TOM PETTY: Purity and Passion

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

I asked him what it was like to hear his song on the radio. He answered, “Oh man, it was such a gas. Such a gas.” The band began presenting their own festivals in a field behind the shack where Randall and Mike lived. (Tom still lived at home, but used it just as a place to crash.) Tom and the boys reckoned that if they put up some posters and got some other bands on the bill, they could have a successful rock event. And it worked. Several thousand people flocked to the show. Following the first festival, some local promoters proposed the idea of doing another one, for which they enlisted many bands. It was also a massive success. The cops showed up, but knew if they attempted to shut down the show the crowd might become a mob and riot. Afterwards, Mike and Randall were told they were being evicted. Figuring at that point that they had nothing to lose, they held a third festival, which also was an immense success. “…that was the key to our success,” said Tom. “We became really famous around town, and when we played, a lot of people came. Before that, we used to play at Dub’s. We would play there six nights a week. Five sets a night. Got a hundred bucks a piece a week.”

The Dub’s gig did more for them than generate money. It also taught them how to be a band. But at Dub’s, the crowd wanted covers, and Tom yearned to play his own songs. So to get around this problem, he would say, “Here’s one by Santana,” and play an original.

Tom and the band increasingly felt they were on a merry-go-round, playing all the same places over and again. “So that’s when California came into the picture,” he said. “… we were constantly just trying to keep enough gigs to pay the rent, and keep working. But we could see it wasn’t going anywhere. How big can you get in Gainesville? We had certainly hit the top of the ladder there. We were probably even then the most famous band in Gainesville…  I still meet people who tell me they saw Mudcrutch. But we knew we had to break out of there.”

So, along with their girlfriends, the members of Mudcrutch piled into a van, and headed west to California. It was a momentous trip for Tom, who had never been west of the Mississippi. He delighted in simple pleasures along the way, such as the sighting of real cacti.

The first day that they arrived in Hollywood, the group – led by Tom – began dropping in on record companies with their tape. Tom said he felt that it didn’t matter if he got rejected; he only needed one company to say yes.

“The only addresses we had,” he said, “we’d written down from record ads in Rolling Stone. And I was trying to find some more, so I went into Ben Frank’s diner on Sunset, and I went to a phone booth to look up record companies. And on the floor of the phone booth there was a piece of paper… and it’s a list of twenty record companies, with their phone numbers and addresses… I kind of went, `There’s a lot of people doing this.’ But I swear to God it was there.” On that very first day, the band “hit paydirt” at MGM, where they were invited to record a single. The next day London Records also expressed interest in the band, wanting to sign them right away. Following that, Capitol Records also got on the Mudcrutch bandwagon: “[They] wanted to book demo time in their studio. We were so silly and indignant that we didn’t want to do a demo, and we didn’t know there was a difference between record companies. We were really green. We just felt that if they put out records, that was fine with us. We didn’t know there’d be any difference between Shelter Records or Capitol Records. They all put out records nationally, or internationally. That’s all we were interested in.


Leave a Reply
  1. Thanks for the information on the early band The Sundowners. My wife’s uncle is Dennis Lee, the former drummer of The Sundowners. I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and almost passed out when I found out the Dennis had this connection withTom. I received a great birthday gift this year from Dennis–a photo of The Sundowners playing on stage at a fraternity party. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Dennis does not like to speak much about those days with The Sundowners. Hence, I scour the internet for information related to that group.

  2. Thank you so much for the information. It really helped with my 95/100 on my project. Eye contact knocked those 5 points off though. What was Tom’s mothers and fathers name though? Several kids in my class were curious.

Leave a Reply

JOHN LEGEND: Keeping His Standards High

The Great American Festival