Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing in 2017, less than two months before Petty’s death
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing in 2017, less than two months before Petty’s death
Background information
OriginGainesville, Florida, U.S.
Years active1976–2017
Associated acts
Past members

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was an American rock band from Gainesville, Florida. Formed in 1976,[1] the band originally comprised Tom Petty (lead singer, guitar), Mike Campbell (lead guitarist), Ron Blair (bass guitar), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards). In 1981, Blair, weary of the touring lifestyle, departed the band. His replacement, Howie Epstein, stayed with the band for the next two decades. In 1991, Scott Thurston joined the band as a multi-instrumentalist—mostly on rhythm guitar and second keyboards. In 1994, Steve Ferrone replaced Lynch on drums. Blair returned to the Heartbreakers in 2002, the year before Epstein's death. The band had a long string of hit singles including "Breakdown," "American Girl," "Refugee," "The Waiting," "Learning to Fly," and "Mary Jane's Last Dance," among many others, that stretched over several decades of work.

The band's music was characterized as both Southern rock[2] and heartland rock,[3] cited alongside artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp as progenitors of that genre that arose in the late 1970s and 1980s. While the heartland rock movement waned in the 1990s, the band remained active and popular, touring regularly until Petty's death in 2017, after which the Heartbreakers disbanded. Their final studio album, Hypnotic Eye, was released in 2014.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, their first year of eligibility. Although most of their material was produced and performed under the name "The Heartbreakers," Petty released three solo albums, the most successful of which was Full Moon Fever (1989). In these releases, some members of the band contributed as collaborators, producing and performing as studio musicians.


Early years and first two albums (1974–1978)[edit]

The band in 1977. From left: Mike Campbell, Ron Blair, Tom Petty, Stan Lynch, and Benmont Tench

Petty's early bands included the Sundowners, the Epics, and Mudcrutch. In 1974, Mudcrutch signed with Shelter Records and re-located to Los Angeles, California. They released one single, "Depot Street," in 1975, which failed to chart; the group consequently disbanded.

In 1976, Petty, with himself as lead vocalist and guitarist, formed "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" with Mike Campbell (lead guitarist), Ron Blair (bass), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards).[1] The Heartbreakers began their recording career with a self-titled album, released through the Shelter label. Initially, the Heartbreakers did not gain much traction in the U.S., although they achieved success in the U.K. playing "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll" on Top of the Pops.[4] Early singles included "Breakdown" and "American Girl." Recalling the band's first gig in the U.K. in 1976, Petty states, "The audience just jumped up and charged the stage and were boogieing their brains out. It was such a rush. Wow, we had never seen anything like that, man."[4] "Breakdown" was re-released in the U.S. and became a Top 40 hit in 1978, after word filtered back of the band's massive success in Britain, and perhaps more importantly after it featured on the extremely popular soundtrack to the 1978 film, FM. "American Girl" was covered in 1977 by Roger McGuinn on his "Thunderbyrd" LP.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' second album, You're Gonna Get It! (1978), was their first gold record, and featured the singles "I Need to Know" and "Listen To Her Heart." In 1979, the band was dragged into a legal dispute when ABC Records, Shelter's distributor, was sold to MCA Records. Petty refused to be transferred to another record label and held fast to his principles, which led to his filing for bankruptcy as a tactic against MCA.

Mainstream success (1979–1984)[edit]

In 1979, after their legal dispute was settled, the Heartbreakers released their third album Damn the Torpedoes through MCA's Backstreet label. The album rapidly went platinum. It included "Don't Do Me Like That" (#10 U.S., the group's first Top Ten single) and "Refugee" (#15 U.S.), their U.S. breakthrough singles.

Although he was already extremely successful, Petty again ran into record company trouble when he and the Heartbreakers prepared to release Hard Promises (1981), the follow-up album to Damn the Torpedoes. MCA wanted to release the record at the list price of $9.98. This so-called "superstar pricing" was a dollar 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 or naming it Eight Ninety-Eight were considered, but eventually MCA decided against the price increase. The album became a Top Ten hit, going platinum and spawning the hit single "The Waiting" (#19 U.S.). The album also included the duet "Insider," with Stevie Nicks.

