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Remembering Tom Petty: Mudcrutch’s Second Encore

Larson Sutton | October 20, 2017


Today would have been Tom Petty's 67th birthday. In honor of the legendary singer-songwriter, who passed away early this month, we're looking back to our summer 2016 feature on Petty and his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, who reunited in recent years and released their second studio album, 2, last year. This piece was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Relix.

It's a soggy Southern California afternoon, and the members of Mudcrutch are enjoying a well-deserved break during a long press day at Warner Bros. Records. Mike Campbell counters the gloom outside with a bright, five-note melody on a nearby piano. The two Toms—Leadon and Petty—inspect a multicolored spread of sliced and chunked fresh fruit. Randall Marsh thumbs through a cardboard box of vinyl LPs. With the feigned tone of an interrogator, Benmont Tench questions Leadon’s fruit choice. “Where did you get that?” he asks. “Is that a Nashville banana?”

These are little diversions before the five musicians gather themselves, sitting comfortably on three couches for one last group interview. In a few weeks, Mudcrutch will release 2, the follow-up to the belated eponymous debut they issued in 2008—33 years after their original label let them go and they quickly disbanded. Despite releasing a live EP shortly after Mudcrutch, another eight years have already passed since the group’s improbable 21st-century reunion.

“We didn’t get dropped,” Petty, who handles bass duties and lead vocals in Mudcrutch, says of the lag time between albums, to laughs around the room. “It’s amazing.”

The notion that a group containing Petty, Campbell and Tench—three-fifths of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers —could actually be in jeopardy of losing its record deal accounts for considerable irony. But this is, after all, 2016. The music industry business model is in a perpetual state of flux and there are few, if any, guarantees.

Mudcrutch were Petty’s band before the band. They coalesced around Gainesville, Fla., in 1970, had some success playing bluesy country-rock on the local Southern rock circuit, relocated to Los Angeles in 1974, released an ill-fated single on Shelter Records and parted ways before Petty’s 26th birthday. Though Petty included a Mudcrutch track on a 1995 box set, the first time many of the most hardcore Heartbreakers fanatics heard about the quintet was when they regrouped in 2007 and released the well-received full-length debut that proved they were still capable of making great music. So, what’s an eight-year hiatus when the first one lasted over three decades?