Mudcrutch. This article isn’t going to be about Mudcrutch, per se, I just like to say the name: Mudcrutch. This FTV is going to be about the mystical process of coming up with a name for a band and I just happen to be reading Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes (2015 Henry Holt & Co). Petty and Zanes spend quite a bit of time on Tom Petty’s earliest bands and the one that jumped out at me was Mudcrutch. Why? Mostly because Petty himself reveals that, more or less, “I have no idea why we thought this was a great name. Mudcrutch! Maybe we thought it sounded kind of dirty.”
The truth is, very few bands come up with the perfect name on the first try. The best example I can think of (where the first name was a great name) is Lindsay Tomasic and Jesse Fitzpatrick’s band, Trees. Trees came together in Houghton when they were in their teens and carries on to this day even though Jesse lives in the Copper Country and Lindsay works out of Los Angeles. Lindsay has played with other musicians during the years, but Trees is a common thread dating back to the beginning of their collaborative efforts.
Petty’s band history in his home town of Gainesville, Florida revolves mostly around a band called The Epics. The Epics did the normal amount of “musician roulette” where band members come and go while they try to forge something special. When the earliest pieces of what would eventually become Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first came together, The Epics was deemed “too corny” so they somehow came up with Mudcrutch.
Long time Heartbreakers keyboard player Benmont Tench had begun jamming on stage with The Epics – Mudcrutch while he was still at prep school in the northeast. He more or less blew off his second year of college at Tulane to join Mudcrutch full time. When his parents laid down the law (Tench’s father was a judge, after all) and told him, “If you aren’t going to college, you will need to find a different place to live.” Petty went to the Tench household to talk to the judge and convince him that it would all work out. I wonder how on earth Petty managed to explain to the imposing Judge Tench that his son’s future lay with Mudcrutch? Petty’s band members all agree that he was very persuasive; he talked most of them into ditching college to be in his band, so none of them were surprised that he convinced Tench’s parents to let him live at home while pursuing a musical career. Perhaps they wanted to see if the hours of piano lessons they had insisted Benmont endure would amount to anything. In light of the stellar career he has had, I am pretty sure they are satisfied that they made the right decision.
When I first started playing the drums, I used black electrical tape to form the words “THE END” on my bass drum with “THE” running downward and “END” going sideways making an “L” shape with the two words sharing the “E”. One of the songs I had been playing along with was The End off The Doors first album. I thought this would be a cool name for a band until I was in eighth grade and Ron Phillips came by with his band. His lead vocalist-drummer had switched to keyboard and they were looking for a new drummer. I didn’t get the gig but what I did get was somewhat embarrassed when their old drummer looked at my artwork and said, “What the heck is that? Are you in a band already?” I admitted that I just like the sound but the shared eye-rolling by the band had me peeling the tape strips off my drums the next day. Drummer household hint #1: Do NOT use electrical tape on drum heads as it takes a lot of alcohol pads get the sticky residue off a drum head!
Flash forward a couple of years; Mike, Gene and I had been woodshedding long enough that we knew we needed a name before we started playing gigs. I trotted out The End to more eye rolling and left it at that. For a while, we called ourselves The Bight over our habit of saying, “That bites” to anything we didn’t like only we would always say, “That B.I,G.H.T.S.” by spelling it out letter by letter. We got tired of this really quickly and Mike pointed out spelling it out with the periods would make people think it meant something else. We couldn’t even think of what someone might think this meant, but we did not want to have to keep explaining it or spelling it over and over.
I believe it was Gene who offered up The Twig. Once he said it, we liked the way it sounded and it looked even better when Mike made up business cards for us in his voc ed printing class. I found it was a nice feeling to be identified with a band name. Seeing it on posters or in ads meant that people outside of our circle of friends knew who we were. We were now, in effect, branded. Just as Mudcrutch meant something to Petty and the boys, The Twig meant something to us. I occasionally run into old school mates and when they ask if I am still playing, The Twig usually comes up by name – not bad for a band that played its last gig at the Munising Youth Center in the summer of 1971.
Unless I find where I packed away my high school yearbooks, I could not tell you the name of half the bands that played for dances at our school. The names I do remember brought something to the party that made them memorable. My first failed audition was with Sweat Equity. My summer as a practice fill in drummer gig was with The Self Winding Grapefruit. East of Orange was THE dance band in Marquette County for many years. Walrus was the one band that came out of Marquette who everyone knew was going to make it big when they relocated to Ann Arbor. No one makes a big deal about them not making it big, but they are remembered by name to this day. Cooper Lake Road, The Joe Arkansas Band (which slowly morphed into a band people are more familiar with today called Da Yoopers), The French Church, 4 Degrees North, Conga se Menne, Sunstone, The Excells: There were more bands before, during and after my years gigging in the Marquette area and everyone of them has a backstory to their name.
When Escanaba’s Steve Seymour was still writing his Rock ‘n’ Roll Graffiti articles in the Daily Press, he sent me an e-mail looking for some band names from the central U.P. and the Copper Country. Of course I shared my story of “almost joining the Self Winding Grapefruit”. Months later, he wrote me a note: “Hey Ken – I was at a concert at the casino in Harris and got into a discussion about music with the guy sitting behind me. We talked about a bunch of things and w
hen we started talking local bands, he said, “I used to be the drummer in a band called The Self Winding Grapefruit.” He almost fell out of his seat when I said, ‘yeah, I have heard of them’”.
It seems that bands come and go, but the band names have the ability to live on. Mudcrutch rebanded with the original members to make an eponymous album in 2008 just to see if they could do it. It isn’t the Heartbreakers but it isn’t a cover band either. A rare case where the name lived on long enough to resurface and produce a very good album. Mudcrutch 2 is now in the works but the band is mum if there will be a Volume 3 down the line.
Top Piece video – Tom himself explains Mudcrutch