Ronald Edward Blair (born September 16, 1948 in San Diego, California) is an American musician notable for being the bassist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He was originally the band’s bassist from 1976 to 1982. In 2002, he returned to the group after a 20-year hiatus, replacing his own replacement, the late Howie Epstein.
Blair’s father was a Navy man, so the family relocated every few years throughout the U.S. as well as within Japan and Hong Kong. As a teenager in Japan, Ron was in a locally famous rock band. But it was the music scenes in Macon, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida, where Blair felt most at home. In Gainesville, Blair was a member of the band RGF. His sister is Janice Blair, a singer who was once married to Gregg Allman. Married in 1973 and divorced in 1975.
Blair eventually moved to Los Angeles, and there teamed up with fellow Gainesville musicians Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Stan Lynch. Campbell and Tench, along with Tom Petty, had been members of the popular Gainesville band Mudcrutch. Mudcrutch had relocated from Gainesville to Los Angeles, but subsequently broke up.
After the breakup, Tench recruited Campbell, Blair and Lynch to record demos in the hopes of getting a new record deal. After observing one of their sessions, Petty asked if they would like to assume his current recording contract with Shelter Records and start a band. (Denny Cordell, president of Shelter, seeing Petty’s potential, had kept him under contract while releasing the other members of Mudcrutch). Blair went on to play with the band through its first four albums, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, You’re Gonna Get It!, Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises, although he was occasionally replaced with other bassists, including Donald “Duck” Dunn, on his last two albums; particularly Hard Promises. Blair was already pondering leaving the band and was not always available. He then rejoined the Heartbreakers on March 18, 2002, to perform at the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The reunion led to Blair’s return to the group for its 2002 summer tour. He helped finish The Last DJ album and has been present for all subsequent albums and tours.
Aside from the Heartbreakers, Blair has designed albums for Barbara Morrison and Carlos Zialcita. He has also played on albums by Kirstin Candy, Stevie Nicks, Del Shannon, Slobberbone and The Tremblers. Blair was also part of the original lineup of The Dirty Knobs, Mike Campbell’s side-project band.
Tom Petty said this about Blair: “It’s great having him [back] in the band. It reminds me of the old days just seeing him around. … We hung out. We knew each other. And he was always the best bass player in town.”
Blair has been seen with many basses (including a Rickenbacker 4001 and a Höfner Club bass, both owned by Petty), but is best known for playing the Fender Jazz Bass, having used a black Jazz Bass in his early years with the Heartbreakers and a white Jazz Bass since his return to the band. His bass rig in the early days of the Heartbreakers was a Vox Super Beatle. When he returned to the band in 2002, and for the tours in 2002 and 2003, Blair was seen using a blond piggyback Fender Bassman amplifier. Since 2005, Blair’s bass rig is a modern Ampeg SVT.