Heartbreakers jettison frills to find their 'Mojo'
By Daniel Durchholz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Thursday, July 15, 2010
Before Tom Petty rejoined with his longtime band, the Heartbreakers, to make "Mojo," their first new album in eight years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer spent several years looking back.
First there was "Runnin' Down a Dream," an exhaustive Grammy-winning documentary film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Then there was a reunion with Mudcrutch, Petty's pre-Heartbreakers band from Florida. Last year saw the release of "The Live Anthology," a four-CD retrospective of Petty & the Heartbreakers dynamic concert recordings from 1978-2007.
"I don't know why Tom fell into that thought process for a couple of years there," says Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Petty's right-hand man since the Mudcrutch days. —"'Mojo' is kind of a reaction to that, but also an affirmation."
The inspiration for the album was actually a vintage guitar that Campbell acquired: a 1959 Les Paul that he calls "the Holy Grail of guitars."
"I remember (Petty) sitting down, and he had a twinkle in his eye," Campbell says. "He said, 'Let's make that guitar the sound of this album.'"
In terms of songwriting, Petty — with occasional help from Campbell — crafted songs with a blues-rock edge that Campbell calls a natural outgrowth of their mutual musical taste.
"We listen to a lot of that type of music when we're not working," he says. "Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed. We love that music. We grew up around it. We've put different flavors of it in our records over the years, but we've never honed in on that source of inspiration."
Many of Petty's hits over the years, including "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Free Fallin'" and "Into the Great Wide Open," were heavily produced. But "Mojo" has a fresh, clean sound, thanks to the band playing live in the studio, sans headphones, and with minimal overdubs added later.
"We figured we've done the (other) approach quite a bit, so why don't we go the other way and get back to the basics and see what the band sounds like without all the polish?" Campbell says.
At this late date, Petty & the Heartbreakers could easily be coasting on their reputation and massive catalog of hits. But "Mojo" suggests that the bandleader — and the band, for that matter — still have something to prove to their fans as well as to themselves.
"We could have gone in and done a jingly-jangly 'Free Fallin'""' or 'American Girl' type of record," Campbell says. "But we don't want to do that. We figured, 'Let's really try to stretch the envelope and find some other sources of inspiration.' I think it's been very healthy for the whole group."