Bob Dylan Never Wanted to Stop Touring With Tom Petty: ‘It’s Too Good’

In 1986, Bob Dylan invited Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to join him on a tour of Australia. They ended up touring the world together for two years. Eventually, it came time for Petty and his band to stop performing with Dylan. When Petty told Dylan they’d have to stop playing together, the other musician said they shouldn’t break up. Petty explained how he reacted to Dylan’s request.

Tom Petty and Bob Dylan play guitar and sing into the same microphone.
Tom Petty and Bob Dylan | Ron Pownall/Getty Images

Tom Petty joined Bob Dylan on tour 

Petty explained that he felt Dylan’s influence on his songwriting from the moment he heard the other musician.

“He influenced my songwriting, of course. He influenced everybody’s songwriting,” Dylan said, per American Songwriter. “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 realized you could write about other things.”

After the Heartbreakers backed Dylan at Farm Aid, he invited them to join him on a longer tour.

“We’d all been huge Dylan fans, and we were very intrigued by the idea of playing with Bob,” Petty said. “So off we went. And that went on for two years. We’d do part of it and then more would get added on, and then more would get added on. We really did the world with Bob Dylan.”

The ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ singer wanted the Heartbreakers to stay on tour

During a tour with Dylan, an arsonist burned Petty’s house down. Petty realized it was time to stop touring with the other musician.

“The fire happened in the middle of the Bob Dylan tour,” Petty explained in the book Conversations With Tom Petty by Paul Zollo. “I remember telling Bob, when we were in England at the end of the tour, that we were going to have to stop, as far as backing him up. I had to go back and sort out my life and my family, and find a home, and we needed to get back to just being The Heartbreakers. And we had really enjoyed it, and now he needed to get his own band, because we needed to get back to our own thing.”

Dylan didn’t want to break up the act.

“Bob said, ‘No, we don’t want to break this up, it’s too good,’” Petty explained. “And I said, ‘It is really good, but we kind of had our own agenda before we got into this.’ And he thought we could do both.”

Petty said that they were exhausted. Even though they liked performing with Dylan, it was time to stop.

“Maybe we could have, but we were really tired,” he said. “Because we were still trying to be Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. And we did our own tour in the middle of that, and we made a record. We made Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) [1987]. [Laughs] And that title says a lot about that period.”

Bob Dylan didn’t initially like the tour with Tom Petty

Though Dylan wanted to continue performing with Petty, he said that the early stages of the tour were a slog.

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“I’d been on an eighteen month tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” he wrote, per the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “It would be my last. I had no connection to any kind of inspiration. Whatever was there to begin with had all vanished and shrunk. Tom was at the top of his game and I was at the bottom of mine.”

Ultimately, though, he had an epiphany on stage that convinced him not to retire.