Tom Leadon played in Mudcrutch in Gainesville in the early '70s. His brother Bernie was an original member of the Eagles. This unedited interview reveals an intriguing and detailed life of growing up in a large musical family and moving from Southern California to the Deep South and of the musical adventures that followed.
I was born in 1952 in Rosemount, Minnesota, a farming community south of Minneapolis a little ways and when I was four years old we moved to San Diego, in 1957 and then in 1964 in the Fall we moved to Gainesville right before school started. My youngest brother Fran was born in Gainesville a couple years after we moved there, he was ten, there was nine of us, Fran was born 1966 or ‘67.
When we arrived in Florida from San Diego, we landed in the middle of a hurricane, our flight was routed to Orlando to a military base, we were supposed to land in Jacksonville, but Hurricane Dora was hitting Fla right at that time (Sep 9-12). It was bad timing for us because we left San Diego before the Beatles got to San Diego on their U.S. tour. So we missed them there and we got there too late to see them in Jacksonville so we never did see the Beatles live. I saw the YouTube of them at Jacksonville, you can see how windy it was, all their hair was blowing around, and people told me who were there that you could only hear them if the wind happened to blow in your direction. We landed in Orlando when it was raining just as hard as it could and it was really windy and we got in a Greyhound bus that started to go to Gainesville and during the trip a tree branch blew up against the windshield of the bus and cracked it.
When we arrived at the bus station on South 2nd Ave at SW 6th St, we got out of the bus and the water was at least six inches deep. We went over to the house, by Benmont’s, it rained for three days, and everything was flooded. This house had a porch in the middle of it, kind of an L-shaped and right in the middle was a screened-in porch and there were just insects everywhere. Southern California hardly has insects. There were these big cockroaches that would fly, and I woke up one night with one on my nose, it was just freaky. I was the fourth oldest. There was Bernie, Chris, Mary, then myself, then Mark, then Monica then Michael, Margaret, Katie and after we moved to Gainesville we had Fran.
In some ways it was competitive in the sense that we were all expected to do well in our studies in school and in sports or whatever we were involved in. You’re brothers and sisters, you don’t want to feel you’re not doing as good as the others. If there was competition it was friendly. When you’re little kids you’re trying to impress your parents, I remember being at picnics and all of us kids yelling at our mom and dad saying “look at me look at me, look at what I’m doing” so poor Mom and Dad were like yeah, that’s good. My mother was a really great piano player and she also played piano in church. And my dad was an excellent singer as far as being a choir singer, so he was usually in the choir, my mom would often be the organist but she had an old upright piano in our house and she could really play great, old show tunes from the ‘30s in a real stride kind of older style, she played the bass notes with the left hand, she could play any kind of melody and chords, she was just fantastic and had a very wonderful rhythm to what she did, a very light dancing way of playing and she just made the piano come alive.
And we all experienced this when we were inside my mother, and when we were little kids crawling around her feet by the pedals of the piano and just listening to the soundboard which is right next to your head at that point; and I remember thinking to myself when I was about four years old, when we first had moved to San Diego, I distinctly remember I was down by her feet listening to that soundboard and I thought to myself this must be what it sounds like in heaven. It sounded that good to me; I just loved what she played. Her and my father encouraged us in music.
For myself, in third grade, we went to a small catholic school in SD, St. Vincent de Paul, which we affectionately called Vinny’s. The monsignor decided he wanted to have a band for the school and he hired this guy who had been putting together bands in other catholic schools in S.D., a guy named William Cody and he was a professional trumpet player who had a music studio in downtown SD and one day he came in with his trumpet and gave a pitch that he was starting a band and wanted to see if any of us were interested in joining up and he got his trumpet out and played a few songs and of course he was really good and I was very excited by that so I went home and told my mother and dad and they got me a trumpet and signed me up with the band, and he went to all the other grades and played and the grade up from me he played his trumpet so we had a lot of trumpet players in those grades, especially the boys, a lot of the girls went more for the clarinets and flutes.
My brother Mark, a year younger than me, played the trombone; apparently Mr. Cody played a trombone for them so my brother and a few of his classmates played trombone. So we got a band together of about 25 students and once a week we had rehearsal and got to get out of class in the afternoon and go over to the little activity center across the playground, and the poor guy must have had so much patience to sit down with 25 kids that didn’t know how to play and I was having trouble on the trumpet, especially with the high notes and they thought I should switch to a baritone horn; he loaned me one but I kept practicing the trumpet and I came in and hit a D note or whatever it is that I couldn’t hit, and I realized if I practiced I could get better at this. I preferred the trumpet, and my parents also signed me up for private lessons with Mr. Cody and once a week on a Saturday I’d walk about a mile with my trumpet, get on the bus, ride to downtown SD, get off and walk past all the strip joints and the bars where all the sailors hung out and I’d walk upstairs to his studio, and he was very strict, with a suit and a baton, he’d start tapping on the music stand, and he was really strict and a really good teacher, and I owe him quite a bit for helping me get started.
I played in that band until we moved to Gainesville and they got pretty good, we won second place out of all the Catholic schools in a contest, and we’d play for St. Patrick’s Day and he had an allstar band of all the Catholic a dozen schools and I played in that for a couple years, so I was doing that and playing baseball, that was my two interests. When we moved to Gainesville the St Patrick’s school that I went to didn’t have a band so I wasn’t playing my t and a couple years later one of my friends from Howard Bishop invited me to come over and sit in with their band but that time I was rusty on trumpet and I could see I’d really have to practice a lot to get my chops back. I was in the eighth grade by that time and spending a lot of time.
