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Between the biography you did last year with Paul Zollo ["Conversations With Tom Petty," click here to read an excerpt], receiving Billboard's Century Award, the documentary and the 30th anniversary, you're spending a lot of time looking over your past. Are there any revelations coming up as you're strolling down memory lane?
Well, the question I'm asked all the time is does it feel like 30 years and I'd say, yes, it sure does [laughs]. It absolutely does. But I think, mainly, I'm just glad to still be doing it, still be taken seriously. I haven't been relegated to the oldies file yet and I'm enjoying what I'm doing. The movie, I just think will put a nice bow on the whole thing and then we can quit dealing with the past… We'll forget about it and get on to "Part 2."
What's in part 2?
It's probably more of the same, I suppose. You know, we're already building up songs for a Heartbreakers record, but that's down the road. We've talked a long time about doing a definitive live record and that could be on the horizon, I don't know.
I'd like to do more recording. I don't see us touring forever. Every time we do it now, I wonder if it's going to be the last one. But, you know, I think we'll continue to do that; everybody's gung ho to do it so…
Why do you think it could be the last one?
I don't know how many more 50-city tours I want to take on. I've spent my life doing that and I'd like to have some part of my life where I could concentrate more on recording without having to go out on tours.
Tony Bennett turns 80 this year, BB King just turned 80. They're still at it. Do you ever think about stopping recording?
No, I'd really like to have more time than I have for that. I have to turn that over in my head. I see people who do it until they drop and they say you can't help it. I think if I ever feel that I'm not doing it well, I would just stop, but as long as we're doing it and we're doing it at the standard we want to be playing and the people are happy, we'll keep doing that.
When we talked last October you said you now make records for yourself. How has that changed from how you used to make them before?
I think we always made them for ourselves, really, but you used to have more concerns about you want to have one that's going to be a hit so everybody will buy the record. I think as time has gone on, I'm more interested in -- I don't know how to put it -- what kind of catalog of stuff I can compile. That's what I'm interested in doing. Just getting all the songs that come to me and make good records of them and just so they're around so somebody can hear them.
Do you have any kind of checklist of projects you still want to complete? Like a duets album or an album of blues standards?
No, it's just song to song. I'm amazed that they keep coming. That's about it. It's funny, every year or so a batch of songs appears. I don't really understand it but I'm just glad. I'm not going to question it because it keeps happening.
Was there ever a point, such as when Stan Lynch left or Howie Epstein died, where you thought the group wouldn't continue? Were you ever in doubt?
I don't think we were ever in doubt about it. It was always there if we wanted it. There are times, like you say, when Howie died when you're really [wondering] what's this worth? How dangerous is this gig? That crosses your mind sometimes. We were never discouraged to that degree. I think we've always enjoyed what we were doing and felt really blessed that we've always had a job and always been able to make another record and there's always a crowd there when we walked out on stage, so you gotta be really grateful for that.
In an interview last summer, your wife Dana said that you were still a "nervous wreck" before you went on stage. Is that true after all these years
I am, yes. I'm really nervous before I play. I just, you know, I don't know what it is, but I get to where I can't even speak a few hours before the show, you know, and once I get out there I'm OK.
I don't take it for granted ever. I always want to do my best and give them all I can, so, you know, I really take it seriously.
That actually shows an incredible respect for your audience.
Well, if you're going out to 20,000 people and you're not a little nervous then you're not plugged in.
Any plans for reissues for the 30th or other ways to celebrate besides the tour?
You'd have to ask [my] office, I don't know. I have no idea. They've got me doing interviews in the car for Christ's sake. I'm so busy I can't... between the press and the film and finishing the record right now, I'm one busy guy and I do a radio show every week ["Tom Petty's Buried Treasure" on XM satellite radio], so it's nuts, you know, but I love it, it's great. I'm glad to be employed.
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