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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were an American rock band from Gainesville, Florida. Formed in 1976,[1] the band originally comprised Tom Petty (lead singer, guitar), Mike Campbell (lead guitarist), Ron Blair (bass guitar), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards). In 1981, Blair, weary of the touring lifestyle, departed the band. His replacement, Howie Epstein, stayed with the band for the next two decades. In 1991, Scott Thurston joined the band as a multi-instrumentalist—mostly on rhythm guitar and second keyboards. In 1994, Steve Ferrone replaced Lynch on drums. Blair returned to the Heartbreakers in 2002, the year before Epstein's death. The band had a long string of hit singles including "Breakdown", "American Girl", "Refugee", "The Waiting", "Learning to Fly", and "Mary Jane's Last Dance", among many others, that stretched over several decades of work.

The band's music was characterized as both Southern rock[2] and heartland rock,[3] cited alongside artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp as progenitors of that genre that arose in the late 1970s and 1980s. While the heartland rock movement waned in the 1990s, the band remained active and popular, touring regularly until Petty's death in 2017, after which the Heartbreakers disbanded. Their final studio album, Hypnotic Eye, was released in 2014.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, their first year of eligibility. Although most of their material was produced and performed under the name "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers", Petty released three solo albums, the most successful of which was Full Moon Fever (1989). In these releases, some members of the band contributed as collaborators, producing and performing as studio musicians.

They appeared on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest eight times on the following dates:

  • November 10, 1979, the fourth episode of Season 5, hosted by actor Buck Henry, where they performed "Refugee" and "Don't Do Me Like That" for their musical guest debut.
  • February 19, 1983, the thirteenth episode of Season 8, hosted by actor Howard Hesseman, where they performed "The Waiting" and "Change of Heart" making their 2nd musical guest appearance.
  • May 20, 1989, the Season 14 finale, hosted by the comic actor Steve Martin, where they performed "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "Free Fallin'" for their 3rd musical guest appearance.
  • October 12, 1991, the third episode of Season 17, hosted by Cheers star Kirstie Alley, where they performed "Into the Great Wide Open" and "Kings Highway" for their 4th musical guest appearance.
  • November 19, 1994, the sixth episode of Season 20, hosted by actor and filmmaker John Turturro, where they performed "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "Honey Bee". This is also their 5th musical guest appearance, thus making the legendary rock band a five-time musical guest and part of the Five-Timers Club. Dave Grohl played with the Heartbreakers, who were in between drummers at the time.
  • September 28, 1996, the Season 22 premiere, hosted by the actor Tom Hanks, where they performed "Walls (No. 3)" and an electric version of "Angel Dream (No. 2)", making their 6th musical guest appearance.
  • April 10, 1999, the seventeenth episode of Season 24, hosted by actor John Goodman, where they performed "Swingin'" and "Room at the Top" for their 7th musical guest appearance.
  • May 15, 2010, which is the Season 35 finale, hosted by actor and comedian Alec Baldwin, where they performed "I Should Have Known It" and "Jefferson Jericho Blues", two songs from their 2010 album Mojo,, making their 8th and final musical guest appearance.

Petty's early bands included the Sundowners, the Epics, and Mudcrutch. In 1974, Mudcrutch signed with Shelter Records and re-located to Los Angeles, California. They released one single, "Depot Street", in 1975, which failed to chart; the group consequently disbanded.

In 1976, Petty, with himself as lead vocalist and guitarist, formed "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" with Mike Campbell (lead guitarist), Ron Blair (bass), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards).[1] The Heartbreakers began their recording career with a self-titled album, released through the Shelter label. Initially, the Heartbreakers did not gain much traction in the U.S., although they achieved success in the U.K. playing "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll" on Top of the Pops.[4] Early singles included "Breakdown" and "American Girl". Recalling the band's first gig in the U.K. in 1976, Petty states, "The audience just jumped up and charged the stage and were boogieing their brains out. It was such a rush. Wow, we had never seen anything like that, man."[4] "Breakdown" was re-released in the U.S. and became a Top 40 hit in 1978, after word filtered back of the band's massive success in Britain, and perhaps more importantly after it featured on the extremely popular soundtrack to the 1978 film, FM. "American Girl" was covered in 1977 by Roger McGuinn on his "Thunderbyrd" LP.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' second album, You're Gonna Get It! (1978), was their first gold record, and featured the singles "I Need to Know" and "Listen to Her Heart". In 1979, the band was dragged into a legal dispute when ABC Records, Shelter's distributor, was sold to MCA Records. Petty refused to be transferred to another record label and held fast to his principles, which led to his filing for bankruptcy as a tactic against MCA.

