The band formed in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida (The Gators). The first version of the band was called Mudcrutch, and included Petty and Campbell. They became popular in Florida, and occasionally played shows with another Florida band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The only Mudcrutch song released was a single called "Depot Street."
Petty went by "Tommy Petty" until he started releasing albums - he went with "Tom Petty" because it looked better in print. Friends from before this time called him "Tommy."
When they made their album Hard Promises, MCA wanted to sell it for $9.98, which was $1 more than what most albums cost. Petty protested and threatened to name the album "$8.98," so the label backed off and released it at the lower price. Petty's vehemence in releasing the album at the $8.98 price is reflected on the Hard Promises album cover. In the lower right-hand corner, there are albums in a record bin. The album at the front of the right side of the bin shows the $8.98 price. (thanks, Karen - Sacramento, CA)
The band appeared in the 1978 movie FM, which was the inspiration for the TV show WKRP In Cincinnati. Petty has also been in the movies Made In Heaven and The Postman.
In 1988, Petty joined Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and George Harrison in The Traveling Wilburys. Harrison and Orbison played on Petty's 1989 album Full Moon Fever, which was produced by Lynne. The band toured with Dylan in 1986. In an interview with Esquire magazine, Petty said: "The great thing about the Wilburys was that none of us had to take the heat by ourselves. I was just a member of the band. Nobody felt like he was above anybody else. We had such a good time."
Their first success was in the UK, where they toured as a support act for Nils Lofgren in 1977. This got them some TV appearances in Britain, and the single "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll" reached #36 there that summer. It wasn't until February 1978 that they cracked the American Top 40 with "Breakdown
The albums Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers were credited as Tom Petty solo albums, but most of The Heartbreakers played on them.
Their videos have won several MTV Video Music Awards. In 1994, they received a Video Vanguard award for lifetime achievement.
Epstein died in 2003. Personal problems and drug addiction caused him to leave the band a year earlier, and it is likely that drugs played a role in his death.
The original Mudcrutch guitarist was Tom Leadon, brother of Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon. Tom Leadon left the band, but before his departure, Petty played bass.
For about two years starting in 1986, they toured with Bob Dylan as his backing band.
Petty appeared in The Simpsons 2002 episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation," where he shows Homer how to write lyrics. They come up with a song about a sexy girl walking down the street who is concerned with budget problems in public schools.
In 1999, the band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A seminal moment in Petty's life came when he was 11 years old and met Elvis Presley on the set of the movie Follow That Dream in Ocala, Florida. This is when Petty started playing guitar. (thanks, Stevie Lee - WSFR, Louisville, KY, for above 3)
Petty disowned the group's 1999 album Echo, feeling it was not up to snuff. He said he was going through a divorce and in no condition to make an album, but a record was due and he was pressured to make it.
They signed their record deal with Shelter Records, but in 1979, Shelter was acquired by MCA, and Petty had a lot of problems working with the label. When it appeared Petty was in debt to MCA, he filed bankruptcy. MCA sued him, and they agreed to let Petty record under a label they set up specifically for him called Backstreet Records.
At the request of producer Rick Rubin, they backed Johnny Cash on his 1996 album Unchained. Petty considered it some of their best playing.