My brother Bernie started playing guitar in eighth grade so I would have been in third grade. He had been a trombone player in a concert and marching band, it wasn’t a school band, it was a private band a bandleader started, they marched in parades and did concerts downtown, then he got into playing folk music. When we moved from San Diego I turned twelve my birthday is September 16th so I had just turned twelve a few weeks after we moved to Gville. Right after we moved there. My brother and my parents were really into folk music, so there were banjos and mandolins then my brother started playing banjo and really got into bluegrass, so we were really hearing a lot of bluegrass music, my brother started a folk group called the Appalachians and he was also playing with Chris Hillman in the Scottsdale Squirrel Barkers.
We were all very sad to leave San Diego. My dad was in the aerospace industry and it was going into a recession in San Diego and a lot of people were being laid off and he was not laid off but felt it was an unstable situation and he had nine kids to support and he got offered a job Notre Dame and Texas but he chose Gville. Why? My mother didn’t want to go back to the cold weather; we were all glad to be in SD and get out of the winters of Minnesota, so that was a big reason. He thought that of the offers he had that he liked Gainesville the best, a smaller town. Growing up in SD there were a lot of kids there and a lot of activity a lot of energy and we all had a lot of friends and we were all kind of brokenhearted to leave and so we had each other, that was one of the good things about having a big family is that you kind of brought a lot of friends along with you. That was really a blessing.
One thing my dad did was he got rid of the TV. We had a TV for awhile, a black and white and I guess it needed to be repaired and he said "I’m tired of everybody arguing about what program we’re going to watch and they have all these stupid commercials and its not a good use of our time and so I’m not having it repaired; we’re not going to have a TV." This might have been in 1958. When we moved to Gville the first year we were there we rented a house over near the university. It was one street over from Benmont’s street, where he lived, there was a wooded area with a creek between our streets and I walked down to the creek but I never walked to his street. Right off Univ. Ave, the next street west of Benmont’s, 23rd Terrace or something. They had a color TV.
Country music. We started watching that TV and on weekends we started watching, from Nashville TN the Porter Wagoner Show every weekend, I really liked Porter, he had an electric banjo player, Buck Trent and we had never seen a pedal steel guitar being played before and we were fascinated with that. There was a color tv in the rental. We watched Bonanza and I remember seeing Freddie and the Dreamers, saw the Rolling Stones for the first time, Mick Jagger in his sweatshirt.
After a year my dad bought some property near NE Park which was called City Park across from St Patrick’s [School] and near TP’s house, it was off the street, the back part of someone’s property and the next year we moved into a house there. In the eighth grade the house was finished and we moved in in 1965.
The Epics was not the first band I was in, the first band was w/Herbie Bobby Bracken and it was called The Group. Herbie had left the Epics, it was probably an acrimonious. And Bobby Bracken, they all lived down near Ricky Dickie and Rodney so there was a bad feeling. Herbie left the Epics and him and Bobby talked my parents into letting me be in their band...that was the first band, I was 13, by the time we started working I turned 14, we were playing high school dances and stuff like that. the Group was Carl Patti on bass, Herbie Bohannon, Bobby Bracken, Tom Leadon. We had a drummer called Scott Pothier, then Carl joined and we worked for a while with them. my dad made me quit.
We got this guy who was supposed to be our manager and he got us a gig at the Roaring ‘20s on University Ave. not too far from 13th St, near the Record Bar, east of 13th on the south side, we got a weekend at this bar, he said he was going to get social chairmen from fraternities to come and hear us, because we wanted to break into the frat circuit, which was more lucrative than the teenage dances. But, he felt I was so young that he should ask my parents permission, which was a mistake, because my father told him OK he can do that weekend and then he’s out of the band! The reason he said was my grades were so bad. They were, but they had always been bad because I was always playing sports if I wasn’t playing music. But that broke my heart, and a couple weeks of not being in a band I was really depressed and these kids from school Tom Holz and Chip Grant and Michael Fender and Mike Branch, they were putting this band together and asked me to be in it so I was sneaking out of the house to do that, the Essex, all except Mike Branch were ninth graders at Howard Bishop. These guys were my age; the only time I ever played with guys my age.
Branch was in eighth grade so he really started early. We played private parties and Battle of the Bands, there was one downtown at The Place. We were playing the talent show at Howard Bishop and my parents showed up! They saw me playing and I thought I was really in trouble but they just let me keep doing it, probably figured I just needed to do it. When they kicked me out of the group they took my Gretsch Tennessean guitar that my mother had given me. She had bought this guitar for my brother Bernie when he was in the Maundy Quintet. It really belonged to my mother, so she gave it to me to play in the group and then they took it away.
Bernie was in the basic training for the Army Reserve that he had joined during the Vietnam War, and in the Reserve unless they activated your unit you didn’t go to Vietnam, you got to stay in town. So he had to go to basic training and he left his Gibson 335 cherry-red in the closet and I found it. I was playing that with the Essex.
