Dylan, Byrds’ McGuinn, Hillman Say Farewell to Petty

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Tom Petty and Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys

When Roger McGuinn, the co-founder and former leader of the Byrds, first heard Tom Petty singing “American Girl” on the radio, the newcomer’s song sounded familiar to him. “I thought it was me!” McGuinn told Petty the first time they met. “And then I thought, but I don’t remember recording this.”

It’s true that “American Girl” owes a lot to the sound pioneered by the Byrds, who were a huge influence on the young Petty. But McGuinn wasn’t being accusatory when he told the Florida rocker that he noticed the influence. In fact, the next time that McGuinn entered the studio to make a new album, which he called Thunderbyrd, he recorded his own version of “American Girl.”

The kicker: Some listeners hearing it on the radio called stations to ask who this guy was that was trying to sound like Tom Petty!

Related: Roger McGuinn sat in with Petty’s Mudcrutch band in NYC in 2016

The two became friends and maintained a mutual respect for each other over the years. McGuinn was on hand last year in New York City to induct Petty into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Following Petty’s death yesterday (Oct. 2), McGuinn issued the following statement:

“Before there were books, music recorded our history.

“Tom Petty was a historian.

“He didn’t just write songs. He wrote about the stories, people, and cultures of our times and then he put it all to music.

“When he wrote a song, he flew up to the great wide open, caught an idea and would come free falling back to earth. Then he did it again. I know, I had the privilege of writing with him once.

“His songs are movies for our imaginations and longer than 4 words. His every verse a diamond and every chorus gold.

“His music will always be with me and all of us.”

Watch Roger McGuinn sing “American Girl”

McGuinn wasn’t the only former Byrd expressing his admiration for Petty. David Crosby noted on his Twitter and Facebook pages that he was a fan and a friend and Chris Hillman—whose new Rounder Records album, Bidin’ My Time, was produced by Petty—posted this:

“I loved Tom so much. He was such a blessing in my life. Tom touched everyone with his beautiful music. I am praying for his family, bandmates and friends.”

Chris Hillman

(Nashville, October 3, 2017)

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart, produces good”

(Luke: 6)

Listen to Chris Hillman’s cover of Petty’s “Wildflowers” on Bidin’ My Time


Of course, influences can always be traced in reverse, and no one influenced the Byrds more than Bob Dylan. Dylan, not surprisingly, was a Petty fan too. The mutual fandom led to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers backing Dylan on their joint True Confessions tour of 1986 and, a couple of years later, the two joined with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison to record as the Traveling Wilburys.

Dylan yesterday issued his own statement, short but, in his inimitable Dylan manner, poignant:

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

Watch Bob Dylan, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, performing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”

Bonus video: Watch Petty guesting with reunited Byrds Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby in 1989

Best Classic Bands Staff

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