Mr. Petty, who died on Monday at the age of 66 in Los Angeles, would become undoubtedly part of his adopted city’s fabric, with the help of hit songs like “Free Fallin’” and “Into the Great Wide Open,” which became anthems of the town. But it was a long road to stardom for Mr. Petty, literally.
It all started with the “greatest trip of my life,” as Mr. Petty described it to Mr. Zanes, referring to a cross-country road-trip from Gainesville to Los Angeles in 1974. With him was the bass player Danny Roberts of Mr. Petty’s band Mudcrutch, and their roadie, Keith McAllister. The band had gotten as big as it could back in Florida. A look at the city that became his home, and the places that defined him, allows you to chart his journey from struggling musician to rock star.
Soon after his arrival, Mr. Petty found himself in a telephone booth outside of Ben Frank’s diner at 8585 Sunset Boulevard — now the West Hollywood location of Mel’s Drive-In — sifting through a phone book looking for record companies. As luck would have it, he spotted a piece of paper on the ground with a list of 25 local record labels, with addresses and phone numbers, most likely left behind by another rock ‘n’ roll dreamer.
“The thing about L.A. was that it was exactly what I hoped it would be,” Mr. Petty said. “We drove down the streets and everywhere you looked were signs for record companies. MGM, RCA, Capitol, A&M. It was obvious that we had come to the right place.”
Mudcrutch ended up signing with Shelter Records, whose Los Angeles offices were based in a large, one-story building at 5112 Hollywood Boulevard, which now houses apartments and a Lebanese restaurant. Mr. Petty and his crew spent countless hours there hanging out and listening to music.
Of the surviving landmark recording industry buildings of Mr. Petty’s early days, the Capitol Records Building is the most recognizable. It is a designated Historic-Cultural Monument — a short drive away from where Shelter Records once existed — at 1750 Vine Street. (While Mr. Petty was never on the Capitol Records label, EMI-Capitol did end up with the Shelter Records catalog in 1993, though Mr. Petty retained the rights to his music.)
From the Capitol Records Building, you’re a 10-minute walk from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted in 1999 and fans have been flocking there to pay tribute since hearing of Mr. Petty’s passing.
After signing with Shelter Records, the label put Mr. Petty and the boys up at the Hollywood Premiere Motel, a less-than-glamorous accommodation still operating at 5333 Hollywood Boulevard. Mr. Petty described it as “really a hooker place” in the book “Conversations With Tom Petty.” It’s also where his wife, Jane, informed him that she was pregnant with their first child. If you want a hint of a struggling musician’s life, you can book a room there for $90 a night on Booking.com or simply save some money and snap a picture in front.
The band moved on to two rental homes in the San Fernando Valley. Each had a swimming pool but the group slept on mattresses on the floor and had no furniture other than the lawn furniture from the backyard.
After the release of the unsuccessful single “Depot Street,” the group continued recording at the mansion of musician Leon Russell, the hitmaker who was a founder of Shelter Records, and Mr. Petty would house-sit for him. He would later have his own Encino mansion, which was notoriously burned down by an arsonist in 1987.
But Mr. Petty was still a long way from being able to afford his own mansion. In fact, Shelter Records dropped Mudcrutch from its label while they were still working on music in Mr. Russell’s house.
Mr. Petty would stay on the Shelter payroll, but soon found himself back in a cramped hotel, this time at The Winona Motel (5131 Hollywood Boulevard), which is now the Hollywood Inn Express North (not to be mistaken for a Holiday Inn Express). It’s close to Mr. Petty’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I’d gone from living in a rock star’s mansion to a motel room. Which, for some reason, didn’t bother me,” Mr. Petty said of that time. “I didn’t need much. Shelter was across the street, and my whole social world was there.”
At around this time, Mr. Petty’s daughter, Adria, was born in a hospital in Burbank in November 1974. Shortly after, Jane and Adria would move back to Florida to be closer to family while Mr. Petty tried to pick up the pieces of his music career.
“I’d put so much into Mudcrutch, and now it was just dust,” Mr. Petty said. “I had nothing, absolutely nothing to show for years of work.”
But things started to change as Mr. Petty continued to work with Mr. Russell, who took a liking to his work. Before he knew it, he was meeting Mr. Russell’s famous friends like Brian Wilson and working with George Harrison and Ringo Starr at Sound City Studios (15456 Cabrito Road.).
The studio, which reopened in 2017 after being closed for several years, was the subject of the 2013 documentary “Sound City,” produced and directed by Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Several renowned albums were recorded in the studio, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’s “Damn the Torpedoes” (1979), Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” (1970) and Nirvana’s “Nevermind” (1991).
By the end of 1975, Mr. Petty got back together with several members of Mudcrutch to form Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their first album, self-titled, slowly climbed the charts, and songs like “Breakdown” and “American Girl” would become FM radio staples. The album eventually reached gold status in the United States, and Mr. Petty was well on his way to stardom.
Though he was now ensconced in Los Angeles, Mr. Petty harkened back to his Florida era in a famous lyric in “American Girl,” referencing Route 441, a highway that runs through the state:
It was kind of cold that night
She stood alone on her balcony
She could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441
Like waves crashin’ in the beach
Years later, his 1989 hit “Free Fallin’,” the opening track from “Full Moon Fever,” would serve as sort of tour of his adopted city: “It’s a long day, livin’ in Reseda”; “all the vampires, walkin’ through the Valley / move west down Ventura Boulevard”; “I wanna glide down over Mulholland…”
By the mid-70s, Mr. Petty had enough cash to buy a red Camaro, which he used to pick up Bruce Springsteen, who called him “around the time he drove off the lot,” according to Mr. Zanes’s book, for a cruise down Sunset Boulevard. Mr. Petty was in a much different position than he was just a few years earlier when he was riding down the same street hunting for his first recording contract.
They picked up several eight-tracks from Tower Records at 8801 Sunset Boulevard, one of the better-known locations of the famed music retailer that ceased operating in 2006. (The guitar maker Gibson Brands took over the space in 2014.)
“They drove until they listened to every song on every one of them. The Stones’ “12 x 5” was among the tapes. When “Congratulations” came on, Springsteen raised his arms to the heavens and said, ‘You can take me now!’ Petty loved that. He liked knowing another man out there who went to the same church,” Mr. Zanes wrote.