On their fifth album, Long After Dark (1982), bass player Ron Blair was replaced by Howie Epstein (formerly of Del Shannon's backing band), giving the Heartbreakers their line-up until 1991. Long After Dark features the hits "You Got Lucky" (U.S. #20) and "Change of Heart" (U.S. #21), and was to feature a track called "Keeping Me Alive," but producer Jimmy Iovine vetoed it from the album. Petty had expressed that he felt the album would have been more successful if "Keeping Me Alive" had been included.[5]

Southern Accents and Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1985–1988)[edit]

On the sixth album, Southern Accents (1985), the Heartbreakers picked up where they had left off.[clarification needed] The recording was not without problems; Petty became frustrated during the mixing process and broke his left hand when punching a wall. The album included the psychedelic-sounding hit single "Don't Come Around Here No More" (#13 U.S.), which was produced by and co-written with Dave Stewart. The video for the single, which starred Stewart, 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. This caused minor controversy after it was criticized by feminist groups,[citation needed] but the video did win an MTV Video Music Award.

A successful concert tour led to the live album Pack Up the Plantation: Live! (1985). The band's live capabilities were also showcased when Bob Dylan invited the Heartbreakers to join him on his True Confessions Tour through Australia, Japan and the U.S. (1986) and Europe (1987). Petty praised Dylan, saying "I don't think there is anyone we admire more."

Also in 1987, the group released Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), a studio album made to sound like a live recording, using a technique they borrowed from Dylan. It includes "Jammin' Me" (#18 U.S.), which Petty wrote with Dylan and Campbell. Dylan recorded a version of the Petty composition, "Got My Mind Made Up," on his album Knocked Out Loaded which was credited as being written by Dylan and Petty.

Comeback and return to popularity (1989–2005)[edit]

In 1989, Petty released his debut solo album Full Moon Fever, which included five singles ("I Won't Back Down," "Runnin' Down a Dream," "Free Fallin'," "A Face in the Crowd" and "Yer So Bad"), and was accompanied by a tour with The Replacements. Two years later, the Heartbreakers released Into the Great Wide Open, produced by Jeff Lynne who had worked with Petty in Traveling Wilburys. Songs included the title track itself and "Learning to Fly." Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joined the band as of the tour for the album.

Hollywood walk of fame star, awarded in 1999

In 1993, Petty released Greatest Hits which included the hit single "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Stan Lynch had moved to Florida, but was persuaded to return for his last session with the band.

In 1994, Lynch left the band. Drummer Dave Grohl, formerly of the band Nirvana, sat in on a number of performances, but declined to join the band, instead choosing to pursue his own solo work which eventually grew into the band Foo Fighters. The band was now and for the next several years officially a quartet with no permanent drummer, but beginning in 1995 for live shows Steve Ferrone, formerly a session and touring musician who had played with numerous other acts, served as drummer. He had worked with Petty, Campbell, Tench, and Epstein on Petty's solo album, Wildflowers.

In 1995, a six-CD box-set entitled Playback was released. Approximately half of the tracks were previously available on albums, and the rest were B-sides, demos and live tracks. Two notable tracks are a "solo" version of Tom's 1981 duet with Stevie Nicks, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," and the song "Waiting For Tonight," which features vocals from The Bangles. The latter song also appeared on the two-CD anthology released in 2000, Anthology: Through the Years.

In 1996, Petty "reunited" with the Heartbreakers and released a soundtrack to the movie She's the One starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston (see Songs and Music from "She's the One"). Three songs charted from this album; these were "Walls (Circus)" (featuring Lindsey Buckingham); "Climb that Hill"; and a song written by Lucinda Williams, "Change the Locks." The album also included a cover of a song by Beck, "Asshole." Curt Bisquera, not an official member of the group, was the drummer on most of the album, with Ringo Starr substituting on one track and Ferrone substituting on two others.

