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Tom Petty Says His Use of Confederate Flag Onstage Was ‘Downright Stupid’

Jerod Harris, Getty Images

Florida native Tom Petty now thinks differently about a mid-’80s decision to display the Confederate flag during his Southern Accents tour. “I wish I had given it more thought,” Petty tells Rolling Stone. “It was a downright stupid thing to do.”

Specifically, the flag was used in conjunction with a song from the album, “Rebels,” which was written from the point of view of a Southerner who still blames the North for the troubles in his life. “I regretted it pretty quickly,” Petty said after fans started flying the flag during later tours.

One time, a flag even found its way onstage, and Petty said he halted the show to respond. “I stopped everything and gave a speech about it,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Look, this was to illustrate a character. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn’t who we are.'”

He recalled a mixed reaction at the time, but he’s stood firm, going as far as removing a photo from the 1985 concert albumĀ Pack Up the Plantation: Live because it depicted the Heartbreakers playing in front of a Confederate flag. “I still feel bad about it,” Petty said. “I’ve just always regretted it. I would never do anything to hurt someone.”

Petty noted that he grew up around the emblem, and that contributed to his ignorance about what the flag represented to others. But what about recent artists like Kid Rock, who’s stood by the Confederate imagery throughout this period of intense debate? “Isn’t Kid Rock from the Midwest?” Petty asked with a chuckle. “I think they were on the other side of the Civil War.”

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