I did that till the end of the ninth grade and that was when I started to hang around The Epics
The first time I heard of TP, one of my classmates said there’s a band practicing over there, why don’t we listen? so we walked over and stood in Petty’s side yard and listened to them, he was in the Sundowners, neither of us knew him, but Bernie walked over one day and must have met Petty. The guys that were in the Epics, Rodney Rucker was a friend of my other older brother Chris, they were classmates and Chris brought him home one day and they heard me playing guitar in the bedroom and they invited me to come out and sit in at a rehearsal there, and this was before TP was in the Epics. And I went to their house in South Gainesville and I knew some songs they didn’t know, my brother had shown me “Nowhere Man” and I showed them how to play that, and that was the first time I’d ever played with a rock band, Dickie Underwood was on the drums; they had another bass player, a university student, and Herbie Bohannon was the singer. He was their lead singer before Petty got in the band. I’d played with them and that was the second band I played with; the first was a gospel band at the black missionary church over on 2nd Sreett near where my family lived, they were rehearsing, they got them to let me play.
But the Epics were the first band I played with that did rock music and I found it very exciting, especially the drums, it was exciting to play with a band that had bass and drums. Several months later Rodney came by with my brother Chris and invited me over to the rehearsal at Petty’s because now he was their bass player and singer and so I went over there and listened and they took a break and I was showing Ricky how to play “Feel A Whole Lot Better” by the Byrds that Bernie had showed me, we were sitting outside in the side yard, I was just there listening and showing them a song but the introduction had been made, and I liked Petty and really admired him as a musician and a performer, I hadn’t seen him on stage but I’d seen him practice, the next day and walked back there and knocked on his door and I remember being a little nervous because I didn’t hardly talk to him at the rehearsal but he came to the door and asked me in and we just sat and talked, and basically I went over there practically every day after that for about three or four years! We were pretty much inseparable.
I was fascinated with Petty, he always fascinated me, I thought he was very entertaining and very talented in his own way. 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 Ruckers were like 18, 19 years old but I knew more about guitar than they did and when I joined the band I was the one figuring out the records and showing everybody the chords and notes. Why else would they hire a 14-year old player? So that’s how I met Petty.
And then his parents invited me to dinner and I had dinner with his mom and dad and Bruce and they had such Southern accents when they talked, especially to each other, I had to really carefully listen to try to figure out what they were saying. And that’s interesting to me. We were from California. You ask me, how was it moving to a little hick town? Well, we were young, and when you’re young you’re not driving, you’re just riding a bike around, it seemed like a big enough town at first. I went out for football over at J.J. Finley, and the kids were talking with such Southern accents I could barely understand some of the things they were saying and it was all ya’ll this and ya’ll that, and some of the kids on the team played barefoot, and they were chewing tobacco! It was such a different place to me. It seemed like we’d almost gone to another country.
Me and Lenahan and Petty played the Bent Card once, Rodney quit first, then we did a few gigs with just Petty as a lead singer and Ricky and Dickie and me, that was for a month or so as a four-piece, we played at the Reitz Union on the patio overlooking the duck pond [Collonade of Union]. Then Lenahan, a friend of Petty’s from high school, we knew him from the Certain Amount, we invited him to join the band as a singer and we got more serious about having a career with it and doing original songs, we played at the Union in the back for one of those Sunday afternoon jam sessions with different bands.
Petty and Lenahan and me really dug it, but Dickie and Ricky didn’t because we didn’t get paid and they were more into playing dances and getting paid money. And they decided that they didn’t want to pursue a career in it, they were getting older, Ricky had a fiancee and she was encouraging him to do something more sensible I think, and they quit, we didn’t want them to, but they did for a few months it was just the three of us, and Tom and I got a job at the Plants and Grounds Department at the university and we spent a hot summer there slaving away, that was in 1970.
I was on the paving the streets crew and painting bus stop benches, we’d spray paint the crosswalks and arrows. It would be 100 degrees with humidity and the sun would be shining down on the white paint and you put the glass beads in there thats refelctive and the sun would be hitting them. That was the hottest summer I ever spent in my life; you worked for eight hours and made like fourteen dollars. Tom was on the crew working down at Lake Alice. Randall Marsh saw our ad at Lipham’s and we had him over to Lenahan’s in the garage and played with him, so its Tom and me and Randall on drums and Jim on vocals, and the next time, we went out to the farm where Randall lived with Mike Campbell. So we started setting up and they said there’s a guitar player that lives in the back room; you want to have another guitar play with us? And Mike came out, and he had short hair and was really skinny and had that cheapo Japanese guitar.
The Epics and all the bands that were working, like the Certain Amount, or City Steve, we all had really good equipment; we had Fender amps and reverbs and Gibson 335 guitars. So Tom and I just kind of looked at each other when Mike came out with that guitar and we kind of rolled our eyes, he didn’t look like a professional player, and Mike was really surprised because he told me later he thought we wanted to jam, and yet when he sat down we started showing him all our original songs and told him what we were looking for was a rhythm guitar player to replace Ricky.
While I was showing him all the chords, strumming and telling him this is G, D, we did a lot of country rock songs Tom had written, and Mike is trying to remember all these progression to songs he’d never heard and he was doing pretty well, we’re thinking this is going well, and right at the end of the rehearsal or I guess you could say the audition, Randall said "Mike, why don’t we play Johnny B. Goode?" We knew Johnny B. Goode but Mike played the lead and he played it great, he sounded like Chuck Berry. I had heard a lot of Chuck Berry from Ricky Rucker, he was a little older, I kind of knew what the two-strings-a-time guitar lead was about, but Mike had it down, he did an impressive job, and we finished the tune and we asked the two of them if they wanted to be in the band and they said yes and we were all really happy and that’s how Mudcrutch started.
