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Turning Back the Clock - Mudcrutch Interview

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Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh—two of the original members of Mudcrutch alongside Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and later Benmont Trench—the band’s reunion has been nothing short of a dream. And while the other three members have notched countless sold-out amphitheaters and arenas under their belts, not to mention this past Super Bowl halftime show, as The Heartbreakers, it’s clear Mudcrutch has been revitalizing. We caught up with Campbell, Leadon and Marsh to hear how it was going half way through their first tour in over 30 years.

What was it like hearing the idea of the Mudcrutch reunion not from Tom Petty but from Peter Bogdanovich?

Tom Leadon: Peter had come to Brentwood, TN where I teach music to interview me [for the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream]. He asked me if I had any Mudcrutch pictures, so I took him into my room and he was saying, “Aww, we’ve seen all these already. You know, Tom mentioned to me the other day that he was thinking of having a Mudcrutch reunion.” I have to say that his words shot through me like a bolt of lightening. … I’ve been practicing everyday for years because I’m a musician but I always had faith that some day I could do something and get my music out there. I told Peter to tell Tom I was up for it. It was about another seven or eight months before I heard from Tom. I’m still just living a dream here. I feel better than if I won the lottery.

Randall Marsh: I was dumbfounded. I just presumed they’d been working on the movie and maybe had a few beers and Peter misconstrued some nostalgic idea. So I didn’t take it that seriously.

Leadon: When he called me, I was driving home from the supermarket and he said, “Hey, this is your old pal Tom Petty,” and I was like, “No… really?” I thought it was one of my friends jerking my chain. He said it again and I said again, “No… really?” I couldn’t hear him very well so I pulled my truck over to the side of the road and we talked for about an hour and it was just great.

I didn’t know that we’d do a whole record, I don’t think any of us did. Tom said he had an equipment warehouse and he’d set up some tape recording equipment and I thought, “Well, maybe we’ll make some demos and maybe something down the line will come out of it.” I was still really excited. I thought we’d get together for two or three days and just have fun, play a little music and then go home. As I got subsequent calls from Tom over the next few months, I found out that he was blocking out two weeks of time, that he had one of the best engineers in the business, and I’m thinking this is starting to sound really good. I was asking him about airline expenses and he said, “Ah, there’ll probably be a record deal somewhere down the line.” And I’m thinking to myself, record deal! And we hadn’t even played a note.

Did you ever expect, after this long—three decades—that this might happen?

Mike Campbell: It was out of the blue. I was pleasantly surprised when he called me and asked me what I thought. I thought, “That’d be really fun to do.” I was also surprised that with The Heartbreakers and all the other activities we’ve got going on—we’d just done the Super Bowl and we were setting up a summer tour—and I was impressed that Tom was so keen to do it, that he wanted to find time to squeeze this in. Obviously Tom didn’t have to do this project; this is something he really wanted to do.

It seems like Mudcrutch offers all of you an opportunity to be free of expectations, both from fans and label executives.

Campbell: It’s so liberating to do a project that has no baggage with it, no expectations. On some level it’s compared to The Heartbreakers but it’s a completely separate band, separate style of music. It’s still the same songwriter and singer but in this band Tom plays bass and that creates a whole different feel and different concept of how the music is going to flow. It’s really exciting to walk out onstage and not play any hits—for me, Ben [benmont Trench] and Tom, that’s a real revelation. And to still have it go over as well as it has—the audiences are just going nuts—it’s real eye opener for the three of us that we can go out onstage with our original band, play songs they’ve never heard before and have it really work.

What was the first reunion show like in Malibu?

Campbell: It was a different type of pressure than, say, the Super Bowl or some big arena concert because they are right up in front of you and you’re presenting music they’ve never heard before. It was a real nice challenge and it was—and still is—very exciting to get up and play with our old friends. We were pleasantly surprised that people really seemed to respond to the chemistry and honesty of what we were presenting.

