Tom Petty – Dogs on the Run – (2 of 4)

“We ain’t no punk band, we ain’t folk rock, jazz rock, or any of that bullshit. Just rock, and we don’t put no other name on it than that. We’d be stupid if we did.”- Tom Petty

And now that they were “stars,” the band had started to outgrow the sophisticated environment of Dub’s in Gainesville, with its wet T-shirt and miniskirt nights. But the club was one of the few reliable games in town. One fateful night, Tom Leadon got pissed at the club owner for what he thought was showing them disrespect. And the owner’s mood soured enough that he fired the band. And so, regrettably, the band fired Tom Leadon.

Around this time, another Gainesville guy with the unlikely name of Benmont Montmorency Tench III was away at college and receiving letters from a chum about this local band, Mudcrutch, that he really dug. Tench, if a bit of a nerdy prep school guy, was a prodigious talent who could play entire Beatles albums on keyboard. (Note – every third person in the music business is a prodigy, a genius or can play 37 instruments. A frustrating business in which to try to exist.)

His friend convinced the band to let Tench sit in on keyboards at a club gig one night and everybody really dug it. And for a period of time, a local popular guitarist named Danny Roberts joined the band. So with his addition, along with Campbell, they were back to a dual guitar, somewhat tighter rock ensemble. Roberts also took on singing duties as some guys in the band said: “Tom’s got a funny voice.”

Now, the biggest problems Tom Petty had in his quest for world domination were A) band members’ college dreams and 2) parents. These diverged when Benmont – his keyboard player – went off to Tulane. “Tom Petty,” says Jim Lenahan, “is really good at getting people to quit school and join his band. He got a lot of people to quit college so they could be in his band.” (Petty actually went to Benmont’s house to convince his father – a judge – that his son could actually make a living in music. And succeeded.)

Petty started to emerge as the leader of the band as much for his ambition as anything else. “I think very few people are as ambitious as Tom Petty,” Mike Campbell says. “He just has that drive, always did. Thank God somebody in our group had that. Tom Leadon was ambitious, but nobody’s like Tom Petty.”*

After a visit to LA and a brief dalliance with Playboy Records (yes, THAT Playboy), they got some interest from London Records, home of the Rolling Stones. They went home to Florida but before they could head back west, they got a call from a guy named Denny Cordell who was partners with Leon Russell in the Tulsa-based Shelter Records. He’d heard the demo the band dropped off at their offices in LA and thought they had the goods. So they headed to Tulsa, met Cordell, played a little and then headed back out to LA.

Danny Roberts wound up leaving the band as he was not happy with Randall Marsh’s drumming and wanted to bring in Stan Lynch from Gainesville. Nobody else was going for that, at least not yet. The band went back to Tulsa and recorded “Don’t Do Me Like That,” which Petty saw as such a throwaway he offered it to the J. Geils Band. Who didn’t want it.

And then one day, suddenly, the band was dropped from Shelter. Their single hadn’t broken and it was felt it would just be too expensive to push them. Tom got his first real lesson in the music biz. He had to tell the band that Shelter wanted only him.

He made his way back to LA and his now-pregnant wife Jane and somehow convinced Mike Campbell to stay. But Mudcrutch was history. “I’d put so much into Mudcrutch and now it was just dust,” said Pettty. “I had nothing, absolutely nothing to show for years of work.”

Now even though Mudcrutch had been on Shelter, Tom had never met Leon Russell. But Russell heard Petty’s “Lost in Your Eyes,” and wanted to know who wrote it. And Russell asked Tom to write some songs with him. Which was a major boost in itself because Russell was a pretty big star at the time.

For a while, Petty’s whole existence was hanging out with people who were a lot more famous than him (Brian Wilson, Gary Busey, George Harrison) and soaking it all in. “I never ended up writing anything with Leon,” he advises. “I just watched these legends come in and out of the picture.” Occasionally he’d wind up on a session with Campbell, drummer Jim Gordon, and the ubiquitous Al Kooper.

One night, Benmont Tench got Petty, Campbell and the whole Gainesville crew together including bassist Ron Blair. Minus a few session musicians, this crew was what would become in December 1975 –  somewhat accidentally – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (It was supposed to be Tench’s band.)

Denny Cordell was now, suddenly, interested in this latest version of Mudcrutch in part perhaps because of better material. But also in Lynch and Blair, better musicians. At this point in time, although Petty was clearly the leader, money was shared in a fairly egalitarian fashion. Like so many great ideas, this one would not last.

The band started working on their first album to be called, what else, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Interestingly, if you look at the credits on the album, you’ll see the remnants of the studio sessions. In addition to Petty and the Heartbreakers (Lynch, Blair, Tench, Campbell), there are also studio guys like Jim Gordon, Duck Dunn and singer/songwriter Dwight Twilley.

The album was released in late 1976, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the punk explosion. Al Kooper heard it and offered them an opening slot on his ’76 tour. This was the first tour they would do as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Shelter fronted them $15,000 for tour expenses but it went fast because as Benmont reported, “there was blow from one end of my piano to the other.”