We practiced every night at least five nights a week, and it was really hard because we’d be at Plants and Grounds all day long, come home from that, then go out to the Farm and practice for a few hours, day after day. We went right from that into Dubs. Tom had already been fired or quit the job, they had a little falling out, a little tension there. He wasn’t on the job any more and he came out and got me, and we’d practice a little bit. Dub said we had the job but we had to learn more cover songs for dancing. We were already doing originals, “Save Your Water” we were doing. “Possibilities” was a co-write between Mike and Tom. One we did, even with Ricky and Rodney, it was called “Get Me Out Of This Place,” that was one of the tunes we showed Mike and Randall that one day when they auditioned.
You [my band Road Turkey] used to open some gigs for us, I’d book a gig and then hire you guys as an opening act. One that I remember was playing the [University of Florida] Museum terrace, we got all the P.A. set up and this is kind of a big gig, with a lot of people coming, so I was sitting right down by [Mudcrutch roadie] Keith McAllister, he was mixing the sound, and you guys were up there at the top of the steps and you guys started playing “All Right Now” by Free, and you opened with that, and I’d never heard Free do it. So I’m thinking, that you guys wrote that and I was thinking “Damn, these fuckers are better than we are. I hired these guys, and they’re showing us up at our big gig here.” I was so knocked out by the way you did it, and you must have been playing at Trader Tom’s or something because you guys were really tight and did a great job with that, and I didn’t find out later that it was a song by Free. It just made me nervous, “Damn, we’re not gonna be as good as they are.” I was blown away and just listening to everything you did and I thought you guys were fantastic.
Rodney Rucker was a decent singer but we were always doing these songs by the Rascals, the Beatles and we didn’t understand that you could change keys and put a song in a better key for whoever was singing it. And that was the case of a lot of the teenage bands in Gainesville; the records we were covering had singers that sang in a high register, but the bands were all trying to sound exactly like the record, so you always did it in the same key because that was the object, to sound like the record. The poor singers, we could have helped it so much if we understood how to put the song in the right key for the singer but we never understood that. You just learned it note-for-note off the record. I was really impressed with Road Turkey; I really liked you guys. [thanks Tom]. We liked you guys, that’s why we asked you to do these gigs with us.
The first day when we got our first gig at Dub’s, I walked off the Plants and Grounds job, Tom came and got me, we went over to the farm and rehearsed and went to Dub’s and played that night. The condition he hired us under was we learn a bunch of cover tunes for the dancing crowd. With Mike and Randall we’d only learned about 10 or 15 songs and they were all our original songs, so we needed a bunch of cover tunes. The first night we played all the songs we knew and then we played them again!
[Was the intention of Mudcrutch to just play originals? Was there a discussion?] No, that was what we were most interested in but the reality of working around Gainesville was you needed to do cover tunes, we had no problem with it. After we made it through the first night, which was mainly getting over the shock of the topless dancers, we met there the next afternoon and Mike Campbell brought his reel-to-reel tape recorder over and we started putting quarters in the jukebox and playing songs and taping them on his tape recorder and then we learned most of the songs on the jukebox that we thought we could pull off with our instrumentation.
We met down there every day for a week or two. I thought it was funny, we’d play our set and take a break and they’d start playing the jukebox on the break and it’d be all the same songs! Nobody at Dub’s ever complained that we were playing the same songs on the jukebox. “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image. Lenahan sang lead, we did “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” Santana was really big at the time, one or two Badfinger songs like “No Matter What.”
This was right around beginning of September 1970, we played there for at least six weeks and then Dub wanted to get another band in there and rotate us out and he knew of a club in Birmingham, Alabama that he knew the club owner and he could get us a gig there and we said OK and we went to the Rancher, a western store near Dub’s, and we bought tear gas spray things because we thought we’re going to Alabama, and we’ve got long hair, and we’d heard of Alabama, these rednecks might be really bad and we bought several bottles of the stuff which we never used, and we got in Lenahan’s van and we were pulling a trailer full of our equipment and we spent the whole day driving up to Birmingham and we went into the club downtown and there was this real redneck guy that owned it, and we start setting up our equipment and he took a look at us and said “if you guys want to play this bar you’ll have to get some new shoes.”
A few of us had some tennis shoes on. And so we took a second and looked at each other. Lenahan went up to him and told him off in no uncertain terms and we took our stuff and walked out. But there were these two girls in the club we met when we came in. They were very impressed that we told this guy off and they thought that was the greatest thing ever. They offered to help us to try to find some other work, and we were all ears to that so they got us to go to another club and sit in on another band’s equipment and they brought a manager booking another club over to see us and we went there and this band, they were like out of the ‘50s, they had greased back hair and they were playing Elvis songs and everything, like going back in time about 15 years. They were really nice and we got on their equipment on their break and we played several songs and we went down to the club the next day and they hired us, it was called The Brass Stable in downtown Birmingham, a swankier club than either of the clubs we’d been in and we played there two weeks.
Then they fired us because the Go-Go dancers there, they danced on the top of the stage on a roof, they didn’t like the kind of rhythms we were playing, the country rock stuff, so that didn’t go over. We just got a hotel, a weekly rate. We went down to the U of Alabama at Birmingham, went to the Student Union and started asking about work, any gigs we could play, we met a couple girls there, me and Lenahan, real cute girls that went to school there, and we talked up some dates with them, and Jim’s still married to one of them, Alice.
In those days we just shared affinity with people our age that had long hair, we’d hit it off with them, and a guy named Joe set up this concert in a park there and all these people showed up, we just set up on the shell in the park and started playing and the weather was cooling down, there was a nice cool wind, we just had a great time. We’d sit in at other clubs, this was happening while we waited to start our gig at the Brass Stable we’d auditioned for, we had to wait a week or two so we’d go to some other club.
