Thomas Earl "Tom" Petty (born October 20, 1950) is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He is the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and was a founding member of the late 1980s supergroup Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch. He has also performed under the pseudonyms of Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. and Muddy Wilbury.
He has recorded a number of hit singles with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist, many of which remain heavily played on adult contemporary and classic rock radio. His music, and notably his hits, have become popular among younger generations as he continues to host sold-out shows. Throughout his career, Petty and his collaborators have sold 60 million albums.
Childhood and early life
Tom Petty was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, and attended Gainesville High School. His interest in rock and roll music began at age 10 when he met Elvis Presley. In the summer of 1961, his uncle was working on the set of Presley's film Follow That Dream in nearby Ocala, Florida and invited Petty to come down and watch the shoot. He instantly became an Elvis Presley fan and soon traded his Wham-O slingshot for a box of Elvis 45s. In a 2006 interview on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air, Petty said that he knew he wanted to be in a band the moment he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. One of his first guitar teachers was Don Felder, a fellow Gainesville resident, who would later join the Eagles. As a young man, Petty worked briefly on the grounds crew for the University of Florida, but never attended as a student. An Ogeechee lime tree that he planted while employed at the University is now called the Tom Petty tree.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976–1987)
Shortly after forming his musical aspirations, Petty started a band known as the Epics, later to evolve into Mudcrutch. Although the band, which featured future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, were popular in Gainesville, their recordings went unnoticed by a mainstream audience. However, their only single, "Depot Street", remains popular amongst fans. The original Mudcrutch included guitarist Danny Roberts who was later replaced by bass guitarist Charlie Souza.
After Mudcrutch split up, Petty reluctantly agreed to pursue a solo career. Tench decided to form his own group, whose sound Petty appreciated. Eventually, Petty and Campbell collaborated with Tench and fellow members Ron Blair and Stan Lynch, resulting in the first line-up of the Heartbreakers. Their first album, simply titled Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, gained minute popularity amongst American audiences, achieving more success in Britain. The single "Breakdown" was re-released in 1977 and peaked at #40 in early 1978 after the band toured in the United Kingdom in support of Nils
Lofgren. The debut album was released by Shelter Records, which at that time was distributed by ABC Records.
Their second album, You're Gonna Get It!, marked the band's first Top 40 album and featured the singles "I Need to Know" and "Listen To Her Heart". Their third album, Damn the Torpedoes, quickly went platinum, selling nearly two million copies; it includes their breakthrough singles "Don't Do Me Like That", "Here Comes My Girl" and "Refugee".
In September 1979, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at a Musicians United for Safe Energy concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. Their rendition of "Cry To Me" was featured on the resulting No Nukes album.
1981's Hard Promises became a top-ten hit, going platinum and spawning the hit single "The Waiting". The album also featured Petty's first duet, "Insider" with Stevie Nicks.
Bass player Ron Blair quit the group, and was replaced on the fifth album (1982's Long After Dark) by Howie Epstein; the resulting line-up would last until 1994. In 1985, the band participated in Live Aid, playing four songs at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium. Southern Accents was also released in 1985. This album included the hit single "Don't Come Around Here No More", which was produced by Dave Stewart. The song's video featured Petty dressed as the Mad Hatter, mocking and chasing Alice from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, then cutting and eating her as if she were a cake. The ensuing tour led to the live album Pack Up the Plantation: Live! and to an invitation from Bob Dylan; Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers joined him on his True Confessions Tour and also played some dates with the Grateful Dead in 1986 and 1987. Also in 1987, the group released Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) which includes "Jammin' Me" which Petty wrote with Dylan.
Traveling Wilburys, solo career, and "return" to the Heartbreakers (1988–1991)
In 1988, Petty became a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys, along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. The band's first song, "Handle With Care", was intended as a B-side of one of Harrison's singles, but was judged too good for that purpose and the group decided to record a full album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. A second Wilburys album, mischievously titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 and recorded without the recently deceased Orbison, followed in 1990. The album was named Vol. 3 as a response to a series of bootlegged studio sessions being sold as Travelling Wilburys Vol. 2. In recent years, Petty has begun to incorporate Travelling Wilburys songs into his live shows, consistently playing "Handle With Care" in shows from 2003–2006, and for his 2008 tour making "End of the Line" a staple of his setlist.