In 1999, Petty and the Heartbreakers released the album Echo with producer Rick Rubin at the helm. The album reached number 10 in the U.S. album charts and featured, amongst other singles, "Room at the Top." The band was still officially a four-piece (Petty/Campbell/Tench/Epstein), augmented by Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston on various guitars, lap steel and ukulele. Both Ferrone and Thurston would be promoted to full band membership after the album was released, and would remain Heartbreakers for the rest of the band's existence.

On April 28, 1999, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 7018 Hollywood Boulevard, for their contributions to the recording industry.[6]

In 2002, the group released The Last DJ. Many of the tracks' lyrics contain stinging attacks on the music industry and major record companies. The album reached number 9 in the U.S. charts. Bassist Ron Blair played on two of the tracks. He also replaced the man who had previously been his replacement, Howie Epstein on the band's 2002 tour as a result of Epstein's deepening personal problems and drug abuse. Epstein died in 2003 at the age of 47.

Final years (2006–2017)[edit]

Keyboardist Benmont Tench performs with the band at the Hollywood Bowl in 2010.

In the band's thirtieth anniversary year, 2006, they headlined the fifth annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. In addition to Bonnaroo, Petty was on tour throughout the summer of 2006. The tour started in Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 9 and ended in Randall's Island, New York on August 19. Stops included major cities such as New York, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Denver. Supporting acts during the tour included Pearl Jam, The Allman Brothers Band, and Trey Anastasio. Additionally, Stevie Nicks joined the band onstage during the first eight concerts as well as subsequent second leg dates to perform various songs from the Heartbreakers' vast catalog. For the Highway Companion Tour they offered a Highway Companion's Club which allowed fans to receive priority seating, discounts at the Tom Petty Store, a complimentary CD of Highway Companion and a personalized email address.

In 2006, the ABC U.S. television network hired Petty to do the music for its NBA Playoffs coverage.

On September 21, 2006, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received the keys to the city of Gainesville, Florida, where he and his bandmates either lived or grew up. Petty quipped, when questioned about the key he received from Gainesville's mayor, "It's a lot nicer than the one we got in Chicago."[7]

From July 2006 until 2007, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio featured an exhibit of Tom Petty items. Much of the content was donated by Petty himself from a visit to his home by some of the Rock Hall curatorial staff.

In 2007, the band accepted an invitation to participate in a tribute album to Fats Domino, contributing their version of "I'm Walkin'" to Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard).

In 2008, the Heartbreakers were also featured as the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. In April that year, the members of Petty's prior band, Mudcrutch, including Heartbreakers Petty, Benmont Tench, and Mike Campbell, along with Randall Marsh and Tom Leadon, released a Mudcrutch album. In late 2008, they released a live EP.

A collection of live recordings was released on November 23, 2009, and announced a new studio album, Mojo, for release in the Spring of 2010.[8] The band released Hypnotic Eye on July 29, 2014, and archive recordings from their Playlist box set Nobody's Children and Through the Cracks digitally in 2015.

In 2017, the band embarked on a 40th Anniversary Tour of the United States.[9] The tour began on April 20 in Oklahoma City and ended on September 25 with a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California.[9][10] The Hollywood Bowl concert, which became the Heartbreakers' final show, ended with a performance of "American Girl."[11]

Petty's death and aftermath (2017–present)[edit]

Early in the morning on October 2, 2017, Petty was found unconscious in his home, not breathing, and in full cardiac arrest. Following premature media reports of his death, Petty later died at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. He was 66.[12][13]

Though the group did not formally disband, Petty stated in his final interview with the Los Angeles Times a few days prior to his death that the Heartbreakers would probably disband if one of its members died or became too ill to perform.[14]