In 1979, after their legal dispute was settled, the Heartbreakers released their third album Damn the Torpedoes through MCA's Backstreet label. The album rapidly went platinum. It included "Don't Do Me Like That" (#10 U.S., the group's first Top Ten single) and "Refugee" (#15 U.S.), their U.S. breakthrough singles.

Although he was already extremely successful, Petty again ran into record company trouble when he and the Heartbreakers prepared to release Hard Promises (1981), the follow-up album to Damn the Torpedoes. MCA wanted to release the record at the list price of $9.98. This so-called "superstar pricing" was a dollar more than the usual list price of $8.98. Petty voiced his objections to the price hike in the press, and the issue became a popular cause among music fans. Non-delivery of the album or naming it Eight Ninety-Eight were considered, but eventually MCA decided against the price increase. The album became a Top Ten hit, going platinum and spawning the hit single "The Waiting" (#19 U.S.). The album also included the duet "Insider", with Stevie Nicks.

On their fifth album, Long After Dark (1982), bass player Ron Blair was replaced by Howie Epstein (formerly of Del Shannon's backing band), giving the Heartbreakers their line-up until 1991. Long After Dark features the hits "You Got Lucky" (U.S. #20) and "Change of Heart" (U.S. #21) and was to feature a track called "Keeping Me Alive", but producer Jimmy Iovine vetoed it from the album. Petty had expressed that he felt the album would have been more successful if "Keeping Me Alive" had been included.

On the sixth album, Southern Accents (1985), the Heartbreakers picked up where they had left off. The recording was not without problems; Petty became frustrated during the mixing process and broke his left hand when punching a wall. The album included the psychedelic-sounding hit single "Don't Come Around Here No More" (#13 U.S.), which was produced by and co-written with Dave Stewart. The video for the single, which starred Stewart, featured Petty dressed as the Mad Hatter, mocking and chasing Alice from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, then cutting and eating her as if she were a cake. This caused minor controversy after it was criticized by feminist groups, but the video did win an MTV Video Music Award.

A successful concert tour led to the live album Pack Up the Plantation: Live! (1985). The band's live capabilities were also showcased when Bob Dylan invited the Heartbreakers to join him on his True Confessions Tour through Australia, Japan and the U.S. (1986) and Europe (1987). Petty praised Dylan, saying, "I don't think there is anyone we admire more."

Also in 1987, the group released Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), a studio album made to sound like a live recording, using a technique they borrowed from Dylan. It includes "Jammin' Me" (#18 U.S.), which Petty wrote with Dylan and Campbell. Dylan recorded a version of the Petty composition "Got My Mind Made Up" on his album Knocked Out Loaded, which was credited as being written by Dylan and Petty.

In 1989, Petty released his debut solo album Full Moon Fever, which included five singles ("I Won't Back Down", "Runnin' Down a Dream", "Free Fallin'", "A Face in the Crowd" and "Yer So Bad") and was accompanied by a tour with The Replacements. Two years later, the Heartbreakers released Into the Great Wide Open, produced by Jeff Lynne, who had worked with Petty in the Traveling Wilburys. Songs included the title track itself and "Learning to Fly". Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joined the band as of the tour for the album.

In 1993, Petty released Greatest Hits, which included the hit single "Mary Jane's Last Dance". Stan Lynch had moved to Florida but was persuaded to return for his last session with the band.

In 1994, Lynch left the band. Drummer Dave Grohl, formerly of the band Nirvana, sat in on a number of performances, but declined to join the band, instead choosing to pursue his own solo work which eventually grew into the band Foo Fighters. The band was now and for the next several years officially a quartet with no permanent drummer, but beginning in 1995 for live shows Steve Ferrone, formerly a session and touring musician who had played with numerous other acts, served as drummer. He had worked with Petty, Campbell, Tench, and Epstein on Petty's solo album Wildflowers.

In 1995, a six-CD box-set titled Playback was released. Approximately half of the tracks were previously available on albums, and the rest were B-sides, demos and live tracks. Two notable tracks are a "solo" version of Petty's 1981 duet with Stevie Nicks, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around", and the song "Waiting for Tonight", which features vocals by the Bangles. The latter song also appeared on the two-CD anthology released in 2000, Anthology: Through the Years.