Leadon: I had the jitters a little bit. I remember driving over there in the car with Tom and Randall and it was just a magical thing, driving along the water to the gig and having the place sold-out. I just felt like at my age, here I am 55 years old, played guitar for 45 of them and played in a lot bands—and this was the most special band I was ever in, these were the guys I grew up with—so in a sense it was my coming-out party. It just felt like it was time.

Marsh: I kept telling myself, you take away the fame and celebrity, it’s just another gig, just another band. But before we went on, I was about to wet my pants. [laughs] These guys are so good, such pros, I didn’t want to let anybody down.

“Crystal River” seems to be something special, something a bit different than the rest of the tunes.

Campbell: That song was from the first day we got together and Tom had just barely written it. He just showed us the chords. We were getting use to the room and getting used to playing together again, so it did stretch on a bit because we were just discovering our sound. When we play that song live, it is one of the high points of the show. It seems like the audience is in on the joke—that these guys are really enjoying this and it’s fresh. And even though I haven’t heard this song before, there’s something magical going on that they really connect with. Every night it does that have element of “We’re going to go off in this direction and see where it lands.” It’s very exciting because The Heartbreakers don’t do that much.

The song represents all the elements that were Mudcrutch. Mudcrutch had two worlds that were coming together. One world was Tom Leadon and Tom Petty, who were deeply engrossed in country rock like Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds’ country stuff or The Flying Burrito Brothers. Randall and I were really versed in long improvisations, Grateful Deadish-type feel. Those two worlds are well represented in that song. It’s got a bit of country swing and feel in the verses but the instrumental part tends to take a few liberties, stretch out and come back to that. Those two worlds together is basically what the Mudcrutch sound is.

Does this band sound like the original Mudcrutch?

Campbell: The key here is it’s very true to the original Mudcrutch. The Mudcrutch that got signed to Shelter records and put out a few singles was a different Mudcrutch: Tom Leadon had left, Randall Marsh had left and a few other guys had come in and we’d gotten a little away from that original sound. This band is the original lineup and inspiration of what that band was all about. It sounds just like we did back in the day. When we recorded the album, we made a point of recording it live with no headphones, live vocals, live solos. It’s very, very true.

Leadon: What’s different, though, is that 30 some years later, we’ve all been playing, some of us famously, some of us not so famously. We’ve all been progressing with our music and I feel like we’re all much better players, singers and writers than we were then. When we started Mudcrutch, I wasn’t even 18 yet and by the time I was 20, I’d left the band. We had something special, it just never had a chance to fully develop. That’s something that’s so satisfying with his project. To me it feels like a chance to see what might have been.

Did you go back and listen to the original material when you were all together?

Campbell: That’s another thing that’s interesting: Even though we have the same sound and chemistry that we had back in the day, maybe 80 percent of the songs are freshly written.

Has there been any thought to revisit it or are you letting it lie?

Campbell: We like to leave that alone and move on with newer songs. We did a few covers on the record that were older, that we used to do back in the day, like “Six Days on the Road” and “Lover on the Bayou.” There’s one song on the album that we brought back from the old days that we actually never recorded but used to play at our shows that Tom Leadon wrote, “Queen of the Go Go Girls.”

Leadon: Now that we’re much more mature, better players—and Tom was always a good writer but now he’s a great writer—we come in and do the best song we have at the moment and it’s not going to be a song we wrote 35 years ago. Most of the others are brand-new songs and that’s because Tom is writing better now than he did then. He thought about some of the old songs, he thought, “Nah, that’s the sound of guys learning to play and write.”

One of the bands that Mudcrutch gets compared to a lot is Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons. I’m curious to hear your respective takes on Parsons.

Campbell: I’ve always thought he was a genius, brilliant and very soulful singer and I always loved his records. It was actually Tom Leadon and Tom Petty who turned me on to him. I just loved his whole trip.

