Tom Petty and Mudcrutch early singles

It has sadly become very common over the last two years to hear about the deaths of rock's superstars, but I was still not prepared to hear about the sudden death of Tom Petty earlier this week. The vintage rocker had recently been touring and performing with his longtime backing band the Heartbreakers, playing his last show at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25th. He said in a recent interview that this 40th anniversary tour might be his "last big one". Alas, that statement is now all too definite. The 66-year-old Petty was found unconscious in his Malibu home on October 2nd after suffering a full cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead late that evening. (I could rant about how certain irresponsible media outlets prematurely reported his death, but I'll save that rant for another day).

Before the formation of the Heartbreakers, Petty began his recording career as a member of Mudcrutch, a Gainesville, Florida band that played a seemingly eclectic brand of Southern rock. The lineup of Mudcrutch also included future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell (lead guitar) and Benmont Tench (piano and organ), as well as drummer Randall Marsh and bassist Danny Roberts. Mudcrutch issued two singles in the mid-'70's, but they were disbanded before recording a full-length album, and then the Heartbreakers were born. You would think that would have been the end of Mudcrutch's history; however, the band eventually reunited more than 30 years later, recording two full-length studio albums and releasing a live EP -- but that's another story.

The first Mudcrutch single, "Up In Mississippi", was issued in 1973. Surprisingly, it has a strong Grateful Dead vibe, and Petty's lead vocal sounds more like Jerry Garcia than like the Southern drawl we usually hear him sing in. It's a good slice of '70's folk-rock, suggesting that the northern Florida music scene sounded much like the Southern California scene at the time. This song is currently available on the Tom Petty box set Playback, and digitally on Nobody's Children (aka Disc 6 of Playback), under the title "Up In Mississippi Tonight". The B-side, "Cause Is Understood", is not currently available. That's no great loss, because this track bears too much resemblance to the more chaotic side of the Dead, bogged down in swampy psychedelic sounds. Petty still sounds Garcia-like, and is less recognizable. Let's be glad he didn't stay on this road for long.

The second Mudcrutch single, "Depot Street", was released in 1975. It's a fun reggae-rock hybrid, with Petty putting on a Caribbean accent. This track is currently available on the Playback set, but not currently available digitally. The rare B-side, "Wild Eyes", is a pleasant country-rock tune. Although it doesn't quite sound like the Heartbreakers, it provided a stronger hint of Petty's future sound, with his vocals evolving toward his now famous style of singing, and with Benmont Tench rocking out on the keys.

Disc 5 of the aforementioned Playback box set, otherwise known as Through The Cracks, contains four other early Mudcrutch recordings. These four tracks show a good deal of eclecticism, foreshadowing the genre-blending of Petty's later work: the demo "On The Street", which sounds positively Dylanesque; a cover of the Solomon Burke soul ballad "Cry To Me"; an early version of "Don't Do Me Like That" which is more stripped down than the Heartbreakers version; and the rockabilly-flavored "I Can't Fight It".

Mudcrutch "Up In Mississippi" b/w "Cause Is Understood" (Pepper 9449) 1973

Track Listing:

a. Up In Mississippi
b. Cause Is Understood

Mudcrutch - Depot Street / Wild Eyes

Mudcrutch "Depot Street" b/w "Wild Eyes" (Shelter SR-40357) 1975

Track Listing:

a. Depot Street
b. Wild Eyes