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Tom Petty and Bob Dylan were friends and performed together on more than one occasion. Though they were in The Traveling Wilburys together, Petty said that one of the most impactful moments with Dylan came when the Heartbreakers toured as his backing band. Petty shared that Dylan’s music and performance style was foundational for the band. He explained how touring with Dylan made himself and his band more courageous as performers. 

Tom Petty wears a white shirt and a vest and smokes a cigarette. Bob Dylan wears a white shirt and black vest.
Tom Petty and Bob Dylan | Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Tom Petty and Bob Dylan were in The Traveling Wilburys together

Petty said Elvis and The Beatles influenced him most as a teenager, but Dylan’s talent immediately struck him. 

“We hadn’t heard Dylan [growing up in Florida] until ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ came out as a single,” Petty explained, per American Songwriter. “And we loved that right away. We learned that, did it in the show. We learned all his singles. We didn’t have Dylan albums until Blonde on Blonde [1966]. I had heard Highway 61 Revisited [1965]. 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.”

Long after Petty’s high school years in Florida, he had the opportunity to play with Dylan in The Traveling Wilburys. The band also included George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.

Petty shared that he learned a lot from the other musician 

Petty was a big fan of Dylan, and Dylan later became a fan of Petty’s work. As he geared up to go on a tour of Australia in 1986, he invited The Heartbreakers to join him. 

“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.”

Petty said that Dylan taught them a lot about music.

“I learned so much from Bob Dylan,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2012. “He gave us a kind of courage that we never had, to learn something quickly and go out on stage and play it. You had to be pretty versatile because arrangements could change, keys might change, there’s just no way of knowing exactly what he wants to do each night. You really learned the value of spontaneity, of how a moment that is real in a concert is worth so much more than one you plan out.”

He was grateful for a chance to perform and later write with such a talented musician.

“George (Harrison) once told me, ‘Bob makes Shakespeare look like Billy Joel,'” he said. “He was joking, but Bob is so far above the rest of us. He is the wandering minstrel, the traveling troubadour, and his gift is so great.”

Bob Dylan spoke highly of Tom Petty after his death

After Petty’s death in 2017, Dylan spoke about how highly he thought of the Heartbreakers’ frontman. 

A black and white photo of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan leaning against a wood paneled wall.
Bob Dylan and Tom Petty | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison Told Bob Dylan to Leave His Ego at the Front Door When Playing With The Traveling Wilburys

“It’s shocking, crushing news,” he said, per Pitchfork. “I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.

Dylan also paid tribute to Petty by covering his song “Learning to Fly” in concert.