In those days we were just jamming, we would just get up and make something up and jam on some progression, Mike and Randall were really into that kind of thing. We had a fun time, this trip lasted about a month, we played the club and they we got fired because they didn’t like the way our stuff worked for the dancing. We did a music festival there with some people we met, a bunch of bands playing in a big auditorium, a lot of people there so we had this adventure.
Then we came back and went right back in and started playing Dub’s and it wasn’t but a couple weeks before Lenahan left the band. It just seemed like Petty was gonna be the singer and we were doing all these instrumental jams and he didn’t play an instrument and he was sort of left out when we did that. It was unfortunate because he was a close friend and everything but we felt bad about it but it seemed like what we had to do. I figured he’d probably find another band to play with but he kept hangin’ around us anyway. He went back to the U of F and joined the Theater Department and got a degree there, his main focus in theater was with lighting the stage and that’s how he got all that training to do all the Heartbreakers concert lighting, which was a smart move and really helped them out. So that probably worked out for the best for everybody.
As far as hanging out with Tom, he was always very funny and a good story teller, very entertaining guy to hang out with, and we could sit in his bedroom and smoke cigarettes, or in the front porch, the Florida Room they called it. I couldn’t smoke in my house at home. Unfortunately we were smoking and luckily I finally quit years later. That was the timeline with me starting bands.
We played Dub’s a little bit and then Jim left the band, he was our connection with the club, he’d played there with the Certain Amount, he was the one, so after he left we didn’t play there for a while but we started getting gigs at the University and other places and the thing was, we started playing concerts which was a whole other thing. Even when Jim was still in the band, between playing Dub’s, we really wanted to play for the kids at the university in a concert kind of setting like we had done at the Sunday free concerts behind the Union. We were frustrated and wanted to play for these kids and mike got the idea why don’t we invite them out here [the Mudcrutch Farm]? So we put out a poster with a picture of the band and put them around the university and different record stores, bulletin boards and a lot of people showed up, about 600-700 people, we had a couple other bands, the other was Weston Prim and Blacklash.
Like he said, it became apparent that with Tom writing the songs and with Jim [Lenahan] not playing an instrument, Jim was not involved in the group like the rest of us, it didn’t seem like he was fitting in any more. Especially for Tom and I, it took a while to see that, Lenahan was an old friend of Tom’s, went to high school with him, and I knew Jim for a long time, since the Certain Amount, and from seeing him around at gigs around town and at Lipham’s, we all came to the realization that we needed to move on. We definitely let him go; he didn’t want to leave the band and I know he was very upset about it at the time but he also recognized that’s what had to happen. All of us felt really bad about it because we really liked Lenahan and we still like him and think he’s very talented in many ways. For me personally with music, I missed having his harmonies; with Lenahan we had three part harmonies and he had a good high singing voice as well as lead singing voice, we were doing a lot of three-part harmonies that I’ve always really loved.
After that it was Tom and me and I was really better at low harmonies in those days. Now I can sing higher like I did on our [Mudcrutch] album recently. In those days I was in a lower range than Tom was. We did harmonies but it didn’t have the same effect as it did when we had a third voice, and that’s the thing I missed the most. For the group it was better that we went ahead with four. I’m just sorry I didn’t stay around in those days when Benmont started playing with them because that could have been really good back then.Three Part Harmonies
When Tom asked me to do Mudcrutch, the album and everything, the first thing I asked was do you think we get Benmont to do it, because I always regretted that I wasn’t in the band when they had Benmont. And finally we got to do a couple three-part [harmonies] with Benmont, “Scare Easy” was the main one and I enjoyed that. It was a difficult thing having to split up with Jim and I thought he handled it really well at the time and he’s been really good about staying friends, especially with Tom, and doing what he’s done to help the Heartbreakers with the fantastic lighting that he’s done.
We were very much into bands like Poco. We’d cover some of their songs, we’d gotten into that with Ricky [Rucker] and Dickie [Underwood] when they were still in the band and we continued doing things like that and some of our original songs had three-part harmony. There was a whole summer there when me and Tom worked on the Plants and Grounds Department of the University of Florida. The only thing I remember doing during then, was one night we went to over to the Bent Card, the folk club on University Avenue and we did a little set, Jim and Tom and I, just acoustically, singing three-part songs, doing a Poco song or two, and at Dub’s we’d do stuff like Badfinger. We did a pretty good job of “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills and Nash right after that came out [June 1970]. We started working at Dub’s, and then went to Birmingham for six weeks and worked some places around there, and we came back and we were playing Dub’s and we had some time off and we really wanted to play for the university kids, and they always used to have a Sunday jam free concert thing with bands on the north lawn of the Reitz student union and they’d quit doing that because people in the library were complaining because there was too much noise.
There was no place after that where you could play for the young students so we were sitting around at the Mudcrutch farm trying to think how we could connect with those audiences again and Mike [Campbell] thought, why don’t we just invite them over here? So that’s what we did, we made up a few posters and put them up around the university and got a few bands; one of them was Weston Prim and Blacklash and the other one was Hogtown Creek, with Pinske and Tom Holz and a guy named Dana we called Space Ghost, they played that day. I think Marty Stinger was in the group. Anyway we did that and the next thing was we parted with Lenahan [December 1970] and didn’t work Dub’s for a long time; Lenahan was the one that got us that gig because he knew Dub from working there with the Certain Amount. So we got invited to play by these two guys [Bruce Nearon and Charlie Ramirez] who were university students that had helped with the first Mudcrutch Farm festival, and they contacted us and asked if we were interested in playing some gigs so they booked us into the University Auditorium.
