by Michael Felci
The Desert Sun
October 16, 2006
Thirty years is a long time to be doing anything, especially playing rock 'n' roll.
But Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers having been doing just that since their 1976 eponymous debut established them as major force in the "Pre-Wave" movement.
Like most garage bands, their beginnings were inauspicious, forming in Gainesville, Fla. in the late '60s under the name Mudcrutch.
Now, a handful of lawsuits, more-than-few line-up changes and a slew of classic rock hits later, Petty and the Heartbreakers are marking their 30th anniversary with the Highway Companion Tour, which hits the Indian Wells Tennis Garden Saturday night.
Think you know everything Petty? Test your knowledge against this career-spanning timline.
Oct, 20, 1950: Thomas Earl Petty is born in Gainesville, Fla.
1961: After meeting Elvis Presley on the set of "Follow That Dream" in nearby Ocala, Fla., Petty has a rock 'n' roll apyphonyepiphany - the 11-year-old picks up a guitar and doesn't look back.
1974: After stints with The Sundowners, Epics and Mudcrutch, Petty enlists future Heartbreakers Benmont Tench (keyboards) and Mike Campbell (guitar) to record a single for Shelter Records. "Depot Street" fizzles and Petty struggles for the next three years.
1976: "Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers" is released to little fanfare in the U.S. The band embarks on a tour of the U.K. and soon creates a firestorm.
1977: The single "Breakdown" is re-released and becomes a Top 40 hit a year after it debuted.
1978: The follow-up album "You're Gonna Get It!" proves the band's debut was no fluke, going gold thanks to a pair of strong singles, "Listen To Her Heart" and "I Need To Know."
1978: Petty and the Heart Breakers find themselves in a legal dispute when ABC Records is sold to MCA Records. Refusing to simply be traded to another label without his consent, Petty is eventually forced to file for bankruptcy.
1979: After the label dispute is settled, the group releases its third album, "Damn the Torpedoes," which includes the breakthrough smash "Refugee." "Torpedoes" eventually goes triple platinum.
1981: Petty challenges MCA's plan to release the band's fourth album, "Hard Promises," with a list price of $9.98. He withholds the album from the label and threatens to change the title to "The 8.98 Album."
1981: Petty records "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. The single climbs to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart.
1982: Bassist Howie Epstein, a protege of '60s rocker Del Shannon ("Runaway") joins the Heartbreakers.
1985: Petty and the Heartbreakers record "Southern Accents" with producer Dave Stewart of Eurythmics at the helm. The video for the single "Don't Come Around Here No More" features Tom dressed as the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."
1988: What started as a joke, Petty and desert resident Jeff Lynne form The Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. "Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1" features the hits "Handle With Care" and "End of the Line."
1988: Roy Orbison's sudden death casts a shadow on The Wilburys' success.
1989: College rock darlings The Replacements open every show of the Heartbreakers '89 tour. Petty later snags singer Paul Westerberg's lyric "rebel without a clue" (from "I'll Be You") for the title track of "Into the Great Wide Open."
1989: Petty releases his first official solo album, "Full Moon Fever," co-produced by Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell. It spawns the hits "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'" and "Runnin' Down A Dream" and remains in the Top 10 for 34 weeks.
1990: Del Shannon, a close friend of Petty, commits suicide at age of 56.
1991: Petty is rejoined by the Heartbreakers for "Into the Great Wide Open," again produced by Lynne and featuring the singles "Learning To Fly" and "Into The Great Wide Open," the video for which features Johnny Depp, Gabrielle Anwar and Faye Dunaway.
1994: Rick Rubin produces Petty's second solo disc, "Wildflowers," containing the modest hits "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "You Wreck Me."
1995: "Playback," a six-CD Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers box set is released. Half of the tracks are B-sides, demos and live versions.
1997: Petty hones his acting chops in Kevin Costner's "The Postman."
1999: The band receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7018 Hollywood Blvd.
1999: Petty and the Heartbreakers release their final collaboration with Rick Rubin at the helm, "Echo." The album is generally considered a disappointment, though it reaches No. 10 on the charts.
2002: Petty appears in an episode of "The Simpsons," titled "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation." He spoofs himself by tutoring Homer on the art of lyric writing, composing a spontaneous song about a sexy girl walking down the street concerned with budget problems in public schools.
2003: Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein dies of complications attributed, in part, to drug use at age 47. Petty: "His (Epstein's) personal problems were vast and serious."
2006: In February, Petty and the Heartbreakers agree to headline Tennessee's fifth annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The band tours throughout much of the summer.
2006: In May, the Red Hot Chili Peppers release the single "Dani California." The song draws comparisons to Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance."
2006: On July 25, Petty releases the solo disc, "Highway Companion." It debuts at No. 4, his highest chart positioning in the SoundScan era.
If you go
What: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
with special guest Jackson Browne
When: Saturday, Oct. 21
Where: Indian Wells Tennis Garden,
78-200 Miles Ave., Indian Wells
Tickets: $95, $75 and $50
Information: (213) 480-3232 or (714) 740-2000