Tom Leadon, the co-founder of Tom Petty’s early Seventies band Mudcrutch and the brother of original Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon, died March 22 at the age of 70.
“It is with great sadness, but profound love and gratitude for his life, that the family of Tom Leadon (Thomas Joseph Leadon) of Nashville, Tennessee and Gainesville, Florida, announce his passing on March 22, 2023 peacefully of natural causes,” a post on Tom Petty’s official fan club said.
“Tom Leadon was my deepest guitar soul brother,” Mike Campbell wrote on Instagram. “We spent countless hours playing acoustic guitars and teaching each other things. A kinder soul never walked the earth. I will always miss his spirit and generosity. Sleep peacefully my old friend.”
“He was a dear friend of Tom and the fellas in the band and our entire family. He was part of the brotherhood,” Petty’s daughter, Adria, said. “He was an excellent and accomplished musician and was the reason Tom reformed Mudcrutch, so that the band could enjoy more time and more music together. Tom loved him deeply.”
Leadon grew up just a few blocks away from Petty in Gainesville, Florida. They first played together as teenagers in the Epics and split off in 1971 to form Mudcrutch alongside Campbell, drummer Randall Marsh, and singer Jim Lenahan. The band was a regular part of the University of Florida fraternity circuit and had a cult following around town, but Leadon left in 1972 to move to Los Angeles following a fight with Petty.
“I was kind of hot-headed,” he told Gainesville Rock History. “I was getting where I wanted to do more bluegrass and country music, and we weren’t hanging out as often anymore because I was with my girlfriend and not hanging with Tom all the time like I usually had done. So there was just kind of a direction friction … Mudcrutch was still young and we were all riffing a lot and playing lots of licks and trying to play fast. We weren’t as mature as the Eagles because they were seasoned from doing lots of recording out in L.A. and playing in professional groups.”
Not long afterwards, Petty and the rest of Mudcrutch followed him out to Los Angeles. “The idea was to come out here and see [Leadon].” Petty told writer Paul Zollo. “It was the greatest trip of my life, really.”
By the time they arrived, Leadon had followed in his brother Bernie’s footsteps by taking a job as the lead guitarist in Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. In 1975, he co-wrote “Hollywood Waltz” on the Eagles LP One Of These Nights. “It helped a lot, and was a real education in the music business,” Leadon 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 [song placement].”
In 1976, he joined the country-rock band Silver alongside future Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Midland. They scored a Number 16 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang,” but broke up two years later.
Leadon kept a low profile throughout the Eighties and Nineties, eventually moving to Nashville and working as a guitar teacher. In 2007, his rang while he was driving home from the grocery store. Petty was on the other end.
“I hadn’t talked to Tom on the phone in about 30 years,” Leadon told Rolling Stone in 2016. “I didn’t believe it was him for a while. I thought one of my friends was playing a joke on me, but he kept talking until I recognized his voice. Then I pulled over to hear him better and after a while my frozen food began melting.”
Petty told him he had grown nostalgic while watching old Mudcrutch footage in the Peter Bogdanovich documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. He wanted to reform the band for a new album and brief California club tour. The group cut 2008’s Mudcrutch in a single week. “As soon as we started playing with them again,” Leaden said. “It felt like we were home.”
The band reconvened in 2016 to cut Mudcrutch 2, which they followed with their first nationwide tour. Leadon hadn’t done anything like that since Silver opened up for the Doobie Brothers and America in 1976. “We flew commercial back then and had to wake up at 7:00 am,” he told Rolling Stone. “This tour is very different. I keep carrying things myself. They go, ‘No, no, no. You don’t do that. We’ve got guys to do that.’ I go, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ In my world I do everything, so I’m adjusting. It’s not too bad. They’re taking really good care of me.”
Mudcrutch played their final gig June 30, 2016 at Humphrey’s in San Diego, California. Petty’s death the following year ended the band, though Leadon continued to perform solo shows until shortly before his death. In December, he posted a cover of “Here Comes the Sun” on Instagram from a gig he played at Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor in Franklin, Tennessee.
“Tom had a friendly and outgoing personality and sharp wit,” his brother Mark Leadon wrote on Facebook. “He was a great and very funny storyteller. Tom loved his family and 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 make his last years great ones. He was greatly loved and will be greatly missed.”