"To go into a studio and hear a band play (one of his new songs) for the first time is always exciting," Petty said. "And usually when they play it, it became something I hadn't even pictured. Yes, I love the studio. I love the studio as much as I love playing live, easily. I'm pretty much in one every day, and I'm still at that."
Interviewed collectively backstage at the Hollywood Bowl as they prepared to saunter out into the dark, onto that stage, for the finale of their tour, the Heartbreakers -- lead guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, bassist Ron Blair and drummer Steve Ferrone -- were unanimous in their expressions of surprise that anyone might think they were ready to put the Heartbreakers into mothballs.
When I visited Tench two days later on my way to see the head Heartbreaker, a broad smile came to his face as he quipped, "Tell Tom we should get the band back together!"
Petty laughed heartily when the sentiment was relayed. "He would too," Petty said. "He'd leave tonight, probably. You know, I love it. It's amazing that we're still doing it, and doing it well."
No, this wasn't supposed to be the end of the road for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, even though the group's namesake talked about what might cause that to happen -- one day, perhaps, far down the line.
"If one of us went down," he said, "or if one of us died -- God forbid -- or got sick ... ," letting his voice trail off at the thought of it.
"We're all older now," he said softly. "Then we'd stop. I think that would be the end of it, if someone couldn't do it."
Until then, he said, there would be no talk of any proscribed retirement day -- for this singer, songwriter and guitarist, or his band of brothers.
"On the back side of your 60s, most people aren't working," he said with an air of pride. "This keeps us young. I think it keeps me young."
He was still wearing the thick beard he had grown during the tour and he smiled through it.