When Bob Dylan walks into a room, most artists immediately shrink and become overawed by his presence, but not Tom Petty. Although he idolised Dylan as an artist, he didn’t allow his appreciation of his art to make him frightened of his peer.
Even Paul McCartney still finds himself starstruck when he’s with Bob Dylan. McCartney has had that same effect on people for almost the entirety of his adult life, and it’s only Dylan who makes him revert back into superfan mode.
“There’s one or two people who I would be nervous of,” he explained on the Penguin Podcast in 2020. “Bob Dylan would actually make me a little bit like, ‘Oh my god what am I going to say…is it going to be okay, is it going to be good.'”
However, that was a problem that never phased Tom Petty, who felt at ease with Dylan when they met. Being able to call Dylan his bandmate was the ultimate privilege for Petty, yet, he wasn’t willing to let his admiration of his fellow Travelling Wilbury’s talent turn him into a crumbling mess.
It would have been easy for Petty to have felt intimidated and suffered from imposter syndrome during his time in the group. After all, he wasn’t just in the group with Dylan but also George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.
Speaking to Louder Sound in 2010, he looked back upon his time in the group and why it was so special. He explained: “I was never afraid of Bob [Dylan]. He was always nice to me. I have never been in awe of anyone, and I think it’s worked in my favour. A lot of people think that the Traveling Wilburys were united because it was a good idea, but really we were pals and hanging out long before the Wilburys.”
He added: “The thing I guess that would be hardest for people to understand is what good friends we were. It really had very little to do with combining a bunch of famous people. It was a bunch of friends that just happened to be really good at making music.”
Although Petty wasn’t frightened of Dylan, he did admit hearing Roy Orbison sing was beyond daunting. The singer explained: “George would kinda audition us, which could be really intimidating. Roy Orbison would sing the song, and then they’d send you out to sing it. It was like, ‘Well, damn, that’s really intimidating.'”
The Traveling Wilburys are the most decorated supergroup of all time, and it would have been understandable for their giant egos to clash, but that never happened. They all understood to unlock their full potential, all five members needed to put the band first and forget about their previous individual achievements.