What About Bob Dylan?: The Lost 1986 Tom Petty / Mike Campbell Interview

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Photo by Bill DeYoung

Photo by Bill DeYoung

To set the stage: The freewheeling interview from which this is excerpted was conducted around midnight on July 16, 1986 in Tom Petty’s suite at the Omni Berkshire Place in New York City, after the first show in a three-night stand at Madison Square Garden, which New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles would describe as “oddly paced and willful.” Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were playing three-hour concerts that summer, with no intermission. This was, Petty gleefully told me, the only interview he’d agreed to do on the entire tour.

I used a few quotes in the article I wrote for the Gainesville Sun in ’86, but otherwise, the old cassette tape hadn’t been fully transcribed until now. I got it out of the shoebox.

What we have here is a time capsule, a Polaroid of a moment in time, when Tom Petty – fueled by Bob Dylan’s ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll ethos – was all worked up over a new album he had written and recorded quickly. (You’ll recognize the title, but of course, the record wound up getting second-guessed and diluted with lesser, pop-oriented material.) Many of the “barrel-out” outtakes appeared on the 1996 box set Playback.

And you pretty much know the rest.

BILL DeYOUNG: So, you’re going to make this a double album?

TOM PETTY: I think I have to. You always hear “there’s a bulk of material,” but there really is a bulk of good material. Real rock ‘n’ roll stuff. I think just one slow song on a double album. It’s real barrel-out stuff.

BILL DeYOUNG: Stan (Lynch, Heartbreakers drummer) says it sounds like the first album.

TOM PETTY: It sounds better than the first album. It’s a lot more raucous than the first album. You know how they always say “God, I wish he’d make a rock ‘n’ roll record like he used to”? Well, this is a lot better than the rock ‘n’ roll records we used to make. This just happened, in the studio. I’d say (he plays the opening chords to “Can’t Get Her Out”) and the band would start playing. Then I’d start singin’ a little thing, you know? And then it’s done. We weren’t even meant to be there. We went there because I’d booked the time for Bob, and he wasn’t ready to go in. So, we just jumped in there to try out some songs me and Mike had written. We went in with about four tunes and left with 35. We’re gonna put a number of them out.

BILL DeYOUNG: You’ve cut “Got My Mind Made Up”?

TOM PETTY: Yeah, there’s a Heartbreakers version and a Bob version. We wrote that together, and there’s a lot more verses. So I think in our version there’ll be a lot of the extra verses that didn’t get on Bob’s.

MIKE CAMPBELL: Bob wrote the verse about Libya.

TOM PETTY: I wrote the verse about Libya.


TOM PETTY: I did. Well, if the truth must be known … Bob says “Let’s write a song about Florida!” And I said no. He goes (singing) “I’m going to Tallahassee …” and I said no, “I’m going to Libya.” And he sings “There’s a guy I gotta see/He’s been living there three years now/In an oil refinery …” Great! And then we did another one. Writing with Bob is great, because if you throw one line he comes back with three great lines.

BILL DeYOUNG: Could you tell him if he came up with a lousy line?

TOM PETTY: Oh yeah, sure. No, no, no, you don’t want no lousy lines.

BILL DeYOUNG: Well, Dylan has written some bad songs too …

TOM PETTY: What great man hasn’t?

BILL DeYOUNG: You’ve written some bad songs. Both of you have.

MIKE CAMPBELL: I’ve never written a bad song in my life!

TOM PETTY: Well, so has everyone. I think Ludwig Van had a few clinkers. [John] Lennon, certainly. You can’t be great if you don’t show your ass now and then. Or you’re not trying to do anything. I mean, Bryan Adams might not ever write one that you notice is bad, because they’ll polish that turd to a high chrome! Come on. This is the only band in America who doesn’t know who’s gonna take the solo. Fuck ‘em! The name of my album’s called Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough.

BILL DeYOUNG: You’re gonna call it that?

TOM PETTY: That’s right, because I’ve had enough. It’s called Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough, written by me and Brother Campbell.

BILL DeYOUNG: You’ve got a song called “Let Me Up” and another one called “I’ve Had Enough”?

MIKE CAMPBELL: No, they’re one song, in two parts. A “Let Me Up” part, and then an “I’ve Had Enough” part.

TOM PETTY: It’s heavy art! [Laughs.]

BILL DeYOUNG: So, you’re back to playing live in the studio, without overdubbing?

TOM PETTY: There’s hardly any overdubbing. But we never did that much overdubbing anyway, really. We tried a lot but it never got on the record most times.

BILL DeYOUNG: Do you think Dylan’s slash-and-burn approach — “go in and do it” — has rubbed off on you?