In 1989, Petty released Full Moon Fever, which featured hits "I Won't Back Down", "Free Fallin'" and "Runnin' Down a Dream". It was nominally his first solo album, although several Heartbreakers and other well-known musicians participated: Mike Campbell co-produced the album with Petty and Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, and backing musicians included Campbell, Lynne, and fellow Wilburys Roy Orbison and George Harrison (Ringo Starr appears on drums in the video for "I Won't Back Down", but they were actually performed by Phil Jones). Since all the original Traveling Wilburys except Bob Dylan participated on the album, it is sometimes considered the unofficial Traveling Wilbury's "Volume Two".
Petty & the Heartbreakers reformed in 1991 and released Into the Great Wide Open, which was co-produced by Lynne and included the hit singles "Learning To Fly" and "Into The Great Wide Open", the latter featuring Johnny Depp, Gabrielle Anwar, Faye Dunaway, and Matt LeBlanc in the video.
Before leaving MCA Records, Tom and the Heartbreakers got together to record, live in the studio, two new songs for a Greatest Hits package. "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air". This was Stan Lynch's last recorded performance with The Heartbreakers. Tom commented "He left right after the session without really saying goodbye." The package went on to sell over ten million copies, therefore receiving diamond certification by the RIAA.
Move to Warner Bros. Records (1991–present)
In 1989, while still under contract to MCA, Petty secretly signed a lucrative deal with Warner Bros. Records, to which the Traveling Wilburys had been signed. His first album on his new label, 1994's Wildflowers (Petty's 2nd of 3 solo albums), included the singles "You Don't Know How It Feels", "You Wreck Me," "It's Good to Be King" and "A Higher Place". The album, produced by Rick Rubin, sold over three million copies in the U.S.
In 1996, Petty, with the Heartbreakers, released a soundtrack to the movie She's the One, starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston (see Songs and Music from "She's the One"). The album's singles were "Walls (Circus)" (featuring Lindsey Buckingham), "Climb that Hill" and a song written by Lucinda Williams, "Change the Locks." The album also included a cover of "Asshole," a song by Beck. The same year, the band accompanied Johnny Cash on Unchained, for which Cash would win a Grammy for Best Country Album (Cash would later cover Petty's "I Won't Back Down" on American III: Solitary Man).
In 1999, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers released their last album with Rubin at the helm, Echo. Two songs were released as singles in the U.S., "Room at the Top" and "Free Girl Now". The album reached number 10 in the U.S. album charts.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played "I Won't Back Down" at the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert for victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The following year, they played "Taxman", "I Need You", and "Handle With Care" (joined for the last by Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison, and Jim Keltner) at the Concert for George in honor of Petty's friend and former bandmate George Harrison.
2002's The Last DJ included several attacks on the music industry, criticizing it for greed, watering down music, and releasing pop music made by scantily-clad young women and reached number 9 on the U.S. charts. Tom has commented though that he didn't like being called "bitter" by the media and that The Last DJ is full of hope, if you look for it.
In 2005, Petty began hosting his own show "Buried Treasure" on XM Radio, on which he shares selections from his personal record collection.
In February 2006, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers agreed to be the headline act at the fifth annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Following that announcement came the itinerary for Tom & the Heartbreakers' "30th Anniversary Tour". Special guests included Stevie Nicks, Pearl Jam, The Allman Brothers, Trey Anastasio, The Derek Trucks Band, and The Black Crowes (who also opened for Petty on their 2005 Summer Tour). Stevie Nicks would join Tom and the Heartbreakers on stage for renditions of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and "Insider," and "I Need to Know" where Nicks took the lead vocal spot. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam also joined Tom and the Heartbreakers on stage at some shows where Vedder sang the lead on "The Waiting" (which is available on the Runnin' Down a Dream package: bonus features) and a verse in the concert-closer "American Girl".
