Tom Petty is known both as a solo artist and as the lead singer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He began in the 1970s, with his southern rock band Mudcrutch. With guitar stylings by Mike Campbell and keyboard melodies by Benmont Tench, Mudcrutch was not far removed from the works that Petty would later perform with the Heartbreakers. Like many southern rock musicians, Tom Petty often derived his influences from mainstream musical acts such as Neil Young and the Byrds to lesser-known and more traditional blues artists.
The Heartbreakers were Tom Petty’s prominent collaboration throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s. The band was essentially a reunion of Mudcrutch, releasing singles such as “Breakdown,” “Refugee,” and “Listen to Her Heart.” Damn the Torpedoes, the band’s third studio album, was the first one to go platinum. They went platinum again in 1981, with the release of Hard Promises. This album included the song “Insider,” which was a landmark moment in Tom Petty’s career. It was his first duet with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, with whom he would play several shows in the following decades. In fact, Petty came to view Nicks as something of an unspoken member of the band.
Stevie Nicks is not, by far, the only major recording artist with whom Tom Petty has collaborated. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were present during Bob Dylan’s True Confessions Tour in the late 1980s, and Dylan would later join them in the song “Jammin’ Me” on their album Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). Petty and his band also played some sets with the Grateful Dead around that same time.
Petty’s work with Bob Dylan would ultimately lead to a brief departure from the Heartbreakers. Petty and Dylan joined forces with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison to form the Traveling Wilburys in 1988. Their first major hit was also one of their biggest, “Handle With Care.” Petty also began to release some of his own solo hits the following year, most notably “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” These songs all appeared on the album Full Moon Fever, which featured collaborations with former members of both the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys.
In 1991, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reunited to release another album, Into the Great Wide Open. At this point, their success was undeniable. The eponymous song on the album was turned into a music video with celebrities ranging from Matt LeBlanc of Friends fame to even bigger names such as Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp.
From that point forward, Tom Petty has performed on and off as both a solo artist and as lead singer of the Heartbreakers, who occasionally reunite to release new albums or to collaborate with musicians such as Johnny Cash and Eddie Vedder. He’s performed at venues such as Bonnaroo and he has appeared on tribute albums to other great musicians such as Fats Domino. His name is legendary in the music industry, and will likely continue to be for quite some time.
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