There is so much that typically goes into crafting a debut album-much of which simply involves a band finding their own voice. But no matter what transpires during the evolution, rarely does breaking up figure so prominently in the equation. And seldom does it take 33 years for said recording to be made. But such was the case for a little band from Gainesville, Florida, called Mudcrutch. After moving to Los Angeles from the Sunshine State in the mid ’70s to lay down an album, the group soon fell by the musical wayside following a series of unproductive recording sessions. Now, after a three-decade-long interlude, they’re back and proudly flaunting their first album.
For three of Mudcrutch’s alumni, the past 30 years have brought plenty of success in the form of Mudcrutch’s successor band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. For Petty, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench, reigniting the Mudcrutch flame was less about completing some unfinished business and more about seizing the opportunity to play some music with old friends. It was Petty who put out the call, and both Campbell and Tench jumped at the chance. And when Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh returned to the fold, the guys only meant to see if the chemistry was still there. Well, was it?
“From the first day we started playing-the first measure of the first song, actually,” recalled Mudcrutch guitarist Mike Campbell. “I think we cut four tracks that first day quite unexpectedly. And when we were listening back, we thought we would keep on going because it was so good. We had no master plan other than getting the guys together and play a little and see if the old chemistry was still there, and if we could still get along. That’s how it started out, and then we recorded it live and it just became a project that took off.”
The end result is the soon-to-be-released self-titled Mudcrutch debut. Recorded live in Petty’s own rehearsal studio, the album might have been 33 years in the waiting, but its making was a quick and seamless affair. Encompassing a collection of original, recently penned compositions-along with a couple select covers-the album is set to hit shelves April 29. The release will also be supported by a series of SoCal concert dates. It will be the first time the members of Mudcrutch have played live together in more than three decades.
When Campbell stumbled across Mudcrutch in the early ’70s, the band featured Tom Leadon on vocals and guitar, Petty playing bass, and Randall Marsh manning the drums. A couple of years later, Leadon departed and piano player and keyboardist Benmont Tench joined the ranks. For several years the ensemble were a fixture in the Florida music scene, honing their skills through their residency at a local topless bar and playing a series of house parties-in their own home.
“Dub Taylor had a club that was a topless bar called Dub’s, and Mudcrutch got a gig there playing five nights a week and five sets a night,” said Campbell. “Dub was very kind to us to give us that much time to play there, and that’s how we got really tight. I lived in a little house about a mile from there, and we were talking about trying to tap into a different audience. We knew the local college had a lot of people that liked music, so we put on a little gig at our house and thousands of people showed up. It was kind of like Gainesville’s version of Woodstock!”
The house in question sat on several acres of land, which allowed the band to host such extravagant soirees. The Mudcrutch Farm performances quickly grew, and grassroots buzz soon moved the group out of topless bars and onto the college circuit. It wasn’t long before Mudcrutch had outgrown the Gainesville scene, realizing that the only way to progress further was to head to the studio. The search for a recording space found the band choosing between Los Angeles and New York, and ultimately L.A.’s sunny climate won out.
“That, and because The Byrds and a lot of other great bands were from Los Angeles,” hinted Tench. “There wasn’t the independent recording scene at the time. You couldn’t really stay in Gainesville and make a record and get anywhere. The closest thing was to go to make a deal with Capricorn, which was the Allman Brothers’ label, but we didn’t fit into that because we weren’t a Southern blues-based band. There was some blues to it, but we were much more based in the British-type thing, in rock and roll with a little bit of country. So you had to leave town for New York or L.A.”
From there Mudcrutch signed with Shelter Records, a label started by Leon Russell and Denny Cordell, and entered the recording studio. But when the sessions produced less-than-stellar results-and various members started getting involved in other projects-the band dissipated. Of these splinter projects was a Petty solo effort that united him with Campbell. And with Tench also working on solo material, the foundations were inadvertently laid for the emergence of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“Mudcrutch broke up and Randall and I were at loose ends,” recalled Tench. “We were actually playing some pick-up gigs at fraternities, and Tom was making a solo record, and Mike was playing guitar on that record. I knew Stan Lynch and Stan knew Ron Blair, so I called Mike, and Stan called Ron for a session to cut some demos. I also asked Tom to come down and play harmonica. Tom liked what he heard and a couple of days later I got a call from him telling me he didn’t want to do a record with session players-he wanted to work with that band. And, boy, was I happy!”
With a connection already forged with Shelter Records, the material that Petty, Campbell, Tench, Lynch, and Blair recorded became Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut. For the next 30-something years, the ensemble went on to dominate contemporary radio with musical staples the caliber of “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee,” and “American Girl.” Along the way there have been countless side projects: Petty joined The Traveling Wilburys, Campbell has The Dirty Knobs, and Tench has recently joined forces with Glen Phillips’s latest undertaking, The Scrolls. But no matter how far the members stray, their hearts remain the same.
“The Heartbreakers have been together for over 30 years now, and keeping a band together that long is a bit of a challenge because you can get stale with each other,” explained Campbell. “So it’s really healthy for members of a band to go out and do other projects and learn new licks or learn new ideas and bring them back in the fold and inject them into the group to keep the group fresh. We have always done that, and this is just another example of stepping outside of the Heartbreakers and doing something that’s really creative and inspiring. But I’m sure we will also bring a lot of that energy back into the group when we do reconvene.”
Mudcrutch reunite for their sole Santa Barbara date on Saturday, April 19, at the Arlington Theatre. Tickets are $49 and can be purchased through ticketmaster.com or by calling 963-4408.