We were headlining the auditorium and this was a pretty cool thing for us because people actually bought tickets and sat down to hear us play and we could play original stuff and covers we liked to play. That was a pretty good step forward. These two guys were Bruce Nearon and Charles Ramirez. We did that and then planned a second farm festival. That’s when we got with Jeffrey Meldon and he got us in touch with the Hare Krishna people and they came out and had free food and we got The Corner Drugstore people to come out and we had this little cabin in the back where we took a photo of us once, and they set up an O.D. tent there for people that were flipping out from drugs. So it was a crazy gig, we must have had about fifteen bands, even a band from Atlanta came down and played.
We did the second one and we did the third one about a month later and the next day the landlady and her husband and looked around the place, and we hadn’t had time to clean up the wine bottles and trash and everything that was all around the property, so they evicted us and we moved out to Earleton on the west side of Lake Santa Fe, the four of us right on the lake, that was a good period of growth for us musically because we played all the time.
The foolish thing we did, we always thought it was great if we got any publicity. After the second festival, I remember being in Randall’s Chevy, he had the only car at the time that was running in the band; we were riding with him out by the farm by Dub’s and we turned the radio on and on the news they said a big group of people from the north west side of town came to the City Council meeting demanding the City Council put a stop to the Mudcrutch music festival. And the council said they didn’t have the power to do that, and we were just laughing, we thought that was the funniest thing! We thought it was great, really what we should have done was lay low for awhile but we immediately scheduled another festival. We never thought that if the landlord heard about this we’d be kicked out. That was foolish but kind of indicative of who we were at the time, kind of young and crazy.
The third one got out of control; it was very cold and people were camping overnight, and there was an old barn on the property and they were just ripping it down for firewood. So we got on the P.A. system and said “Don’t burn the barn!” and probably everyone in the neighborhood heard that. The second and third one, the kids had these things called Clackers, these two balls with strings on them, and you’d get them going and they’d go clack-clack-clack, a real loud percussive noise, and they were doing that all night long, the party was raging on during the night.
We spent the spring and summer of 1971 in Earleton, then we moved back to town in the fall of ’71 and that’s when Tom and Jane got the place above the Gator Groomer and I met my girlfriend there and moved with her into what they called the Celebration House, over by Steak ‘n’ Shake on SW 13th Street. Celebration had moved out and there were a group of students living there, one of them was my girlfriend, and Mike Campbell lived there above us, so we lived there during the fall of ’71 to May of ’72 and then I got a house over near the university on NW 7th Terrace, a kind of U-shaped street there, and Tom had moved out and got an apartment somewhere near Dub’s and we started playing Dub’s again.
The argument I had with Dub, he just happened to say something that upset me that really wasn’t his fault at all. The reason I really left the band was, I had been wanting to go to Southern California and be part of the country-rock thing that had been going on there for a long time. Tom and I had been talking about it since we were in The Epics. I still remember I was very happy with being in Mudcrutch, and then my family, every one except Bernie went up to see Bernie and The Eagles in Atlanta and I stayed with him in his hotel room overnight just to hang out, and he invited me to come and live with him in L.A. And the Eagles were so great and they were doing the kind of thing I wanted to do which is more of a country-rock kind of thing. I became impatient at that point with the band’s progress toward that and I didn’t have a lot of patience when I was twenty years old.
I was kind of hot-headed and I had some kind of arguments with Petty, I was getting where I wanted to do more bluegrass and country music, and we weren’t hanging out as often any more 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, you know. Musically I was starting to feel, after seeing the Eagles, where they were playing these real simple grooves where you could really hear all the singing and acoustic guitar and everything, and 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.
If I had been patient we probably would have got Benmont and been great and I would have been in a much better situation going out to L.A. with a really good band like that and it would have been a lot more fun and not nearly as lonely. But anyway, we were at Dub’s and he had told us that he wanted to lay us off after that week, and he told me in a nice way, but he was up in the miniskirt contest saying "I’m gonna expand the room, and get bigger and better bands in here," all he was trying to do was promote his expansion and drum up business, but I was hearing it like he was putting us down, saying he was going to get bigger and better bands. If I’d hung around and we’d have gotten Benmont we would have been a bigger and better band! I see that now but I didn’t then. I was just thinking, OK, I’m going to go out of here next week and try and book us around the university like we usually did, and I was the booking agent. And here he is, in front of all these university kids putting us down. And so the next week I told him not to say it, and he said he’d say whatever he wanted, and I was hot headed and told him if he said that I was going to turn the P.A. system off. And that was really the wrong thing to say.
I moved out to L.A. at the very end of 1972, a few days before New Years, living with my brother [Bernie]out in Topanga Canyon. I didn’t join Silver until 1976, I’d been out there three years. I played with a bunch of other bands.
