On this day in 1952, rocker Tom Petty was born in Gainesville, Fla. Petty's million-selling
albums and such hit singles as "Free Fallin'," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "Refugee"
have been inspired by the likes of Buddy Holly, Del Shannon and the Byrds and have
established Petty as a leading purveyor of well-crafted, mainstream rock.
Petty, whose father was an insurance salesman, formed his first band, the Sundowners,
later called the Epics, after leaving high school in 1968. Then he joined Mudcrutch, a top
Florida band whose first demos were financed by a bell-pepper farmer in 1971.
In 1974, Petty went to Los Angeles to shop around a Mudcrutch demo. He received a
great deal of interest from many labels and signed with Shelter Records. After recording
an LP that wasn't released, Mudcrutch disbanded.
Petty then formed the Heartbreakers with Mudcrutchers Mike Campbell (guitar) and
Benmont Tench (keyboards), and bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Shelter
released their first album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which included
"American Girl" and the band's U.S. singles-chart debut, "Breakdown," in 1976.
Part of the attention the group attracted derived from the roots-rock quality of the music,
particularly since it emerged at a time when heavy metal and progressive rock were at
their height. Petty's music, which caught on first in the U.K. because of a successful tour
there, was a hybrid of British Invasion pop, garage rock and singer/songwriter folk-rock.
Petty and the Heartbreakers' second album, You're Gonna Get It (1978), broke
into the top 40 of the Billboard 200 albums chart. But then Shelter was bought by
MCA Records, with which Petty was unable to renegotiate his contract. He filed for
bankruptcy in 1979, before signing with Backstreet, an MCA subsidiary.
Petty's next LP, Damn the Torpedoes (1979), was his commercial breakthrough.
Two smash hits, "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Refugee," drove the LP to #2 in the U.S.,
where it stayed for seven weeks.
In 1981, Petty issued the top-10 Hard Promises. That same year he wrote (and
sang on) Stevie Nicks' top-5 hit "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and produced an
album by Del Shannon.
The Heartbreakers changed course on Southern Accents (1985). Influenced by
the producer, the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, the band infused the record with attempts at
soul, country and psychedelia. Petty and his band toured with Bob Dylan in 1986; Dylan,
in turn, participated in "Jammin' Me," the Heartbreakers' first single from the 1987 album
Let Me Up (I've Had Enough). The album produced no other hits.
In 1988, Petty became part of the Traveling Wilburys, the name given by Great Britain's
Prince Charles to a hastily assembled supergroup that also included Dylan, ex-Beatle
George Harrison, rock crooner Roy Orbison and ex-ELO member Jeff Lynne. The
Wilburys' debut paved the way for Petty's first "solo" album, Full Moon Fever
(1989). Produced by Lynne, the disc invigorated Petty's career. It reached multi-platinum
status and yielded three hits: "I Won't Back Down," "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "Free
The Heartbreakers' next release was the platinum Into the Great Wide Open
(1991), which reinforced Petty's talent for making MTV-friendly videos, thereby extending
his career momentum. The solo Wildflowers appeared on Warner Bros. Records
in 1994 and was just as successful as Fever, spawning hits such as "You Don't
Know How It Feels." Petty and the Heartbreakers' most recent release was the 1996 film
soundtrack She's the One.
Stevie Nicks recently explained Petty's appeal to Rolling Stone: "Tom is my
favorite writer. ... I feel like there's a part of Tom's writing that I relate so easily to."
Other birthdays: Jay Siegel (Tokens), 59; Ric Lee (Ten Years After), 53; Mark King
(Level 42), 40; David Ryan (ex-Lemonheads), 34; Jim Sonefeld (Hootie and the
Blowfish), 34; Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), 33; and Snoop Dogg, 26.