Bob Dylan was one of Tom Petty’s first musical heroes, and understandably, it was a dream come true for the freewheelin’ troubadour to become his bandmate in The Travelling Wilbury’s after they were both recruited by George Harrison. With that, Dylan’s tribute to Petty following his death says everything about his love for the late singer.
Alongside Harrison and Roy Orbison, The Wilbury’s were a supergroup with more individual pedigree than ever seen before. However, even when there is such abundant talent, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a recipe for success. Yet they found a way to put their individualistic ego aside for the greater good of the band and thoroughly relished every second of the project.
For Petty, it was almost unbelievable that he was afforded the opportunity to work first-hand with the idols he’d grown up religiously absorbing. Despite being raised as a Dylan fanatic, the singer never attempted to be the air to his throne and was firmly his own artist.
The first moment that he heard Dylan always stuck with him, and the fandom soon became an obsession. “We hadn’t heard Dylan [growing up in Florida] until ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ came out as a single. And we loved that right away. We learned that, did it in the show. We learned all his singles,” Petty once explained.
“We didn’t have Dylan albums until Blonde on Blonde . I had heard Highway 61 Revisited . A friend of mine had that. But I actually bought Blonde on Blonde. That’s where I really got into Bob. And I started to really dig his thing,” he once told American Songwriter.
Petty added, “He influenced my songwriting, of course. He influenced everybody’s songwriting. There’s no way around it. No one had ever really left the love song before, lyrically. So in that respect, I think he influenced everybody, because you suddenly realised you could write about other things.”
Years later, in 1986, Petty and Dylan toured together, and at that moment in time, Dylan was considering retirement. He’d lost his love and viewed the run as “one more big payday with Petty, and that would be it for me. I was what they called over the hill,” he wrote in his memoirs. Thankfully, Dylan managed to reignite his passion for performing, and he’s been on his ‘Never Ending Tour’ ever since.
After his death, Dylan said, “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
It was an emotional occasion for Dylan when he took to the stage for the first time after Petty’s death in 2017, just a matter of weeks later. During the show, he paid a fitting, heartbreaking tribute to the late singer with a beautiful cover of his former bandmate’s anthem, ‘Learning To Fly’.
Soak in the tearjerking moment below.