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Eli Young Band Primed as Heartbreakers

Eli Young Band photo courtesy of Universal Records South.

Eli Young Band photo courtesy of Universal Records South.

In an era when Kid Rock and Bon Jovi have found success in country music, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to hear Tom Petty’s name being thrown around.

The Eli Young Band has been covering the rocker’s “American Girl” frequently in concert, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are something of a muse for the Texas foursome as it develops a follow-up to the 2008 album Jet Black & Jealous.

“With Jet Black & Jealous, we recorded it in, like, five different sessions, and it was chopped up with no real mind-set other than we recorded what we rehearsed and had written,” drummer Chris Thompson told The Lake County News-Herald of Ohio. “With this new record, it’s not that we sat down and said, ‘This is the direction we’re going in.’ We’ve never done that. But after hearing what’s coming out, we’re erring on the Tom Petty side. It is a little more roots-sounding but still very radio-friendly.”

Produced by Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke, the same team that crafted Miranda Lambert’s award-winning Revolution and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend albums, Jet Black gave EYB its first Top 10 hit, “Always The Love Songs.” The band’s sound has been compared to several acts that have effectively blended country and rock — the Eagles, Rodney Crowell and Foster & Lloyd — though you can find bits of Gin Blossoms and the Wallflowers in the mix, too.

“When we started out, we never said, ‘Let’s be a country band’ or ‘Let’s be a rock band’ or ‘Let’s be a pop band,’” Chris observed. “We just started playing, and somehow we kind of grew into the country world. It felt like country sort of accepted us and was understanding of what we were doing and it fit. So country is our home, but we’re not a twang country band.”

Meanwhile, the Tom Petty references fit perfectly. The Heartbreakers might have made their name as classic-rockers, but they’ve had an influence in country, too:

• Tom sang on a No. 1 Hank Williams Jr. single, “Mind Your Own Business,” in 1986. And he was a songwriter on three titles that became country hits: Southern Pacific’s “Thing About You,” Rosanne Cash’s “Never Be You” and Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.”

• The late Howie Epstein, who played bass with the Heartbreakers, produced several Carlene Carter hits in the 1990s.

• Petty’s former drummer, Stan Lynch, co-wrote Tim McGraw’s 2004 hit “Back When.”

• Keyboard player Benmont Tench has played on hits by Travis Tritt and Mary Chapin Carpenter, plus Johnny Cash’s award-winning “Hurt.”

Eli Young is currently on the Country Throwdown Tour with a number of similarly edgy acts, including Jamey Johnson, Eric Church, Jack Ingram, Montgomery Gentry and Little Big Town, among others. The next week carries the entourage to Cleveland on Thursday, Cincinnati on Friday, Chicago on Saturday and Indianapolis on Sunday.

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