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Earl "Tom" Petty 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, notably his hits, has become popular
among younger generations as he continues to host sold-out shows.
Throughout his career, Petty and his collaborators have sold 60 million
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, although 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
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
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.
Petty is known as a staunch guardian of his creative control and
artistic freedom. In 1979, he was dragged into a legal dispute when ABC
Records was sold to MCA Records. He refused to be transferred to another
record label without his consent. In May 1979, he filed for bankruptcy
and was signed to the new MCA subsidiary Backstreet Records.
In early 1981, the upcoming Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, which
would become Hard Promises, was slated to be the next MCA release with
the new list price of $9.98, following Steely Dan's Gaucho and the
Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Xanadu soundtrack. This
so-called "superstar pricing" was $1.00 more than the usual list price
of $8.98. Petty voiced his objections to the price hike in the press and
the issue became a popular cause among music fans. Non-delivery of the
album and naming it Eight Ninety-Eight were considered, but eventually
MCA decided against the price increase.
In 1987, Petty sued tire company B.F. Goodrich for $1 million for using
a song very similar to his song "Mary's New Car" in a TV commercial. The
ad agency that produced the commercial had previously sought permission
to use Petty's song but was refused. A judge issued a temporary
restraining order prohibiting further use of the ad and the suit was
later settled out of court.
Some have claimed that the Red Hot Chili Peppers single "Dani
California", released in May 2006, is very similar to Petty's Mary
Jane's Last Dance. Petty told Rolling Stone, "I seriously doubt that
there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock 'n' roll songs
sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry. The Strokes took 'American Girl' [for
their song 'Last Nite'], and I saw an interview with them where they
actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, 'OK, good
for you' ... If someone took my song note for note and stole it
maliciously, then maybe [I'd sue]. But I don't believe in lawsuits much.
I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without
people fighting over pop songs."