Tom Leadon, guitarist and founding member of Tom Petty‘s first band, Mudcrutch, has died. He was 70. “It is with great sadness, but profound love and gratitude for his life, that the family of Tom Leadon … announce his passing on March 22, 2023, peacefully of natural causes,” his brother, Mark Leadon, posted on Facebook.
“Tom Leadon was my deepest guitar soul brother, we spent countless hours playing acoustic guitars and teaching each other things,” Heartbreakers guitarist and Mudcrutch co-founder Mike Campbell posted on Twitter. “A kinder soul never walked the earth. I will always miss his spirit and generosity. Sleep peacefully, my old friend.”
Leadon was born in Rosemount, Minn., but his family moved to San Diego when he was 4. They moved again in 1964 to Gainesville, Fla., Petty’s hometown.
It was there that Leadon met Petty in the local band the Epics. “I was fascinated with Petty, he always fascinated me, I thought he was very entertaining and very talented in his own way,” Leadon later said. “I started hanging around with the Epics and would work the lights for them, and after a couple months they asked me to join, and Tom told me later he was pushing for that. He felt he needed a good musician, someone who could really play guitar, and I was only 14.”
The Epics eventually turned into Mudcrutch with Leadon and Campbell on guitar, Petty on bass, drummer Randall Marsh and singer Jim Lenehan. This lineup released one locally distributed single, “Up In Mississippi,” with a B-side of “Cause Is Understood” in 1971. Leadon left the band a year later in 1972 and headed for California, where his older brother, Bernie, a former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, had formed Eagles.
Listen to Mudcrutch’s ‘Up in Mississippi”
Tom Leadon also played for a short time with Linda Ronstadt; in 1975, Eagles included one of Leadon’s songs, “Hollywood Waltz,” on One of These Nights. “It helped a lot and was a real education in the music business,” Leadon later said. “I learned about publishing and how people can rip off your publishing, and I didn’t get all the money I was supposed to get but I did get a lot of it. I’m grateful to my brother for that.”
In 1976, Leadon joined the band Silver, whose song “Wham Bam” became a Top 20 hit and inspired Petty to move his latest band the Heartbreakers westward. “That did it,” Petty said in the 2005 book Conversations With Tom Petty. “‘OK, we’re going to California. That’s the way it is. We’re going to L.A.'”
In 2007, Mudcrutch reunited and recorded two albums, Mudcrutch (2008) and Mudcrutch 2 (2016), both of which made the Top 10. “We spent more time getting sounds this time, and I think you’ll hear that,” Leadon said in 2016 of the second LP. “The first time, whatever we had plugged in, that’s pretty much what you got. There was a beauty to that. Yet this time we took a little more time with ‘What amp are we going to use? Which guitar?’ What effects might we use, and how to arrange the parts the right way.”
Leadon was also a guitar teacher in Nashville and performed with his band the Bayjacks. In 2017, shortly after Petty’s death, Leadon wrote and released a tribute to his former bandmate called “My Best Old Friend.” Leadon performed at 2022’s Tom Petty Weekend, which was held in Gainesville.
“We grew up in San Diego, but there was more of a music scene in Gainesville, more of a band scene,” Leadon once said. “It was a rich culture for music. At the time I didn’t realize it as much … but Gainesville was a really special place to be.”
“Tom had a friendly and outgoing personality and sharp wit,” his brother Mark noted on Facebook. “He was a great and very funny storyteller. Tom loved his family, close friends and all of the Mudcrutch, Tom Petty and Bayjacks fans. He enjoyed meeting and talking with all of you. Thank you for helping to make his last years great ones. He was greatly loved and will be greatly missed.”
Watch Tom Leadon Perform With Mudcrutch in 2016
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