to move back to first love, the bass guitar.
Now, Mudcrutch was the third portion of Petty’s musical talent. Where the Heartbreakers were rock side and solo Petty was more of his folkie side, Mudcrutch was his country rock side. Now, I am NOT defining country rock in the sense of the Eagles but more along the lines of Gram Parsons’ vision, though with more leanings on the rock portion. These guys were all Southerns, raised on both rock and country, and were FINALLY ready to put it all together in a way that they just missed upon back in the early-Seventies.
In 2008, Mudcrutch released their first album, a full 35 years later than they had expected too. That album was a group’s typical tentative first album. We played it, enjoyed it and then put it back in the collection to gather dust. Oh sure, occasionally I’d pull it out and play it, but to be honest, I still preferred his third solo album from two years earlier than this Mudcrutch thing. And, then, he started back up with the Heartbreakers, in the configuration that most people prefer.
So, after the first Mudcrutch album, called Mudcrutch, was released in 2008, Petty performed at the Super Bowl, where he and the Heartbreakers killed the audience. He and the Heartbreakers released a couple of very good, working man’s American rock and roll.
But, I was NOT ready for what he would drop on us this Spring of 2016: a new Mudcrutch album. And, this thing was NOT a Petty ego project but an actual band effort. Oh, sure, Petty wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. But, when you have one of history’s greatest rock song writers, you tend to want him to bask in the glow of his muse and fire off tailor-made songs. But, Petty encourage the others to write, and they responded with some of the best country-rock music of the 21st Century. This album actually seems like a band working together to create their finest music to date. Now, finally, Mudcrutch was becoming Tom Petty’s third personality. Mudcrutch is soothing and laid-back. They are not fighting for a position in the rock hierarchy, but simply enjoying each others company in order to create some of the finest music of their career, Petty included. My favorite Petty songs are an old number called “Trailers”, another song, “Beautiful Blue”. But, it is the songs written by the other band members that give this album is depth and beauty. Randall Marsh contributed the enjoyable “Beautiful World” and Tom Leadon wrote the banjo-rocking “The Other Side of the Mountain”. And the two Heartbreakers even got into the act, as Tench contributed the rockabilly-styled “Welcome to Hell” and Campbell threw in his own rocking “Victim of Circumstances”.
And, Petty, being the consummate team player, writes songs that allow his bandmates’ songs to seamlessly blend together with his contributions being found between the others. This album is so much fun that you can envision the guys hanging out in a garage, reliving their long lost youth. The new Mudcrutch album, the appropriately titled Mudcrutch 2, is easily Petty’s best album of the 20-teens.
Mudcrutch has created an album that was made for American barbecues, cookouts and summer parties. Put it out and just enjoy!