The album didn’t do much in the States but got good press and then sales in England. Through contacts, in early 1977 the band were booked to open for Nils Lofgren on a European tour. And when they got there, contrary to the indifference at home, they got a hero’s welcome in England. And they returned the favor by, as they said, “extending American hospitality to foreign ladies.” By which I assume they showed them around town and bought them tea. Who says Americans aren’t friendly?

They were so popular they stayed on to headline their own tour and wound up on the covers of all the UK music mags. Other than their debut just being a fine album, nobody could really account for the band’s wild-ass popularity. Given that England was by now punk-crazy, the theory is that with their energy they were seen as a punk band from the States. And I can tell you that punk was way more popular in England than here, at least initially.

When they got back from their headlining tour, they were still opening for other bands. But an agent at ABC listened to their album, loved it and got DJs and critics to go see them. He also got them shows in LA at the Whiskey. This multi-pronged attack worked, got them played on the radio and by early 1977, “Breakdown” had become a hit. (This was the first Petty song I ever heard and to this day it’s still one of my favorites.)

Spotify link

Boston and San Francisco were a couple of hot cities for the boys. Here’s a bootleg of them playing “Dogs On the Run,” in 1976 live from the (regrettably) now-defunct Paul’s Mall in Boston. This was a nice, small rock/jazz club on Boylston Street in the heart of the city. We saw Gil Scott-Heron there once.

Spotify link

Here’s one more rare artifact, the (I think) terribly named “Anything That’s Rock ‘n Roll.” (Sounds like a Donny and Marie title.) It’s from a German TV show in 1977.

Spotify link (studio)

Petty and the guys had become stars of the New Wave and punk era even though, frankly, they weren’t really either. There’s a cool anecdote in Warren Zanes’ book about Petty meeting up with a fellow traveler:

“Petty picked {Springsteen}up at the Sunset Marquis. They went down Sunset Boulevard, stopping at Tower Records, picking up half-a-dozen eight-tracks. They drove until they listened to every song on every one of them. When the Stones’ “Congratulations” came on, Springsteen raised his arms to the heavens and said, ‘You can take me now!’ Petty loved that. He liked knowing another man out there who went to the same church.”

*Some guys have no choice as they are not much good for anything else. I heard Steve Van Zandt say recently in an interview that he and Bruce were the last two standing in the early days in Jersey. “Anybody else who had an option,” he advised, “took it.”

*Petty: The Biography. Warren Zanes; Runnin’ Down a Dream (documentary), Peter Bogdonavich; Rolling Stone Tribute to Tom Petty. 

11 thoughts on “Tom Petty – Dogs on the Run – (2 of 4)

  1. The live clip from German TV was from a then popular, yet very awkward program. Strangely, it was called “Disco,” though it presented a hodgepodge of mostly playback performances by dumb German Schlagersänger with the occasional legitimate act mixed in, such as Tom Petty.

    It’s kind of strange they were booked there, though I guess it gave them great exposure. The program’s moderator, who was a young German actor and weirdly did comedy-type sketches during the broadcast, was very popular. Think of it as an attempt to combine “Beatclub” and “Saturday Night Live” – it was definitely a unique concept!

    Of course, THE German music broadcast that also gained international fame and featured great acts, such as The Who, Rory Gallagher, J. Geils Band and ZZ Top, was called “Rockpalast.” Their most popular broadcasts were late night rock marathons called “Rocknächte“ (rock nights).

    I believe the “Runnin’ Down A Dream” documentary referenced a “Rockpalast” performance by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. The music geek I’m, of course, I had to check the “Rocknächte“ archive and couldn’t find them there, so it must have been on one of their other programs. 🤓

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      1. Ha, there you go, glad I taught you something!😀

        I actually don’t think there’s a good English translation for “Schlagersänger.” The literal way to translate the term would be hit singer. But The Beatles, The Stones and other artists you and I dig also sang/sing and had hits, and they’re certainly no Schlagersänger! And neither are Kraftwerk.

        I also found the word crooner as a proposed translation, but that doesn’t seem to quite capture the essence of Schlagersänger either.

        While I feel Germans justifiably could be proud of their beer, cars and perhaps engineering in general, I would put Schlager in the category of embarrassment. While some admittedly have catchy melodies, they’re generally just dumb songs!

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        1. Are you kidding me? That’s genius. I’ve had an epiphany! I hereby repudiate all music I’ve posted to date as garbage. Beatles? Talentless losers, Allmans? Wankers. Springsteen? Boo-hoo-hoo. From now it’s all Schaudenfraude all the time!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. BTW, we have plenty of similar crap here. We call it by (at least) one more ‘sh’ word – schmaltz. Tony Orlando and Dawn were good for this with ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon.’ And then there’s my vote for worst song in history, “Sometimes When We Touch.”

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    1. Nobody would ever confuse these guys for a blues band. But they sometimes had a bluesy feel and ‘Breakdown’ definitely has that. Some of their later stuff goes in that direction.

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