Article on Danny Roberts of Mudcrutch:
Petty grievances: 'No room' for a lost Heartbreaker
By Bill DeYoung
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
ST. AUGUSTINE — In Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Tom Petty goes from a hungry and ambitious Florida teen to international rock icon.
The four-hour film (just released on DVD), and the coffee-table book that accompanies it, relates the story of Petty and the many musicians who’ve played with him over the past four decades. The tale is told by the star himself along with dozens of present and former band members, business associates and famous admirers.
Danny Roberts is nowhere to be found. A singer/guitarist with Mudcrutch, the Gainesville group that evolved into the Heartbreakers, Roberts spent three years with Petty and company; they were the best of friends, and obsessed with making the big time.
Roberts performed on every recording that brought the group to the attention of the Los Angeles music industry, and even drove the 1969 Volkswagen van that got them there. They performed many of his compositions. He signed the first contracts and played hundreds of shows as part of Mudcrutch.
He sings and plays bass on the only single the group ever released.
There’s a famous photo, circa 1974, of the band in this period. It appears in “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” but Roberts has been airbrushed out.
The Mudcrutch saga takes up much of the film’s first hour.
“I try not to be bitter, but I can’t but be a little hurt by such an intentional snub,” said the 55-year-old Roberts, who’s back playing in Florida bars. “I somehow thought Tom was bigger than that.”
Although Petty was the group’s chief songwriter and vocalist, Roberts was an integral part of their developing formula.
“When they hired me, they tried to talk me into singing his songs,” Roberts said. “But I said ‘This guy’s got a real identity, and it would be foolish to even think about that.’”
Mudcrutch broke up in 1975, without finishing an album. Roberts moved back home to Florida, while Petty and the others remained in California to pick up the pieces.
“They asked me to come back 15 to 20 times,” Roberts said, “every day for a while. They’re hired another guy from Florida to play bass, but it didn’t work out.”
He did head west again, and spent several years playing with New Wave pioneer Phil Seymour. Petty had reformed his group and re-named them the Heartbreakers.
In a statement, Bogdanovich cited the documentary’s epic running time as the reason for Roberts’ exclusion. “We could not possibly encompass every single twist and turn, nor every person who came and went along the way,” the filmmaker said.
“I am sorry Mr. Roberts feels slighted, and can understand his feelings, but we had to keep the viewers’ attention-span in mind, and he was not essential to the journey we were depicting ... Nothing personal.”
Roberts hasn’t seen or heard from his old friends for 20 years. “I’ve gone out of my way not to badmouth Tom or anybody in that band,” he said.
He insists he doesn’t want money; he received a hefty royalty check for the Mudcrutch tracks included on the 1995 Petty anthology “Playback.”
“I want acknowledgement of my input and my contributions,” Roberts said. “I was there. It wouldn’t have happened as it happened without my participation.
“Nothing would have stopped Tom’s talent from making its way to the place that it’s at. It’s like a game of pool — Tom was the 8-ball, but I was the 1-ball. You have to spread them all out on the table to eventually sink the 8-ball into the corner pocket, and win the game.”