The Petty Archives

Taking a break from the Heartbreakers
By Ryan Ritchie
Long Beach Press-Telegram - Friday, January 6, 2006

Hall of Fame guitarist Mike Campbell's side project, the Dirty Knobs, plays the Blue Cafe in Long Beach Saturday
Guitarist Mike Campbell is looking for a fountain of youth and thinks he found it in his latest group, a blues-rock band called the Dirty Knobs, which performs Saturday night at the Blue Cafe in downtown Long Beach.

The 55-year-old is best known as the guitar player in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a role he has maintained since 1975. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and has recorded, performed and written with the likes of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, Roger McGuinn, Brian Setzer, George Harrison and Robin Zander. Impressive resume aside, Campbell says he formed the Dirty Knobs as a way to have fun playing music without worrying about the business aspects of being a musician.

"It's got a little bit of the Heartbreakers in it because I'm in it," Campbell says, "but I try to not channel too much of that sound. The Dirty Knobs is a lot of things for me, but mostly it's just a place to go to do music for fun, which, as you get to be my age, is something that you miss. The Heartbreakers is great, but we play a lot of the same songs and there's not much freedom — the Dirty Knobs is total freedom."

The Dirty Knobs began three years ago as a recording project featuring two other members of the Heartbreakers, bassist Ron Blair and drummer Steve Ferrone, but Campbell found a new rhythm section after deciding it was too difficult being in two bands with the same people. The current lineup includes Campbell on vocals and guitar, guitarist/singer Jason Sinay, bassist Lance Morrison, who has performed with Henley and Ringo Starr, and drummer Matt Laug.

The personnel change gives the group the chance to make a name for itself while maintaining the members' days jobs, says Campbell. "It's definitely not a baby Heartbreakers. We try to avoid that because it's not what we're trying to do. I try to keep Tom's name out of this thing as much as possible because that's not what this is about and I don't want to mislead people."

Part of the Dirty Knobs' appeal is the group's lack of a game plan, Campbell says. The main priority is to have fun, and letting everything else just happen. The Dirty Knobs perform mainly original material, along with covers by '60s acts such as the Kinks, the Animals, the Yardbirds and occasionally the Beatles.

The band rarely plays in Los Angeles and Hollywood because the members' want the music to grow organically without pressure from the record industry, Cambpell says. "We normally play out of the Hollywood scene in places like Santa Barbara or Long Beach. I try to stay away from that because I don't really want a lot of exposure right now. The audiences (in Hollywood) tend to be peppered with industry people, and I want to be insulated from that for now. I want to go out and play and get really good. Maybe later on we'll play closer to home."

If seeing a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame up close and personal isn't enticing enough, the Dirty Knobs shows also come equipped with some vintage guitars from Campbell's collection of more than 100. Highlights of the bunch include a few 1960s Mosrites, a Vox 12-string Teardrop and a custom-made guitar in the shape of a Gretsch. "One of my vices is I love guitars," Campbell says. "I get to use a lot of guitars in these gigs that I don't get to use in the Heartbreakers. Any Knobs gig you go to you'll probably see four of five guitars you haven't seen before. It's all part of the fun of it."