In April 2018, Campbell, Tench and Ferrone acted as the backing band for the Light Up the Blues benefit concert in Los Angeles, backing Beck, Neil Young, Patti Smith, and Stephen Stills, with whom they performed Petty's "I Won't Back Down."[15] That same month, it was announced that Campbell (along with Neil Finn) had joined Fleetwood Mac to replace lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.[16]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire.[17]

Session Work (1970s-present)[edit]

During the course of the band, the various members did session work for other notable artists. In 1981, Tom Petty and Mike Campbell wrote the lyrics to "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," which was intended as a Heartbreakers song. However, their producer Jimmy Iovine, who was also producing Stevie Nicks, suggested it be turned into a duet with her, and the band agreed, so the song ended up on her album Bella Donna.[18] All the Heartbreakers sans Ron Blair had performed on it.

In the mid-1980s, former Eagle Don Henley would team up with members of The Heartbreakers for his 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast. The members featured included Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Stan Lynch. Mike Campbell wrote a demo version of the album's track "The Boys of Summer" and showed it to Petty, who both felt it did not fit Southern Accents, the album they were working on at the time. Iovine suggested recording it with Henley, with whom they re-recorded it after Henley changed the key.[18]

Henley again collaborated with Campbell and Lynch for his 1989 album The End of the Innocence with the two producing it alongside the likes of Danny Kortchmar (who had a hand in his prior two albums) and Bruce Hornsby, later of the Grateful Dead's late-1980s and 1990s touring band. Campbell once again wrote one of the hits for the album, this being "The Heart of the Matter."

Stan Lynch would go on to produce Henley's 2000 album Inside Job and 2015 album Cass County. He would also have some involvement in The Eagles 1994 reunion album Hell Freezes Over playing percussion and having a hand in its production.[19]

Lynch and Campbell would play alongside Don Henley on Warren Zevon's 1987 album Sentimental Hygiene. Besides them, it also features other collaborations from musicians such as R.E.M, Bob Dylan (Petty's Traveling Wilbury's bandmate), and Neil Young among others.

Mike Campbell would play slide guitar on 6th Avenue Heartache, released in 1996 by The Wallflowers. He recorded his guitar part without even meeting the band.

In the mid-1990s, members of The Heartbreakers teamed up to perform on Johnny Cash's American Recordings series of albums. Although none were present for the first album, the entire band, even Tom Petty were present on Unchained save for Stan Lynch, who had left in 1994. For Volume III, only Campbell and Petty were present, and the latter did a memorable duet with Cash on the cover of "I Won't Back Down." For Volume IV, it is just Benmont Tench and Campbell, which also sees him reuniting with Don Henley, who also performs on the album as well. Volume V and Volume VI features the same Heartbreakers personnel from Volume IV. In March 2014, Cash's son had hinted that four or five more American albums may be released[20], hinting at more pre-recorded Heartbreakers collaborations with Cash.

Live performances[edit]

Mike Campbell (left) and Tom Petty at Bonnaroo in 2013

Petty's solo albums[edit]

Tom Petty, the band's primary vocalist and songwriter. He also had a successful solo career and served as a member of the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys

Petty released three critically acclaimed solo albums, the first of which was 1989's Full Moon Fever which included his signature tune, "Free Fallin'," as well as "I Won't Back Down," later covered by Johnny Cash, and "Runnin' Down a Dream" and Gene Clark's Byrds classic "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" - the album's only cover song.

Although the Heartbreakers were dismayed by Petty's decision to go solo (similar to the arrangement between Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at the time), Campbell played guitar solos on every track, Tench contributed piano to one track, and Epstein reluctantly provided backing vocals to two tracks.

Petty's second solo album, Wildflowers, included all Heartbreakers members except for Stan Lynch. The album, which featured Steve Ferrone on drums, produced the single "You Don't Know How It Feels."

Petty's final solo album was Highway Companion which, like his first solo project Full Moon Fever, featured Jeff Lynne in the producer's seat. Campbell was the lead guitarist for the album, but no other Heartbreaker participated in the recording, as all instruments and vocals were performed by Petty, Campbell and Lynne.

