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Howie Epstein Bass Player Tom Petty`s Heartbreakers

This is a new feature on our site it previews Bass Players Who many of us follow their careers .

Howie Epstein


Howie Epstein Bass Player for Tom Petty`s Heartbreakers until 1992. more on that coming up.


Howie came up in Milwaukie, Born in 1955, His father, Sam, was a top local record producer who worked with various rock and roll and soul groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

 Epstein often visited the music studios, watching his father work and occasionally making recordings under his father’s watchful eye at a very young age.

He recalled, “I would go into the bars with my father to check out the bands he was thinking of working with, and a couple of times he let me use groups he was working with as back-up musicians for stuff I’d record.

He was playing rhythm guitar and mandolin at a real early age He was finding some success playing clubs in Milwaukee. He played with the top musicians as he was considered to be one of them.  Playing in top bands

The Craze, For Arm Smash,  and the The Winks, to name a few.His first gig as a heartbreaker On September 1, 1982, At Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in California. But we are getting ahead a bit.

Howie soon felt he was out growing The Milwaukee club scene,And after taking a friends advice   Decided to take a gig with John Hiatts backing band out in L.A. as a bass player. Howie grabbed the bass guitar and dug right into it. As he never played bass before this. And  it really felt like this is his calling.

He started to really get creative on bass ,Playing in the pocket. and made his own sound. Howie stayed with. John Hiatt for 2 years or 2 albums. And all the while working those bass guitar chops into shape.

Howie Gets A Break

Howie gets the biggest break of his life, But he does not know it yet. He finds himself playing in the backup band for Dell Shannon as the bass player.  And one day ,while working on a Dell Shannon album, A Album being produced by Tom Petty ,Petty took notice of Howie`s bass playing and singing.  And they hit it off pretty good too. So much so that  they became close friends Petty kept in touch, And really good for Howie not just making music with Tom Petty. It paid off bigger for Howie.  Turns out Ron Blair The heartbreakers bass player from the beginning Of the first Heartbreakers band in 1979 ,was calling it quits . Burn Out.

Too much touring too much on the road, And he could no longer put up with the fast moving lifestyle. So he actually quit the hottest rock band of the time. And Howie was recruited right in to play bass guitar.

 fact  : Howie never touched the bass guitar until about 3 years before joining the Heartbreakers as a bass player. His first gig as a heartbreaker On September 1, 1982, At Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in California.

He admitted he was just a bit overwhelmed stepping into such a major role in a major band. The transition was made so much easier due to the fact he was a huge Tom Petty fan that he knew all the guys and most of the songs, The vocals came really easy. And come to find out Howie and Petty had a great harmony between their voices. So we see many good things at play here.

Epstein  also played bass on recordings by Eric Andersen, Bob Dylan,Carlene Carter  Johnny,  Cash, John Hiatt, Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt, Del Shannon, The Textones, The Village People and Warren Zevon. Already a great resume. But Like too many great musicians the lure of dangerous drugs was ever present in the music lifestyle, And  Howie like others before him could not resist.

Last May 2002 Petty and the Heartbreakers replaced him with Ron Blair (the band’s original bassist whom Epstein took over for twenty years ago) for a summer tour, due to “his ongoing personal problems.”

Among those problems was a June 2001 arrest in Albuquerque in which Epstein and then-girlfriend Carlene Carter were picked up for driving a stolen sports utility vehicle and possession of black tar heroin.

Carter claimed the drugs belonged to her, but that charge was dropped along with charges of receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, levied against both. Howie lived in New Mexico when not on tour with Petty. Lately Howie had been on a downward slide with serious medical issues.

On February 23, 2003,Epstein died from complications related to drug use. MTV News reported that Epstein’s death was caused by a heroin overdose. He was 47.

Investigators were told Epstein had been using heroin. On the day of his death, Howie was driven to St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico by his girlfriend, who described him as “under distress”. Epstein was taking antibiotics for an illness and had recently suffered from influenza,  And nagging stomach problems.

Words from the Heartbreakers are full of sadness and remorse for Howie who was a kind soul and we only know he is in a better place.

Epstein made a big splash in the producer role also jump-starting a pair of halted to a stop rock careers. He recorded three well-regarded albums for Carlene Carter, coaxing her back from a seven-year hiatus with 1990’s I Fell in Love. He also worked similar magic for singer-songwriter John Prine.

Howie Epstein was a very talented musician and singer, and producer and will be greatly missed. Said John Prine “he took two full years out of his life to save my career and i will forever be in his debt.


Epstein formed a creative and personal partnership with Carlene Carter following her divorce from the English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe and her return to the United States in 1988, helping Carter re-establish her career. Epstein produced her hit album I Fell in Love (1990), and co-authored the title track with his longtime collaborator, Milwaukee songwriter Perry M. Lamek.

Howie definitely left his mark and will be missed.    (*!*) 

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