In the 1980s, Bob Dylan toured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as his backing band. The tour was both well-attended and well-reviewed, but Dylan felt lost throughout it. Though the Heartbreakers were his backing band, Dylan felt that the crowd responded more to them than him. He no longer felt like he knew who he was. Eventually, though, Dylan had an onstage epiphany that revitalized him.
Tom Petty toured with Bob Dylan in the 1980s
Petty first performed with Dylan at Farm Aid in 1985. It went so well that Dylan invited the Heartbreakers to join him on a tour of australia.
RELATED: Tom Petty Wanted a Comment He Made About Bob Dylan Taken Out of His Biography
“We backed him up at Farm Aid and it went really well,” Petty said, per American Songwriter. “And then afterwards in the trailer, Bob came back and said, ‘Hey, what would you think of doing a tour? I’ve got a tour of Australia  I want to do, and what would you guys think of doing that?’ And we’d all been huge Dylan fans, and we were very intrigued by the idea of playing with Bob. So off we went.”
The tour extended beyond Australia, though. The musicians worked together so well that they toured for roughly two years.
The ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ singer felt lost on tour
While he liked working with Petty, the early stages of the tour got off to a rough start for Dylan. He felt that the audience was more interested in Petty than in him.
“I remember playing shows [with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the ‘80s] and looking out [thinking] I didn’t have that many fans coming to see me,” Dylan said, per the book Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews. “They were coming to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.”
At this point, Dylan had been famous for over two decades and felt, perhaps for the first time, his relevance slipping. Petty, on the other hand, was younger, and the audience was responding more fervently to him.
“I had been going on my name for a long time, name and reputation, which was about all I had,” Dylan said, adding, “I had sort of fallen into an amnesia spell … I didn’t feel I knew who I was on stage.”
Tom Petty recognized that Bob Dylan had an epiphany on stage
Dylan even considered retirement on the tour, but he had an epiphany on stage that changed the course of the tour.
“Everything came back, and it came back in multidimension,” he wrote in his book Chronicles: Volume One. “Even I was surprised. It left me kind of shaky. Immediately, I was flying high.”
Though Petty didn’t feel the moment as acutely as Dylan, he recognized that something had changed in the other musician.
“I remember having a shock when he went to sing and nothing came out,” Petty said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “He just kind of took a deep breath and came back, full-voiced.”