Tom Petty talks George Harrison, Mudcrutch and his smash tour

Petty's happy and talking about it
Petty's happy and talking about it

At the ripe old age of 58, Tom Petty could easily, and justifiably, start resting on his laurels. But the past year has seen the vetern rocker engaged in something of a victory lap of renewed and vital activity.

First there was his hot-selling documentary, Runnin' Down A Dream (directed by Peter Bogdanovich, no less). Then there was his enthusiastically received Super Bowl performance.

Petty then got back together with his first band, Mudcrutch, for an album and mini tour (the latter of which has been documented on the upcoming Mudcrutch Extended Play Live EP, due 10 and 11 November).

And if that weren't enough, Petty & The Heartbreakers tore up the road recently, surprising skeptics by taking in over $34 million and coming in third behind country artist Kenny Chesney ($62 million) and The Police ($45 million) amongst top-grossing summer tours.

Exclusive interview

"The audience that comes out and supports us the way they do...Sometimes I'd just stand, amazed" - Tom Petty

In a fascinating interview posted on his website (conducted by fellow rocker Warren Zanes), Tom Petty talks about the Bogdanovich documentary, Mudcrutch, the late George Harrison (with whom Petty formed The Traveling Wilburys) and much more. Here are some excerpts:

The critical response and the audience response suggest that Runnin' Down A Dream is the kind of movie that has a good shot at being considered for a Grammy. Have you and Peter talked about this?

"I try not to think too much about those kind of things. But I will say that I think this is the case of something turning out to be an extraordinary project.

"Peter wasn't from the rock 'n' roll world, which actually attracted me to him as a possible director on the project. I sensed that it could be an interesting chemical reaction if he was immersed in the life of this band. There are directors who do a lot of rock 'n' roll movie-making - that didn't speak to me in quite the same way. And what happened is that Peter fell in love with the band and the music. He put his whole heart into the movie."

Do you think he's meeting more girls by hanging out with rock 'n' roll bands?

"I certainly hope so." [laughs]

On the subject of George Harrison, it struck me that George's impulse to create The Traveling Wilburys - in the very moment that his own career was hitting a peak with Cloud Nine - was a really pure and ultimately musical move to make, even if it was unexpected. Was your decision to reform Mudcrutch at all influenced by George's kind of thinking?

"Well, maybe. I think George's move - I'm sure of it really - had to do with the fact that he just didn't want to be the guy up front, no matter that he had a number one album at the time. He never wanted that. And The Wilburys gave him a way around it. He wanted another band, and this solution conveniently got him out of having to lead The George Harrison Show.

"I think I often feel the same way. There are times I'd just like to step into the crowd, but I have to be responsible for standing up front and singing every song. The great thing about Mudcrutch is that these are guys who knew me long before I was successful - and they still treat me that way."

Touring success

Rolling Stone reported [on the success of] The Heartbreakers' tour. Are you surprised after all these years?

"It's something we're very proud of. And it certainly makes us appreciate the audience that comes out and supports us the way they do. Sometimes I'd just stand, amazed.

"The sheer volume they produced most nights. And to see them all show up in those kind of numbers was humbling. It's so many years down the line, and they're still coming in to see us and having such a great time, and in a moment when life is hard for a lot of people and the dollar is precious. I was moved, really.

"Rock 'n' roll. It's hard to find. But we deliver the real thing, quality rock 'n' roll from what I think is one of the best rock 'n' roll bands in the world."

Read the entirety of Tom Petty's interview here.

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.