In 1989, Petty released Full Moon Fever, his first solo album. Produced by Jeff Lynne, it was met with great critical praise and commercial success but without the full musical assistance from The Heartbreakers. This album would prove to be Tom Petty’s commercial peak, selling over five million copies worldwide and reaching number three on the U.S. charts. Three monster hits were released including “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “Free Fallin.” Recorded in the relaxed environment of Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s garage studio, Petty received recording contributions from all of the Traveling Wilbury members except Bob Dylan. Jeff Lynne helped shape the record by adding layers of keyboards and backing vocals, making it somewhat Beatlesque.
Tom Petty teamed up with the full Heartbreakers band for 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open, yielding the singles “King’s Highway,” and “Learning To Fly.” Petty also hired keyboardist/guitarist Scott Thurston to boost the band’s sound. Drummer Stan Lynch was fired from the band and for a brief period, Dave Grohl joined the band (before starting the Foo Fighters). Soon, drummer Steve Ferrone was hired as the permanent replacement. Tom Petty released his second solo album, Wildflowers, in 1994. This started a great relationship with producer Rick Rubin that would lead to their collaboration on a movie soundtrack, 1996’s She’s the One. 1999’s Echo reached the American top ten and was again produced by Rick Rubin.
In the new millennium, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers recorded 2002’s The Last DJ, an album-length critique with songs about the practices within the music industry. It reached number nine on the U.S. charts. For this recording, bassist Ron Blair returned following the tragic death of Howie Epstein from substance abuse. In 2006, Petty released his third solo album, Highway Companion. He also revived the pre-Heartbreakers Mudcrutch band to tour and release a single (they recorded fourteen songs for an iTunes 2008 release). On February 3rd, 2008, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers performed live at the Super Bowl XLII half-time show. 2010’s Mojo featured a bluesy approach and went to number two on the American charts. The band’s last recording would be 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. It debuted at number one on the U.S. charts, their first ever to top the charts.
Sadly, Tom Petty died from cardiac arrest on October 2nd, 2017. Tom Petty was a prolific musical artist that developed many interesting musical projects and collaborative efforts. Petty was a champion for the rights of artists to maintain their artistic control and freedom. He always remained true to his rock ‘n’ roll roots. Petty demonstrated a strong sense of artistic integrity with great consistency over a forty-year career. He combined elements of British Invasion rock, American garage rock, and a Bob Dylan-like singer/songwriter sensibility to create his distinctively American hybrid style. Petty’s uniquely nasal and slurred voice was comparable to none.
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.