Petty, Heartbreakers get back to blues basics
By Curtis Ross
The Tampa Tribune - September 9, 2010
Mike Campbell got a guitar, and Tom Petty got an idea.
"Tom said, 'Let's make an album around the sound of that guitar,'" Campbell says.
And so "Mojo," the first new Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album since 2002, was born.
"Mojo" contains the loosest and bluesiest music the band ever has released outside of a few live recordings, with Campbell's guitar right out front.
The guitar in question is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. It's highly coveted among guitar aficionados for its rich tone and unbeatable sustain.
It and similar models brought on the blues-rock revolution of the 1960s in the hands of Michael Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and others.
It brings out an influence that Petty and the Heartbreakers have long had but have rarely spotlighted.
"A lot of our songs have blues flavorings, but I wouldn't call them blues," Campbell says by telephone from a tour stop in Cleveland.
"Growing up, we were exposed to a lot of that music," Campbell says. "Often, when we're warming up we'll play an old Jimmy Reed song just to get into a groove."
The band is featuring several "Mojo" songs on the set list on this tour. Campbell says the songs are pretty easy to play live, mainly because that's how they were recorded.
Campbell, Petty and Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench first experimented with that recording technique when they revived their pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch for an eponymous 2008 album.
Mudcrutch was a favorite around the University of Florida and Gainesville area in the early '70s before leaving for California and morphing into the Heartbreakers.
The Mudcrutch revival caught most people by surprise, including Campbell.
"It's funny because just the previous week Tom had complained that he didn't have any free time," Campbell says. "Then the next week he says, 'Let's call up Tom and Randall.'"
Tom and Randall are Mudcrutch guitarist Tom Leadon - brother of ex-Eagle Bernie Leadon - and drummer Randall Marsh. Petty returned to the bass.
"We didn't know if it would work so we didn't book studio time," Campbell says. "We just went into a warehouse and set up our recording equipment in there to try it out and see if it would work."
"We recorded with no headphones and no overdubs," Campbell says. "We had so much fun doing it that way, we brought the same concept over" to the Heartbreakers, Campbell says.
Recording actual performances is rare these days, with most albums put together in a painstakingly piecemeal fashion. The Heartbreakers' ability to make "Mojo" the way they did is a tribute not only to their greatness but the musical telepathy that's surely developed over the years.
Campbell, 60; Petty, 59; and Tench, 57, have been playing together for the better part of 40 years.
Heartbreaker bassist Ron Blair is back in the fold after a 20-year hiatus, 1982-2002. Drummer Steve Ferrone replaced Stan Lynch in the mid-'90s, about the time multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joined.
At the heart of it all is the partnership of Petty and Campbell. Campbell serves as Petty's musical lieutenant, and has been a prominent part of every Petty album: Heartbreakers, solo and Mudcrutch.
Campbell says watching Peter Bogdonavich's documentary on the band, "Runnin' Down a Dream," helped him realize just how special that relationship is.
"When I was watching that, it dawned on me that we have been in sync together a long time," Campbell says. "We just seem to have the same sources of inspiration and ideas about music. We tend to agree on what's good and what's not. If we agree on it, it's probably a good idea.
"We have a really creative relationship. I treasure this friendship more as the years go on."