The Story Why Tom Petty Once Sued His Own Label
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers live in 2014 - Tom Petty / Youtube
Tom Petty didn’t get into the rock ‘n’ roll business for the cash. Petty, like many other rock stars, entered the industry because he wanted to create music without minding the greedy side of the industry. However, Petty realized he was broke when he finally surfaced in the late ‘70s.
Petty, like many inexperienced young rock stars, signed a terrible agreement with his label MCA, who threatened to terminate his rights to his songwriting income. After being taken by surprise by his first producer Denny Cordell, Petty was prepared to go to fight for his songs. He filed for bankruptcy to ensure that none of his contracts would be enforced.
Petty recalled in Runnin’ Down a Dream that during the litigation he had no idea how badly he had been treated. “I swear to God, I thought that publishing meant putting my song in a songbook. I had no idea that it meant owning the copyright and that I would never see a dime for it.”
At this point, Petty worked diligently on Damn the Torpedoes, which would become one of his most successful recordings, despite the ongoing legal battles.
But if the album were to be released, it would be on Petty’s terms only. Petty famously showed the suits he wasn’t paying attention to a darn thing they were selling him at a meeting to renegotiate his agreement by pulling out a pocket knife and cleaning his nails. After having an argument with a seasoned professional in his field, Petty recalled, “He said to me, ‘Look kid, here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna make this record, and you’re gonna shut up.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll sell you fucking peanuts before I give you another song.”
After a long and strenuous battle, MCA finally folded and even gave Petty a sub-label, Backstreet Records, where he could release his songs without the worry of losing royalties from the wrong hands.