Tom Petty, despite their enduring friendship, is not one to talk about George Harrison. First, because Petty says he considers the Beatles such a unique cultural phenomenon that he doesn’t want to appear as a braggart. But, more than that, it seems, because of the deep spiritual bond they shared.
“I think [spirituality], probably, was the greatest gift he gave me,” Petty tells NPR. “He gave me a way of understanding a higher power without it being stupid, or having tons of rules and books to read. But the best thing I can say to people that are curious about that is George was probably everything that you thought he was, and then some more. Very funny man; he could just kill me with his humor. He was a great guy and I miss him terribly.
Petty and Harrison recorded two albums together, of course, as the Traveling Wilburys — scoring with “Handle with Care” and “End of the Line.” Harrison also played guitar and sang backup on Petty’s hit “I Won’t Back Down,” before Petty returned to perform “Taxman” and “I Need You” at the posthumous Concert for George.
More than that, though, Petty says: “We became very good friends, really, for decades. I don’t like to bring it up that much, because the Beatles are so special that people might see it as boasting or something. But he actually became my friend, past being a Beatle to me. It was like having an older brother that had a lot of experience in the music business, someone who I could go to with my troubles and questions.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t remain a fan, though. “I was always asking Beatle questions, and probably annoyed him,” admits Petty. who just scored his first-ever No. 1 album with Hypnotic Eye. “But, you know, he liked the Beatles, too. He liked talking about it and remembering it.”