In 1996, Petty "reunited" with the Heartbreakers and released a soundtrack to the film She's the One starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, titled Songs and Music from "She's the One". Three songs charted from the album: "Walls (Circus)" (featuring Lindsey Buckingham), "Climb that Hill", and a song written by Lucinda Williams, "Change the Locks". The album also included a cover version of Beck's song "Asshole". Curt Bisquera, not an official member of the group, was the drummer on most of the album, with Ringo Starr substituting on one track and Ferrone playing on two others.

In 1999, Petty and the Heartbreakers released the album Echo, produced by Rick Rubin. The album reached number 10 in the U.S. album charts and featured, amongst other singles, "Room at the Top". The band was still officially a four-piece (Petty, Campbell, Tench and Epstein), augmented by Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston on various guitars, lap steel and ukulele. Both Ferrone and Thurston were promoted to full band membership after the album was released and would remain Heartbreakers for the rest of the band's existence.

On April 28, 1999, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 7018 Hollywood Boulevard, for their contributions to the recording industry.[6]

In 2002, the group released The Last DJ. Many of the tracks' lyrics contain stinging attacks on the music industry and major record companies. The album reached number 9 in the U.S. charts. Bassist Ron Blair played on two of the tracks. He replaced Epstein, who had previously been Blair's replacement, on the band's 2002 tour as a result of Epstein's deepening personal problems and drug abuse. Epstein died in 2003 at the age of 47.

In the band's thirtieth anniversary year, 2006, they headlined the fifth annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. In addition to Bonnaroo, Petty was on tour throughout the summer of 2006. The tour started in Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 9 and ended in Randall's Island, New York on August 19. Stops included major cities such as New York, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Denver. Supporting acts during the tour included Pearl Jam, the Allman Brothers Band, and Trey Anastasio. Additionally, Stevie Nicks joined the band onstage during the first eight concerts as well as subsequent second-leg dates to perform various songs from the Heartbreakers' catalog. For the Highway Companion Tour, they offered a Highway Companion's Club which allowed fans to receive priority seating, discounts at the Tom Petty Store, a complimentary CD of Highway Companion and a personalized email address.

In 2006, the ABC U.S. television network hired Petty to do the music for its NBA Playoffs coverage.

On September 21, 2006, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received the keys to the city of Gainesville, Florida, where he and his bandmates either lived or grew up. Petty quipped, when questioned about the key he received from Gainesville's mayor, "It's a lot nicer than the one we got in Chicago."[7]

From July 2006 until 2007, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio featured an exhibit of Tom Petty items. Much of the content was donated by Petty himself from a visit to his home by some of the Rock Hall curatorial staff.

In 2007, the band accepted an invitation to participate in a tribute album to Fats Domino, contributing their version of "I'm Walkin'" to Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard).

In 2008, the Heartbreakers were also featured as the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. In April that year, the members of Petty's previous band, Mudcrutch—Petty, Tench, and Campbell, along with Randall Marsh and Tom Leadon—released a Mudcrutch album. In late 2008, they released a live EP.

The band issued The Live Anthology, a collection of live recordings, on November 23, 2009, and announced a new studio album, Mojo, for release in the spring of 2010.[8] The band released Hypnotic Eye on July 29, 2014, and archive recordings from their Playlist box set Nobody's Children and Through the Cracks digitally in 2015.

In 2017, the band embarked on a 40th Anniversary Tour of the United States.[9] The tour began on April 20 in Oklahoma City and ended on September 25 with a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California.[9][10] The Hollywood Bowl concert, which became the Heartbreakers' final show, ended with a performance of "American Girl".

Early in the morning on October 2, 2017, Petty was found unconscious in his home, not breathing, and in full cardiac arrest. Following premature media reports of his death, Petty later died at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. He was 66.

Though the group did not formally disband, Petty stated in his final interview, with the Los Angeles Times a few days before his death, that the Heartbreakers would probably disband if one of its members died or became too ill to perform.

In April 2018, Campbell, Tench and Ferrone acted as the house band for the Light Up the Blues benefit concert in Los Angeles, backing Beck, Neil Young, Patti Smith, and Stephen Stills, with whom they performed Petty's "I Won't Back Down". That same month, it was announced that Campbell (along with Neil Finn) had joined Fleetwood Mac to replace lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.