Before Bob Dylan fully ascended into the pantheon of music history, the singer-songwriter found himself in a few rough patches. One such sticky situation came in the mid-eighties as Dylan fell out of favour with the rock and roll clique and found himself chasing a chart position that would never materialise.
The artist had struggled to keep on the same intensity with which he approached the sixties and seventies and, what’s more, now the people weren’t even that bothered. Dylan had been largely replaced by a new set of classic rock stalwarts. Including Tom Petty. It was a difficult set of circumstances for the freewheelin’ troubadour to overcome, but he did, with the help of a friend or two.
Petty and the Heartbreakers may well have been the main draw of the 1986 True Confessions tour, but the singer and his band made sure that they gave ample room to two stunning artists they brought along with them for the ride: one Stevie Nicks and the other Bob Dylan. As support slots go, that has to be two of the best.
For Dylan, the chance to go out on the road and once again find his feet on the stage was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to pass up. Dylan was eternally grateful for the inclusion on tour, “Tom was at the top of his game and I was at the bottom of mine,” he wrote in his 2004 book Chronicles, lamenting his position in the market.
As noted in the 2005 Paul Zollo book Conversations With Tom Petty, however, the singer felt differently to Dylan: “There was never a night when the audiences weren’t incredibly ecstatic about the whole thing,” he said. One such ecstatic moment came at the end of the evening when Petty would join Dylan to perform the latter’s classic ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.
Released in 1973 as a single following its inclusion in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid the song soon became a worldwide hit and saw Dylan in the top 10 across several different countries. But, for our money, we’d say perhaps the most poignant performance of the track comes from both Petty and Dylan as they share a duet of one of Dylan’s most performed tracks.
In the footage below, recorded for the Hard to Handle concert film, the two rockers offer up nto only a wonderful rendition of the song but a glimmer of the friendship they shared. Petty is clearly not only a friend but a fan and is keen to give Dylan everything he needs to succeed in the new decade. It would provide the jolt in the arm the future-Nobel prize winner would need.
So sit back and watch Tom Petty and Bob Dylan perform ‘Knockin’ ON Heaven’s Door’ back in 1986.