The first thing I did I formed a band with Michael Georgiades and [bassist] Mark Andes from Spirit and JoJo Gunne and Firefall but we never played anywhere, made a bunch of demos of original songs. These were the only guys I knew. Michael made a record with my brother, he was and still is one of my brother’s closest friends. I did a few gigs with Don Felder, we had a house together in Topanga Canyon, but weren’t in a band together. Then I started hanging around with Spanky McFarlane and some of her friends from Spanky and Our Gang, a country rock thing. A few local gigs. Later on they formed Spanky and Our Gang. She had a scene out in her carport where her drummer Jim Moon lived and a lot of great and famous musicians came by almost nightly and would jam, John Hartford, Doug Dillard, Clarence White, Dobie Grey, he had a big hit at the time with “Drift Away.” I got a job with a band called The Mark Bookin Band, a steady gig at the Scotch and Sirloin on the corner of Pico and Sepulveda, five night a week gig, country rock jam band. Musicians would come by and jam, guys in the Beach Boys’ band, I was there for a year doing that and teaching guitar at various places around L.A.
And that’s where I met Johnny Rivers. Michael Georgiades was writing songs and singing harmony on Johnny Rivers songs. I met Johnny there and he hired me for his band. That’s when I started playing bass guitar. They needed a bass player and Mark Bookin mentioned it and I became a bass player for two or three years, I was playing bass with Johnny Rivers, touring around the country, and Bernie turned me on to John Hartmann who had managed over at Geffen and Eliot Roberts’ management company. Hartman had his own Hartmann/Goodman management company that managed America and Poco. They had this group called the Gypsy Hollow Boys, the leader was Steve Ferguson and they had a record deal with Warner Brothers. They wanted me to be in the band, but after a week or two Steve Ferguson decided he wanted to do a solo record. But Harmann/Goodman had another act, a trio called Silver, and they were looking for a bass player and drummer. So Harry Stimson and myself tried out and we were hired and auditioned for Clive Davis, and they already had the song “Wham Bam Shang A Lang” recorded, but no one in the band had played on it, they just sang on it. It had been a song that John Batdorf had already cut in an act called Batdorf and Rodney, they took Rodney’s voice off and added the three of them singing on this record, they just had studio people, Dean Parks on guitar, Jim Gordon, Scott Edwards on bass, they didn’t mention that on the record, they wanted people to think we were on it. It came down to our manager said you can do this or go back to work with Johnny Rivers so I said OK. And we played on the rest of the album, and the album was well received, Wham Bam made it to #16, it sold like 700,000 singles.
None of the subsequent songs were hits. They got in a disagreement with Clive Davis on who would produce the second album. The band wanted to use Bill Halverson, the engineer of the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album. Clive had another guy in mind and we weren’t in a position to argue with Clive. We were on the outs with Clive and we left or they dropped us and didn’t get another deal and that was that. We were one hit wonders.
I stopped playing bass and got back into playing guitar, and played with the Motown bass player James Jamerson, we had a band and played clubs and party gigs when he wasn’t on the road with Aretha or something like that. We played our own R&B stuff and also backed up singers like Joe Turner and Big Mama Thornton and players like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and Pee Wee Crayton and George “Harmonica” Smith. I was playing R&B and I had my Stratocaster, playing gigs backing Martha Reeves. When I quit playing the bass I spent time woodshedding in Topanga and one of the first things I thought was, who are the best guitar players? So I was listening to blues records and copying some licks. I always liked R&B back when I was in the Epics, we played some of that that soul music that everybody played back in Florida. It wasn’t like I hadn’t ever played anything like that. I learned a lot playing with those old blues people, they were fantastic entertainers. These people had been on the road forever. I had a gig in Pasadena with Joe Turner and Big Mama Thornton, so I went to Joe’s house in South L.A. and he couldn’t drive because he was on crutches and I chauffeured Joe in his big red Cadillac and took him over to find Big Mama Thornton and we finally found her at her place. And we drove out to Pasadena and they’re in the back seat talking about gigs they did back in the ‘30s they both played back in the vaudeville days! They were fantastic with audiences.
Silver broke up in ’77 and I took a year off and studied and practiced and started working with James Jamerson in 1978 and we worked a lot in ’79 and ’80. I met this guy Steve Brigati, Eddie Brigati’s brother. Steve knew all these blues artists and liked how I played guitar. He was impressed that I was working with James Jamerson. So he introduced me to all these blues people, and I took care of the business end of that, booking clubs all over Southern California. Lowell Fulson was another person he introduced me to that I really hit it off with, and we did quite a few gigs with Lowell. That was musically a really good thing for me but business-wise not very good so I had to quit that.
I was in L.A. from the end of ’72 to the end of ’84 and I moved back to Gainesville and went back to college, teaching guitar playing around north Florida, solo and a band called Collage, the house band at Rickenbachers, it was a jam and reggae kind of band, a guy called Roland on the sax, they were cool. My sister Monica and myself did some duo gigs. I was also doing solo acoustic gigs in restaurants, and I had a weekly gig at the Orange and Brew in the student union, playing happy hour every Friday. I played little restaurants, seafood restaurants around Cedar Key and Gainesville, had a harmonica rack around my neck and played guitar, Jimmy Buffett songs.
When you’re a musician and you don’t have a record deal, you’re sittin’ there and thinking where’s there a gig where I can make a little money and have some fun and play some music? And you look around and see what’s available, maybe you audition, or give them a little package with a photo and a bio. I started playing these college noontime concerts. Generally they hired bands, for like $150 but I would convince them to just hire me. I started working colleges all over Southern California, solo acoustic with harmonica. I’d play anything I wanted too, half were originals, the others were, acoustic arrangements of oldies. This was in the early 1980s. When I quit doing the blues thing I played with James Lee and the Gators. Out there they thought that’s a cool name. James Lee was into what he called swamp rock, kind of like Creedence Clearwater, he was from the west coast but he was enthralled with the whole Louisiana swamp music thing, in the Creedence genre, and we marketed ourselves to the country urban cowboy clubs around the area, worked a lot around a year and a half, and then I had my own country band, initially Tom Leadon and the Gators.