Relationship with music industry[edit]

Petty fought against his record company on more than one occasion: first in 1979 over transference to another label,[22] and then again in 1981 over the price of his record, which was (at that time) considered expensive.[23] He was also outspoken on the current state of the music industry and modern radio stations, a topic that was a center concept of the lyrics of his 2002 album, The Last DJ, and its respective limited edition DVD.[24]

In an interview with Billboard magazine, Petty described himself as "not really [being] involved in the business side of music."

Band members[edit]

Final lineup

  • Tom Petty – lead and backing vocals, rhythm and lead guitar, bass guitar, harmonica, keyboards, ukulele (1976–2017; his death)
  • Mike Campbell – lead and rhythm guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, backing vocals (1976–2017)
  • Benmont Tench – keyboards, backing vocals (1976–2017)
  • Ron Blair – bass guitar, backing vocals (1976–1982, 2002–2017)
  • Scott Thurston – rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, harmonica, backing vocals (1991–2017)
  • Steve Ferrone – drums (1994–2017)


  • Stan Lynch – drums, backing vocals (1976–1994)
  • Howie Epstein – bass guitar, rhythm guitar, mandolin, backing vocals (1982–2002; died 2003)




See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Zanes, Warren (2005). Petty: The Biography Paperback. New York: Henry Holt. p. 105. ISBN 0805099689.
  2. ^ Holly George-Warren (2000). ""Southern Gallery: Tom Petty". Oxford American: A Magazine of the South. Vol. 34.
  3. ^ "Tom Petty > Ultimate Classic Rock". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  4. ^ a b "Rock legend Tom Petty dies after suffering heart attack at home". Telegraph. October 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "97.1 The Drive LIVE Stream | Chicago". 97.1 The Drive LIVE Stream | Chicago. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  6. ^ "Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  7. ^ "Tom Petty gets key to Gainesville, Fla". USA Today. September 22, 2006.
  8. ^ McKnight, Connor (February 25, 2010). "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Announce New Album, Tour". Billboard.
  9. ^ a b "40th Anniversary Tour Announced!". Official Website. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  10. ^ Martinelli, Marissa (October 3, 2017). "Watch Tom Petty's Final Performance at the Hollywood Bowl". Slate. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  11. ^ Greene, Andy. "Watch Tom Petty Play 'American Girl' at His Final Concert". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  12. ^ "Music legend Tom Petty dies". CNN. October 3, 2017.
  13. ^ Lewis, Randy (October 2, 2017). "Tom Petty, Heartbreakers frontman who sang 'Breakdown,' 'Free Fallin'' and other hits, dies at 66". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  14. ^ Lewis, Randy (October 4, 2017). "Tom Petty's final interview: There was supposed to have been so much more". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  15. ^ "Heartbreakers perform for the first time since Tom Petty's death -- watch". Stereogum. April 22, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  16. ^ Aswad, Jem (April 9, 2018). "Fleetwood Mac to Tour With Neil Finn, Mike Campbell as Lindsey Buckingham's Replacements". Variety. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  17. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^ Hell Freezes Over (CD booklet). Eagles. Geffen Records. 1994. 24725.CS1 maint: others (link)
  20. ^ Hebblethwaite, Phil (March 26, 2014). "Johnny Cash: 'four or five more albums in the works,' says his son" – via
  21. ^ "Fans delirious as Stevie Nicks joins Tom Petty on stage". BBC News. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  22. ^ "May 23, 1979: Tom Petty defies his record label and files for bankruptcy". This Day In History. The History Channel. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  23. ^ Petty, Tom & Zollo, Paul (2005). Conversations with Tom Petty. Omnibus Press. pp. 72. ISBN 1-84449-815-8.
  24. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Last DJ [Bonus DVD]". AllMusic. Retrieved October 9, 2017.

External links[edit]