TOM PETTY: It’s too early to tell. I could tell you in a year, maybe. We’ve been running around with Bob for about a year now. I think we rub off on him more than he rubs off on us. You know, you can slash and burn but it’s still gotta come out good. I think it’s just a real good band, you know? This band keeps getting better. Another thing was, me and Mike are producing this record, and there was never a producer there to sort of like throw a wrench in the works, or suggest another idea. Or make it feel like you were making a record. We didn’t ever talk about making a record! If you hear the tapes, I’m calling the chords. Some of them we only ever played maybe once or twice. And that was the writing and the playing of the song. So when I hear them, they’re still real fresh to me.

MIKE CAMPBELL: In Bob’s defense, that was something we learned from him.

TOM PETTY: We probably did learn that from Bob. We learned the joy of throwing some chaos in any time things — Bob will never let things get too settled. When all of a sudden you feel like “I got this thing down,” he’s gonna change it. And that may sink, but if it really happens it really happens. You can’t fake it then, buddy. You really got to do it.

BILL DeYOUNG: Is the live stuff as much fun now as it was when you first started playing with Bob last year?

TOM PETTY: I like playing with Bob. Bob’s all right. He’s just a good friend to play music with. And God, he sure has done a lot for us. We’re allowed to do whatever we want. It’s kind of like having another band. We got another singer who writes, you know? We treat it like a group. That’s the way Bob’s arranged it. I respect him for that. It’s kind of like jamming for three hours. You don’t really know what you’re gonna play, or what rhythm it’s gonna be.

BILL DeYOUNG: You’re hanging back a lot in these shows.

TOM PETTY: I like hanging back. I sing a lot in this show, man. I must sing 15 songs in this show. I got at least five songs to sing with Bob, and what’d we do tonight? Eight. That’s a lot of singing.

BILL DeYOUNG: Still, where’s the ego fit in, when you’re playing a supporting role?

TOM PETTY: Listen, man, if you’re in a rock group and you’re even dealing with ego, you’re not going anywhere. You can’t deal with that and do anything! I’ve done this a long time. I’m much too smart to get into ego. I want to make Bob good, and Bob wants to make me good. And that’s why we get along, because we’re way above that. It’s a matter of feeling, this music. It’s all about feel. To send out something and make somebody feel good. It’s not any deeper than that. And if you can learn that, then you’re gonna be around more than a record or two.

BILL DeYOUNG: Bob was out there tonight pulling these Jesus songs out of the hat —

TOM PETTY: And rightfully so!

BILL DeYOUNG: Right after your second set, after Ronnie Wood came out for “Rainy Day Women,” then there was a Jesus song. I could feel the momentum dive.

TOM PETTY: Yeah, but see, you’re still talking about it. You know what, the Beach Boys wouldn’t-a done that. They’ve have probably just steamrollered that baby to the end like Bruce Springsteen. But that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what this is about. He had something to say at that point. This ain’t show business, man. This ain’t show business. That’s Bob Dylan. He had something to say at that point. He had something to say about Jesus right then. He sang “Like a Rolling Stone,” right? He’d already done that. Listen, man, you gotta dig that there’s a lot of great songs about Jesus. David Lee Roth might not want to do that. But I admire a man that’s confident enough in himself to do that. And I tell you what, nobody left.

MIKE CAMPBELL: He does that on purpose. I know what you mean by momentum. It builds up and it’s boogie till you puke. Bob doesn’t want to boogie till he pukes.

TOM PETTY: I respect a man that can bring it down and still hold ‘em. This is not boogie till you puke. We’re not there to do that. We’re there to offer an alternative. To expose people to an alternative. A lot of times we don’t know who’s taking the solo or what’s gonna happen. This is the only band left like that. And it’s a shame. Except for some of the younger bands that nobody wants to give the time of day to. And I’m real concerned about that. A rock show’s gotten to be such an organized, routine thing. I don’t know when’s the last one I went to, because they’re so fuckin’ predictable. You know what’s gonna happen. You know they’re gonna play an encore. You know they’re gonna do another encore. Da, da, da, the big lights are gonna come on … Fuck it! It’s like you may as well watch Johnny Carson. Bob did a great show, and he didn’t concede to anything. And that’s an artist. That’s when you start calling this shit art. [Laughs.] If you must!

Read the entire interview at www.billdeyoung.com.

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung spent 35 years as a music journalist before giving it up for a (relatively) cushy job in public relations. His essays appear in more than 100 CDs (including the Cat Stevens Box Set, Stephen Stills’ 'Manassas Pieces' and Chicago’s 'Stone of Sisyphus'). He is also the author of 'Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down.' See www.billdeyoung.com; contact Something Else! at reviews@ somethingelsereviews.com.
Bill DeYoung
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