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Bob Dylan Pays Tribute to Tom Petty By Covering 'Learning To Fly'

Bob Dylan has paid tribute to his friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury the late Tom Petty by covering the icon musician’s 1991 single “Learning To Fly”. Dylan played the track at a concert in Colorado as an encore on October 21, a day after what would have been Tom Petty’s 67th birthday. Dylan’s setlists are usually very strict, so this deviation was a nice surprise and a touching musical eulogy. You can listen to it above.

Petty died on October 2 aged 66 after suffering a cardiac arrest. After hearing the news of his friend’s death Dylan told Rolling Stone in a statement, “It's shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Bob Dylan performing onstage at the Arena Civica di Milano, Milan, Italy while on the 'Temples in Flames Tour'. He was supported on the tour by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. © Lex Van Rossen

The pair played in supergroup the Traveling Wilburys along with Roy Orbison and George Harrison. As well as this Dylan and Petty also played live together on Dylan’s 1986 True Confessions Tour, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers supported Dylan on his Temples in Flames Tour, which took place the following year.

Bob Dylan and bass player Tony Garnier taken at an open air concert in Italy in May 2000. The two have been touring together for nearly 20 years. © Jill Furmanovsky

Speaking about what he learned touring with the Nobel Prize winning singer-songwriter, Petty once said. “I learned so much from Bob Dylan. He gave us a kind of courage that we never had, to learn something quickly and go out on stage and play it. You had to be pretty versatile because arrangements could change, keys might change, there’s just no way of knowing exactly what he wants to do each night. You really learnt the value of spontaneity, of how a moment that is real in a concert is worth so much more than one you plan out.”

Bob Dylan performing onstage at the Salzburgarena, Salzburg, Austria in July 2012 as part of his Never Ending Tour. © Paolo Brillo

As Dylan continues performing live shows on his so-called Never Ending Tour, November 3 sees the release of the latest volume of his Bootleg series. It’s a series which began with 1991’s Volumes 1 - 3 which featured outtakes, alternate versions and unreleased singles covering the first three decades of Dylan’s career, from 1961 to 1989. The gold disc record has gone on to become essential listening for any Dylan fan, as have the subsequent volumes.

The newest edition, officially titled Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 covers the musicians so-called Christian period. It was named as such because Dylan was into Christianity at the time and took inspiration from theology and religious symbology for his lyrics.

Notable tracks from this period include “Slow Train”, “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Every Grain of Sand”. But, just like Dylan going electric angered the folk purists back in the 1960s, Dylan’s embrace of the power of faith didn’t sit well with some fans in the late 70s/early 80s. However, perhaps it’s time to readdress that.

Bob Dylan recording his fifth studio album 'Bringing It All Back Home' in Studio A, Columbia Recording Studios in New York City 1965, the year he 'went electric'. © Don Hunstein

Celebrated Dylan scholar Clinton Heylin told Rolling Stone about the Christian era and the new Bootleg volume. "The set demonstrates, that, in fact, this was probably second only to the great creative burst in the mid 1960s in terms of the amount of material he was writing and the quality of the material he was writing. And, again, like the mid 1960s, that he was the live performer at the absolute peak of his powers."

This sentiment is something that’s echoed by Dylan’s official website which states,”The force of conviction and power of faith evident in these performances baffled segments of Dylan’s fanbase” continuing, “[But] the live concerts from this crucial epoch in Dylan’s history contain some of the most intensely jubilant and transcendent performances of his career.”

Bob Dylan – Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Deluxe Box Set. © Sony Music Entertainment / COLUMBIA / "Walking Eye" Design

You can listen to an alternate version of “Every Grain of Sand” taken from Bootleg Vol. 13, below. It’s from a rehearsal that happened on September 26, 1980. Also in the session was guitarist Fred Tackett, keyboardist Willie Smith, bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Jim Keltner.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer these iconic Bob Dylan images along with many more as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.

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