Talking Guitar ★ Jas Obrecht's Music Magazine
Talking Guitar ★ Jas Obrecht's Music Magazine
Tom Petty on Songwriting and the Art of Rhythm Guitar (Audio)

Tom Petty on Songwriting and the Art of Rhythm Guitar (Audio)

The Complete 1986 "Guitar Player" Interview

Rock music lost one of its premier songwriters and rhythm guitarists when Tom Petty passed away on October 2, 2017. For decades Petty fronted the band that bore his name – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

One of the qualities I most admired about Tom was how he stood up for himself. He was unwavering in his all-or-nothing fight to control his artistic freedom and integrity. Like his musical heroes John Lennon and Keith Richards, he was devoted to rhythm guitar, which is one of the major themes of our interview. Over time he evolved into one of rock’s preeminent songwriters, crafting enduring songs that deal with social outcasts, love, heartbreak, resilience, and especially American individualism. It’s fitting that when the iconic Traveling Wilburys initially came together as a self-described “band of brothers,” Tom Petty received equal billing with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.

At the time of our interview, the Heartbreakers had just finished a world tour with Bob Dylan and Tom had begun work on what would become the Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) album. Our conversation took place mid-afternoon on May 27, 1986, in the Hollywood office of artist manager Elliot Roberts. Just before the interview was to begin, an MCA publicist informed me that I could only have fifteen minutes with Tom and that I was forbidden to bring up the topics of sex and drugs. Tom, it turned out, would have none of that. A few minutes later he came into the room and pulled his chair so close to mine that our knees nearly touched. He locked eyes with me and we got right to it. He ignored the time restriction, speaking for nearly 50 minutes.

Here’s a sample for free subscribers and visitors: Tom Petty on the "Dying Art" of Rhythm Guitar

After our interview, Tom Petty played on many more albums, headlined world tours, performed a Superbowl halftime, and provided the voice of “Lucky” Kleinschmidt for the King of the Hill animated TV show. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and has been the subject of several biographies. With sales in excess of 80 million albums, Tom Petty ranks among the world’s best-selling music artists.


An edited version of this interview appeared in the August 1986 issue of Guitar Player magazine. A complete transcription is included in Talking Guitar: Conversations With Musicians Who Shaped Twentieth-Century American Music [UNC Press, 2017]

Thanks to my paid subscribers, the Southern Folklife Collection, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and my co-producer Nik Hunt for making my podcasts possible.

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Talking Guitar ★ Jas Obrecht's Music Magazine
Talking Guitar ★ Jas Obrecht's Music Magazine
Uncut interviews with legendary blues, rock, and pop musicians.