[What brought you out to Los Angeles?] My brother went out there in ’67 and then years before the Eagles he’d been making really good records with Dillard and Clark and the Burrito Brothers and Hearts and Flowers and I was very aware that there was a country rock scene, and I really wanted to be involved in it, and so did Petty, and that was kind of the goal all along, to do that, and I had begun to feel that we would never make the move there, and when I heard the Eagles I was really knocked out and I felt that I needed to improve and actually move ahead with music in my life is what I needed to do, and Bernie invited me out and that was a lot to do with why I left Mudcrutch.
When I saw the Eagles for the first time and Bernie invited me to come out to L.A., that option was in my mind already when I was playing at Dub’s and it probably affected my attitude and there was more friction, they knew I was thinking about it, in those days I just talked and talked, I must have told them I was considering it, and things came to a head.
I played lead guitar for Linda Ronstadt in September and October of 1973, she had a tour and needed a guitarist, my brother had played guitar with her previously, he recommended me and I auditioned, we went on the road back at the East Coast, Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta, mostly larger clubs.
There were long, long periods when I didn’t work. There were a lot of times that it was really slow.
[What did you get, or not get, from your time in Gainesville?] Musically speaking, it’s the thing about covering songs. When I was a teenager in Gainesville, we copied records and we tried to copy them as close as we could. I got good at that and I picked thousands of solos off records and learned a lot from doing that and I’m still using that to this day, because my students bring me songs in and I can figure them out very quickly and show them how to play and they ask how do you do that? And I tell them I’ve just done it my whole life basically. I learned to play in the same room as Bernie and Don Felder were practicing and I watched them pick songs off records for the Maundy Quintet, slow records down to half speed, pick the solos off and that’s what I started doing when I started bands. And just visiting Gainesville and jamming with people, they’re very much into copying records there, they still are, they do songs, from popular songs that people like, they are copying them and I think there’s a lot to be learned by doing that, because you’re learning from hit acts that are popular and that are oftentimes very good musicians and I think that’s the one thing musically, is that Gainesville was very much a cover band kind of place and that was a good thing for me to learn how to play. It gave you such a great background for all of your musical knowledge and how to play. Not just figure them out but going out and performing them publicly. The best compliment you could get was "they sound just like the record."
When I first lived with my brother [Bernie Leadon] in Topanga in 1973, that spring there were acacia trees blooming bright yellow all over Topanga Canyon and I was with him in his truck, and mentioned that would be a cool thing to write about, something about the acacias are blooming, and then my girlfriend was moving out from Gainesville to rejoin me there, and I wrote a song that was in ¾ time with that beginning, just like the Eagles, the first and last line of the first verse was what I wrote in my song. When I saw my brother I played it for him and he liked it.
A couple years later the Eagles were down in Miami working on the “One Of These Nights” album. And I was working down at the Scotch and Sirloin [at Pico and Sepulveda in Los Angeles] with the band I mentioned earlier and got a message to call him, so I went to the pay phone and called him, and he asked me from Miami how that song went and I sang it to him over the phone a bit, and he said he was going to show it to Glenn and Don, and they might want to rewrite a lot of the words and I said tell them to do it however they want. And they did that and recorded it as "Hollywood Waltz" and that’s how I cowrote that song with them. I think I called it “The Acacias Are Blooming,” it was mostly about Topanga Canyon. So that was a really interesting way to cowrite a song. I didn’t ask to hear it or give approval because I knew they were in Miami in the middle of recording an album, and that Bernie was trying to come up with something for the album, and he generally wrote a couple of songs on each album, and I knew that if I put any kind of delay on it or any kind of stipulation that they might decide well we won’t do this. I had enough respect for them as songwriters. They made it into a Hollywood Southern California thing to fit the concept of the album, kind of philosophically about life in L.A.
It helped a lot, and was a real education in the music business; 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].
Music is a great thing as you know.
When I worked with the older blues people, they said they liked me because I played stuff that was like what they used to do, they listened to country, I mixed a little country with the blues and they like that, they weren’t such purists. These were the most legendary blues singers at the time when they were alive, as a group, think about a 70 or 80-year old black person that’s been doing it their whole life, made so many records, and have toured their whole lives, yet they were very open to hearing different things. And I found a lot of them were growing up in Mississippi or somewhere in the South, and they were listening to country and blues, listening to all of it when they were back there.
Bluegrass is really country music mixed with blues. I’m really into roots music where all that’s related, whether it’s the country side or the blues side when you go back to the roots it’s so similar and a lot of its mixed together. We were into rock ‘n’ roll and even when I was in the Epics with Tom Petty and started listening to early rock ‘n’ roll and we soon became cognizant of how Elvis Presley was mixing country and blues together to make rock ‘n’ roll and so I’ve always been into that. That’s been one of the more exciting things for me in music, how the blues and country mixed together, and connect something that’s like a mixture of the two things.
Part of Gainesville, it’s a big part of the culture there, people just enjoy sharing music with each other, playing music with each other, there’s a lot of people in that area, whether they are doing gigs of just getting together to play. We grew up in San Diego, but there was more of a music scene in Gainesville, more of a band scene. It was a rich culture for music. At the time I didn’t realize it as much at the time but Gainesville was a really special place to be.