Stockton Record — May 1, 2008

Tom Petty Revisits Mudcrutch
By Tony Sauro
Stockton Record — May 1, 2008

Perhaps only Tom Petty would – or could – try something like this. And make it work.

Petty, one of rock music’s most durable and dependable artists, has sold 50 million albums in his 32-year career with and without the Heartbreakers. Uncompromising with regard to his music, he’s consistently defied record industry protocols and done things his way.

In 1997, he and the Heartbreakers played for 20 nights at San Francisco’s 1,100-capacity Fillmore, joyfully recapturing the energy, intimacy and spontaneity of their youth. Now, he’s paid homage to those days and nights as a teenage dreamer in Gainesville, Fla., by actually reforming his first band, Mudcrutch. At least for one album.

No rock musician of his stature ever has done anything like this. Most of their egos are too big.

“Mudcrutch” – labeled “the debut album” on the packaging in a nicely nostalgic touch – was released Tuesday, four decades after the group broke up when its initial attempt at stardom in Hollywood failed.

Petty, 57, didn’t need to do this. He and the Heartbreakers, after playing at halftime of the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, will start a summer tour May 30.

He said he merely responded to a “random thought” and did it. A brief West Coast Mudcrutch tour, including April 16-17 shows at the Fillmore, sold out in a heartbeat.

To rekindle the spirit of their bar-band days, the 57-minute album’s 14 tracks were recorded in a live studio setting at Petty’s San Fernando Valley rehearsal space, with most of the songs being written during the 10-day session.

Two members of Mudcrutch – guitar player Mike Campbell, 58, and keyboard player Benmont Tench, 54 – are charter Heartbreakers. Drummer Randall Marsh, 58, and singer-guitarist Tom Leadon, 55, both teachers, said they were pleasantly shocked when Petty called with his surprising proposition. (Leadon’s brother, Bermie, was a founding member of the Eagles.)

On “Mudcrutch,” they sound like they never stopped playing together. Petty even goes back to being the bass player, instead of a Byrds-influenced guitarist, and lets Leadon and Tench sing some lead vocals.

Though “Mudcrutch” includes more wisps of folk, country and bluegrass, it actually sounds like a worthy Petty-Heartbreakers album, absent the ringing anthems of the early years.

They revisit their beer-bar days by romping through “Six Days on the Road,” an old honky-tonker popularized by Dave Dudley (1963), and salute Roger McGuinn, whose guitar chime was an initial inspiration, with a gnarly version of the Byrds’ “Lover of the Bayou” (circa 1970).

It’ll be interesting to see if Petty includes any of these Mudcrutch tunes – the loping “Scare Easy” is a natural – during the Heartbreakers’ summer tour.

It would be the first time members of such a major-league rock band played cover versions of their own songs.

No doubt, though, it would be a lot of fun.

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