Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen were ‘fellow travelers’

Tom Petty with Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne at a No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden in 1979.

In his definitive 2015 biography of Tom Petty, “Petty,” Warren Zanes writes that Petty saw Bruce Springsteen as a “fellow traveler” — in other words, a kind of a musical kindred spirit.

Petty — who, according to TMZ, died at 8:40 p.m. PT Monday, at the age of 66 — and Springsteen obviously came from different areas of the country. But they were close in age, and shared an interest in traditional rock ‘n’ roll that not all musicians of their generation did.

In a post today on Facebook, E Streeter Steven Van Zandt called Petty a “brother and true believer”; at his Monday night concert in Baltimore, Van Zandt covered Petty’s “Even the Losers.”

(10/3 Update: Springsteen has now released a statement, too: “Down here on E Street, we’re devastated and heartbroken over the death of Tom Petty. Our hearts go out to his family and bandmates. I’ve always felt a deep kinship with his music. A great songwriter and performer, whenever we saw each other, it was like running into a long lost brother. Our world will be a sadder place without him.”)

Petty and Springsteen’s paths did not cross often, but they did a few times, in significant ways.

In “Petty,” Zanes, who lives in Montclair, writes about a day in the late ’70s, after Petty had bought a new red Camaro:

Around the time he drove the car off the lot, he got a call from Bruce Springsteen. Petty had seen Springsteen at the Roxy, in the months before Born to Run was released, and liked what he saw, recognized a fellow traveler. Petty didn’t know the man, but Springsteen wasn’t shy in the way Petty was. The guy from New Jersey put in the call, just to hang out, one rock and roller to another. …

Petty picked him up at the Sunset Marquis. They went down Sunset Boulevard to the water, stopping at Tower Records on the way, picking up half a dozen eight-tracks. They drove until they’d listened to every song on every one of them. The Stones’ 12 x 5 was among the tapes. When “Congratulations” came on, Springsteen raised his arms to the heavens and said, “You can take me now!” Petty loved that. He liked knowing another man out there who went to the same church.

When touring behind his 1978 album You’re Gonna Get It!, Petty was accepting a lot of slots opening for other bands. According to Zanes, he:

… started thinking a lot about a conversation he’d had with Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen had voiced his own frustrations with the opening slot. His band had faced much of the same trouble as the Heartbreakers, finally making a commitment to pull out of that opening act game altogether. “He’d told me he’d been through that,” Petty says, “and decided he wasn’t going to do it anymore, was only going to play to people who wanted to see him. And if he couldn’t fill the hall, so be it. His band could make an impression with a club audience, then come back and play a bigger room. I thought, ‘That’s a damn good idea.’ “

Zanes also writes that Patti Smith’s recording of “Because the Night” (co-written by Springsteen) led to that song’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, being hired by Petty to co-produce his 1979 breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes.

Petty and Springsteen both performed at the “No Nukes” benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1979. Petty, when told by Jackson Browne that people in the audience weren’t booing him — they were just yelling “Bruuuuuce!” — responded: “What’s the difference”?”

According to brucebase.wikispaces.com, Springsteen and Petty performed together in public three times:

Sept. 22, 1979: Petty, along with Browne and Rosemary Butler, joined Springsteen and the E Street Band for “Stay” at one of the “No Nukes” concerts.

Oct. 13, 1986: Petty and Springsteen both participated in the grand finale, “Teach Your Children,” at a Bridge School benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif.

March 1, 1990: Springsteen and Bob Dylan joined Petty and the Heartbreakers for “Travelin’ Band” and “I’m Crying” at a concert at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.

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6 thoughts on “Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen were ‘fellow travelers’

  1. I loved Tom Petty. First time I ever heard of him was when I was 21 years old & Damn the Torpedoes was just released. I was going through a nasty divorce, & music, my “only friend”, along with Tom Petty, helped me through such a rough time in my young life. “Refugee’ was my favorite sone & Petty followed me throughout my entire life when, at last & after almost 36 years, I saw he & the Heartbreakers in Oregon in Eugene @ Mathew Knight Arena, part of the University of Oregon. This was 2 years ago & the best damn concert I have ever seen in my life! What a performer! God Bless You, Tom & RIP! You were “The Best!”

  2. Yes, Tom Petty was so much a part of my youth from 21 years of age to his end. He will never ever be forgotten. His songs, his voice, his charm & charisma will always be with me. Miss you, Tom! You did MORE for all of us music lovers with your songs & performances than you will ever know. You touch my heart & its in my heart that you will always stay! RIP!

  3. Pingback: Tom Petty is fondly remembered by members of NJ's music community - NJArts.netNJArts.net

  4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the equivalent to the e streeters, consistent,loyal and great musicians
    No throw away songs,put the album and let it play,hey Bruce you should cover a Petty classic…please?

  5. In the late 70’s Tom and Bruce were definitely a big part of my life. I always had this crazy idea that the two of them should swap bands.

    Tom with the likes of Stevie and Clarence and Bruce with Mike Campbell & Co. It kind of happened when Mike Campbell and Bruce worked on the Patti Scialfa album. Although Bruce and Tom came from different places, to my mind they were lock-step connected and dialed into the same FM station.

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