Leadon: Tom and I first heard him, like many people, on Sweetheart of the Rodeo and we were really into that and we actually used to cover some of the tunes he did, like “Empty Bottle, Broken Heart.” We were hip to the fact that he and Chris Hillman started The Flying Brothers. Hillman was someone who my older brother Bernie had been in a band with as teenagers in San Diego before The Byrds, called Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. Chris was the main guy that inspired my brother to move to L.A. to try and make it. So we started listening to the first Flying Burrito album and we just loved it. We were doing Flying Burritos covers and nobody in Florida was doing anything like that. They didn’t understand why these longhaired rock musicians would be playing this truck-stop country music. We just loved it. Gram, for me, was the one that inspired me to sing other than just a few harmony parts I used to do. … So really, the reason Tom Petty and I got into country was my brother’s influence. We’d get these records from the West Coast and the public in general didn’t know about it and then [my brother] joined The Flying Burrito Brothers, which was our favorite band. I was just thrilled. He made a couple of records with them.

When I moved to LA in ‘73—I was the first to leave Mudcrutch and I was living with my brother—I met Gram there at some nightclubs with Clarence White and people like that. He was just my hero. Bernie played on his last album, Grievous Angel, and took me to the sessions so I got to hang out with Gram and I got to meet Emmylou [Harris] and they became close friends. It was just such a tragedy when he died. I saw the destructive side of him as well. I hung out with him enough to see that. I felt that he was a genius but a flawed genius. He was a wonderful person. … Ultimately he didn’t take care of himself, he destroyed himself and… it’s not a good thing he did there. We could still have Gram today if he didn’t do that… I just don’t understand why people do things like that to themselves but we’re lucky we had him when we did. His vision of putting together rock, country, gospel and R&B for this cosmic American music that he talked about, it really affected a lot of the music that came after that.

Mike, what is it like playing with Tom on bass after so long and working with the other Tom on guitar? Do you sense that it might make the Heartbreakers’ dynamic fresh in some ways?

Campbell: Tom played bass back in the day with Mudcrutch—when I met him, he was the bass player and he was always great at the bass. All the years with The Heartbreakers, he’s played guitar, which he’s also great on. He writes his songs on the guitar. I know Tom was really keen to play the bass again and I know he practiced it really hard for this project because he wanted to make sure he could carry his end. I think playing the bass and making this record live, I think it was an eye-opener for Tom to sing live and play the bass, it really connected him with how he started out in bands. I think it’s liberated him and made him enjoy music in a way that he hasn’t in many years. I am hopeful that some of that energy and awakening will spillover into stuff we do in the future.

What does the future hold for Mudcrutch?

Campbell: The whole project started as a whim and then it became a record and now it’s become some gigs. Every step along the way it’s been so enjoyable and so positive and received so well, I can’t see any reason for it not to continue. It’s just a matter of finding time to do it. We’re as happy as a musician can be playing these gigs. Something this fun you couldn’t just put it down and not keeping going.

http://www.relix.com/Features/Interviews/Turning_Back_the_Clock_200805282935.html

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I adored reading this! I love hearing what Tom L and Randall had to say about being 'called up' by their old friend. HAHA

I sort of over listened to this album in the beginning because I loved it so much. lol Now I play it once or twice a week and it is a total love affair all over again!

More please, Mudcrutch! :003:

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What a very nice article. I enjoyed reading thoughts from these guys. So honest and down to earth.

I could see how excited Tom was to be playing in Mudcrutch. I have never seen that man smile so much on stage. He was having the time of his life. I hope we see more of Mudcrutch.

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I love all of the interviews. I agree Marion; it's so nice to read about their thoughts and experiences. They were all so happy at the shows.............. I hope they do more shows and recordings.....encore, encore...

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It was such a pleasure to read these interviews. I can't imagine how Tom L. and Randall Marsh felt when they finally got the call from Tom Petty. They must still be on cloud nine. I especially like hearing Mike say this..."I can’t see any reason for it not to continue. It’s just a matter of finding time to do it. We’re as happy as a musician can be playing these gigs"...:045:

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