Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, classic American rock icons, they were just five kids from Gainesville, Florida who had driven cross country to Los Angeles with $200 and hopes of landing a record deal for their southern rock group Mudcrutch.
Their ascent would be a slow one; the group signed with Shelter Records in 1974 and released a single, only to be dropped from the label. The band broke up. The band got back together and found themselves with a new opportunity to release an album — this time with a better name: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Released in 1976, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut is an amalgamation of styles and influences. It travels from classic blues to swampy country to classic ‘50s rock in songs that are abruptly short and full of anxious, pulsing rhythms that weren’t too deviant from the emerging punk scene. It’s no wonder people didn’t know what to do with them or how to classify them when the album was released.
Though the album contains songs that are now staples of American pop culture, ingrained in our collective consciousness — songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown” — it would be a few years before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cemented their status as household name rock stars — but it’s a status they’ve held onto.
In this episode, we discuss the variety of musical influences on early Heartbreakers work, dive into Tom Petty’s sparse songwriting style, and talk about why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ enduring, four decade long careers truly inspire us.