In July 2006, Petty released a new solo album titled Highway Companion, which included the hit "Saving Grace". It debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200, becoming Petty's highest chart position since the introduction of the Nielsen SoundScan system for tracking album sales in 1991. Highway Companion was briefly promoted on the "30th Anniversary Tour" with the Heartbreakers in 2006 with performances of "Saving Grace", "Square One", "Down South," and "Flirting with Time".
In 2006, the American Broadcasting Company hired Petty to do the music for its National Basketball Association playoffs coverage.
During the summer of 2007, Petty reunited with his old bandmates Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh along with Heartbreakers Benmont Tench & Mike Campbell to reform his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch. The band originally formed in 1967 in Gainesville, Florida before relocating to California where they released one single in 1974 before breaking up. The quintet recorded this self titled new album of fourteen songs that was released on April 29, 2008 (on iTunes, an additional song "Special Place" was available if the album was pre-ordered). The band supported the album with a brief tour of California in the spring of 2008.
In 2007, artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz and Paul McCartney paid tribute to Fats Domino on the double-CD covers set Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino. The album's sales helped buy instruments for students in New Orleans public schools and they contributed to the building of a community center in the city’s Hurricane Katrina-damaged Ninth Ward. Tom and the Heartbreakers contributed a critically acclaimed cover of “I'm Walkin'" to the package.
In January 2008, it was announced that the band would be embarking on a North American Tour which was set to start on May 30 following the appearance at Super Bowl XLII. Steve Winwood served as the opening act, who joined Petty and the Heartbreakers on stage at select shows, starting on June 6, 2008 in Philadelphia, PA. Winwood's Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Loving" was performed and occasionally his Blind Faith hit "Can't Find My Way Home" was performed before it.
On February 3, 2008, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed during the halftime-show of Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium. They played "American Girl", "I Won't Back Down", "Free Fallin'", and "Runnin' Down a Dream", in that order. 'I Won't Back Down' was used in the closing credits of the coverage on BBC Two.
Petty has been managed by Tony Dimitriades since 1976.
Petty's first appearance in film took place in 1978, when he had a cameo in FM. He later had a small part in 1987's Made in Heaven, and appeared in several episodes of It's Garry Shandling's Show between 1987 and 1990, playing himself as one of Garry Shandling's neighbors. Petty was also featured in Shandling's other show, The Larry Sanders Show, as one of the Story within a story final guests. In the episode, Petty gets bumped from the show and nearly comes to blows with Greg Kinnear.
Petty appeared in the 1997 movie The Postman, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, as The Bridge City Mayor (from the dialogue it is implied that he is playing a future version of himself).
In 2002, he appeared on The Simpsons in the episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation". In it, he spoofed himself as a "tutor" to Homer Simpson on the art of lyric writing, composing a brief song about a drunk girl driving down the road while concerned with the state of public schools. Later in the episode, he loses a toe during a riot.
Petty had a recurring role as the voice of Elroy "Lucky" Kleinschmidt in the animated comedy series King of the Hill.
In 2008, Petty made a guest appearance as himself in the Comedy Central show Lil Bush's season 2 finale. He is asked to write a song for Bush and his cronies. At the end, he is shown riding off into the sunset in a flying car alongside Iggy Pop, who is a regular voice actor on the people.
In 2010, Petty made a 5-second cameo appearance with comedian Andy Samberg in a musical video titled "Great Day" featured on the bonus DVD as part of Lonely Island's new album "Turtleneck & Chain". In this video, Samberg plays an enthusiastic, upbeat cocaine addict who believes that Alec Baldwin (who also co-stars) and Tom Petty are his very best friends--only to be quickly rejected by both. After finding out the hard way they are quite the opposite and feeling heartbroken, the addict then briefly sings about losing them.
Petty's career has been a long hard slog to the top, which he well deserves for all the hard work and time put in. He's been blessed with constant companionship with excellent musicians to help get his message across, and his laid-back style suits his music to a T. His cartoon voice-overs for "King Of The Hill" as Lucky cracks me up. It's a perfect depiction of the real Tom.
Tomorrow we feature yet another of my favorites, whether it be music or audio, so keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!