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Back in September last year I was honoured to sit down with Mike Campbell, Tom Petty’s longtime songwriting partner and The Heartbreakers legendary guitarist at his Melbourne hotel. At the time Mike was on the Australian leg of the massive Fleetwood Mac world tour, which also featured fellow Mac newbie Neil Finn. Apart from discussing Tom and Fleetwood Mac at the time, we also chatted about his other band project The Dirty Knobs.

Interview: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne

Prior to the interview, I’d got to listen to some of the new Dirty Knobs tracks, which at that point was still in development as an album. On November 24th this year, the album Wreckless Abandon was finally released. In additional to Campbell, The Dirty Knobs are Jason Sinay on guitar and vocals (Neil Diamond, Ivan Neville), Lance Morrison on bass (Don Henley), and Matt Laug on drums (Slash, Alanis Morissette).

The Dirty Knobs is not a new band, Mike and his mates came together a dozen or so years ago as a less structured project that they could jam out with in between Heartbreakers’ projects. The guys played many gigs around the LA area, usually unannounced or incognito. When Tom passed away in 2017, Mike knew that he needed to find another outlet to express those classic-rock guitar vibes.
“The Dirty Knobs is just some friends that we were messing around with in the studio between Heartbreakers tours,” Mike Tells me. “We have been doing this for 12-15 years now. We started having so much fun, playing little clubs around LA and it turned into a great little band. I have had it in the back of my mind, if The Heartbreakers ever take a break or whatever, I am going to do this. I really want to do it and I believe in it. Now things have worked out the way they have, it is the time to do it. We did a record. We did it really fast, it’s mostly live with a lot of guitar. I love the songs, I love the playing. It’s a little edgier than The Heartbreakers, kind of Yardbirds, Kinks, sort of blues but rock ’n’ roll and a little humour. I just love playing with those guys, so when this tour ends I’m going to do that. We’ve got a record deal ready to go with BMG, which came to me, I didn’t even look for it. They came to me in Boston and asked if I wanted to do anything and I said I’ve got a record, so they are behind us. I gotta do The Knobs, that’s been my mission for a long time and this is the time to do it, while I still can. We’re going to go out and play next year. We have William Morris (agency) who are going to help us put a tour together. I want to start out small and do a few festivals.  My goal is to build up to theatres. If we can get to filling out theatres, then we’re happy, we can pay our bills and have fun.”

Wreckless Abandon was produced by Campbell and George Drakoulias (The Black Crowes, The Jayhawks), with all songs written by Campbell. It features further contributions from Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Stapleton as well as fellow Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers founding-member, Benmont Tench. Additionally, Klaus Voormann, who is best known for doing the art for The Beatles’ Revoguitarlver, created the album artwork.

The song mixes I heard last year were very punchy yet loose and musical, typical Mike Campbell riffs in the vein of The Stones or Faces. I asked if there’d be likely to be any deviation come release time?
“Those are close to what it’s going to be like,” he says. “We’re not going to polish it up much. It’s mostly live, solos and whatever… ninety five percent, it’s just on the floor… I like to do it quick, I’ve always been that way. I don’t like to dick around. The Dirty Knobs stuff that you’ve heard, if you listen to it, the guitar parts … we learn the song … here’s how it goes … there’s a bridge, ok I get to the guitar solo, make something up. Three takes, ok I like take number two … NEXT! Once you get a basic sound and sounds aren’t that hard to get if you have good equipment … good guitar, amp, good mic, you get a good sound. It’s all how you play it. I don’t get into gadgets or nit-pick little bits, never have.”

“We cut over 20 songs. They are all really good it is just trying to get a package that says what we are. We have Klaus Voormann, who is going to help us with a cover and I’m just really excited to do it. It will be like starting over for me, Start at the bottom and work up again. I’m down for that.”

Lyrically there are a few character-based songs on the 13 track album. I wondered how much of himself Mike was revealing in these tunes? Irish Girl for instance … who is she?

“Irish girl is no one, it’s just a character,” he says. “It’s definitely inspired by Van Morrison. I was driving home one night in the car and heard a Van Morrison song and I just love his spirituality. I got home and picked up the guitar. I was trying to channel that kind of mood but it’s about nobody specifically, none of them are. I tell me wife, they’re all about you honey!”

Same with Southern Boy?

“That’s probably loosely me,” he admits, “but nobody in specific. I just try to get things to rhyme (laughs). Actually let me take it back, there is one song, I Still Love You, that’s to my wife. We went through a really bad spell once and that song came out of that so I am really close to that song, so there’s one exception.”


Wreckless Abandon is out now through BMG

See our original Mike Campbell interview HERE, in which he chats about writing with his friend Tom Petty.

The band have just debuted their new track and video, “Fuck That Guy,”


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