Certain Songs #1212: Mudcrutch – “Bootleg Flyer”

Album: Mudcrutch
Year: 2008

Perhaps the only good thing that came from Tom Petty’s death last year — a phrase I still hate thinking about, much less writing — was a new appreciation for Mudcrutch, the band with which he made both his first and last recordings

Not only did Mudcrutch take up more of Peter Bogdanovich’s Running Down a Dream than I’d remembered, there’s nearly a full album’s worth of Mudcrutch material on Playback box set. And while it isn’t as strong as what comes later — and weirdly positions Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as a transition album — it’s still pretty good.

When Tom Petty decided to reform Mudcrutch a decade ago, I was like, “sure, whatever dude, you’ve got a lifetime pass anyways.” And so I thought that the first Mudcrutch album was a nice diversion, but not much more. I mean after all, he was still working with Benmont Tench & Mike Campbell — not even a cheat, since they were in the original band — as well as guitarist Tom Leadon & drummer Randall Marsh.

However as — with the Wilburys previously — not having his name up from and being the bass player, to boot, loosened Tom Petty’s songwriting enough so that his contributions to Mudcrutch were among some of the best songs he wrote this century. The best songs were better than anything on The Last DJ or Highway Companion, especially the easy-rolling jam “Crystal River,” the bouncy, piano-driven “Topanga Cowgirl” and the rollicking “Bootleg Flyer.”

I’m a bootleg flyer
And I work alone
I’m a radar hider
Turn your head
And I’m gone

As you can probably tell from some of the song titles, or even the lyrics, there was a rough concept behind Mudcrutch: the kind of California 70s rock the original Mudcrutch might have fallen into making when they found their voice, though with a somewhat harder edge, because Mike Campbell was never gonna let you get too mellow for too long.

So beyond the lyrics where Tom Petty is imagining he’s a guy flying moonshine around Northern California, “Bootleg Flyer” features one of my favorite Petty vocal flourishes, where on the verses he’s at the low end of his register, scaling high for what are structurally though not lyrically the choruses.

In the end, there’s a long instrumental section — though not nearly a long as “Crystal River” — featuring a cool guitar duel between Mike Campbell & Tom Leadon, as well as some Jon Lord-esque organ from Benmont Tench, landing “Bootleg Flyer” not quite as gently as the pilot might like.

“Bootleg Flyer”

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