Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded two more albums (2010’s Mojo and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye) and like that, eight years had passed since the first Mudcrutch record. “I honestly didn’t realize it had been that long,” says Petty. “We just kept saying we were going to do it. We were just looking for a hole in the schedule.” Leadon began feeling like the group might never come back together, but when he went backstage at Bonnaroo in 2013 to visit with Petty, the singer reassured him a second Mudcrutch album was very much alive.
They were supposed to begin work in early 2015, right around the time Leadon was diagnosed with a serious lung ailment. Doctors told him they could either remove a portion of one lung or give him antibiotics that would likely get him through the Mudcrutch record and tour. “One of the first people I called was Tom,” says Leadon. “He said, ‘No, go ahead and have the surgery. We’ll wait.’ I was really glad they were so patient.”
Six months after the successful surgery — they only removed 10 percent of a lung — Leadon was well enough to begin work and flew out to Los Angeles, crashing at Petty’s estate with Marsh. “You have to understand that the place is pretty spread out,” says Petty. “They just became part of the scenery.” Leadon and Marsh wound up staying at Petty’s house for the three months it took to record the second Mudcrutch record. “We had blocks of hanging out in Tom’s kitchen talking about old times and just sharing our opinions about stuff,” Leadon says. “I hope we didn’t wear out our welcome.”
Planning the tour, Petty wanted to play small venues, limiting their set list to Mudcrutch material and a few covers. “I insisted we not play anywhere bigger than 2,000 people,” he says. “I just don’t feel like we earned the right to headline 20,000-seaters.” They broke the rule when they accepted a couple of festival dates, including Cincinnati’s Bunbury: “We only did that so we could pay our expenses,” says Petty. “We aren’t rolling in money from this tour at all.”
“Tom is in a position where he could do anything he wants with anyone he wants,” says Campbell. “The beauty of this is that he wants to reconnect with his old friends, not for money, but the pure joy of revisiting the energy that we started with. It’s been very, very spiritual. It’s commendable that he’d do something so generous.”
Touring with Mudcrutch requires Petty to take on a new role. Mudcrutch jam extensively, and everyone in the band sings lead on at least one song. “I’m playing bass, so I’m not that free to be an entertainer,” he says. “I need to be locked into the rhythm. It’s a totally different kind of gig. But I’d say, no bullshit, we’re really enjoying this. I’m extremely engaged in what we’re doing now.” For the other members of the Heartbreakers, the shows present challenges they haven’t faced in decades: “We aren’t playing all those hits, so you can’t rest on your laurels,” says Campbell. “We live or die on how good we make the show.”
Tench enjoys the challenge. “When we play ‘Refugee’ [at Heartbreakers shows] we play it to the best of our ability and we’re in the song,” he says. “But the truth is when fans hear the opening drum fill they’re going to cheer because they love the song. When you hear an opening drum fill with Mudcrutch you don’t know what’s coming next. I love that our fans are sticking with it anyway.”
They could have played “Don’t Do Me Like That,” which began as an unreleased Mudcrutch song before Petty re-recorded the track for 1979’s Damn The Torpedoes. “Somebody brought that up and it is true,” says Tench. “Randall does play it very differently. But that would open the door to people saying, ‘Why don’t you do this, too?’ I don’t want to open that door.”