Q&A: Tom Petty’s right-hand man, Mike Campbell
By Ed Masley
The Arizona Republic — September 22, 2010
Guitarist Mike Campbell has called the tour that brings Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to US Airways Center in support of a raucous new album called “Mojo” their best tour ever.
And Campbell would know. He did just go through 30 years of live recordings with producer Ryan Ulyate and Petty to determine which songs made the cut for “Live Anthology,” a four-disc, 62-track tribute to one of America’s greatest rock-and-roll bands.
Here’s Campbell on “Mojo,” “Live Anthology,” touring and more.
Question: You guys would appear to be playing up the blues side of your sound more on this album. What inspired that?
Answer: A lot of it was this guitar I got, this 1959 Les Paul Sunburst that I’d always wanted. Tom was looking at it and he said, “We should do a record around the sound of this guitar.” So we wrote songs with that guitar in mind. And that guitar kind of leads you into that type of bluesy sound.
Q: It’s raucous blues, though. I would say this album out-rocks anything you’ve done since “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough).”
A: A lot of the blues we listen to, like Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf, is very upbeat and rhythmic. So it’s as much a rock record as a blues record. It just has some blues flavorings in it.
Q: Like garage bands in the ’60s.
A: Yeah, there’s some of that, too.
Q: Was there a conscious effort to stay away from the poppier side of your sound?
A: There was. We don’t usually discuss what type of record we’re going to make, but on this one, we were talking about it and we just thought that it would be good to maybe tap into different sources of inspiration than we have in the past. We’ve done a lot of records based around a Rickenbacker British type of influence that we grew up with, and we didn’t want to do that this time.
Q: Was one of those inspirations you hadn’t explored before Led Zeppelin? “I Should Have Known It” has a very prominent Led Zeppelin vibe.
A: I’ll take that as a compliment ’cause I love Led Zeppelin. That guitar is the same vintage guitar that Jimmy Page used a lot, and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. It’s interesting, that guitar, when you play it, it leads you into those types of riffs for some reason. The sound it makes wants to play that sort of thing. That particular song was definitely inspired by just picking up that guitar and following what it wanted to do.
Q: What impact do you think the reunion of your old band, Mudcrutch, had on this new album?
A: It had a lot of impact on the approach to recording. The Mudcrutch record was done very casually. We recorded it at our warehouse with no headphones, all pretty much live on the floor. And that was so much fun, and it sounded so great to us that we figured, “We’ve really got to do a record like this with the Heartbreakers.” So we went into that same warehouse and set up live. A lot of the vocals are live and all the solos are live and the band just plays together, in the room, listening to each other. We haven’t done that in a long time. Usually, you go into a studio and it’s all posh and you get your headphones and everybody’s in their own little headphone world and you try to find a groove in that. But wanted to try to get a more organic, live feel, and our band is really good at playing that way.
Q: Has the sound of this record shaped the set list on this tour?
A: The set list is a bit of a problem for us – a good problem – because we have so much material now, after 30 years, that any new song we put on the set list means a hit has to come off. So it’s a bit of a dance to get a set that flows well and still has enough old songs that people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. That’s our responsibility.
Q: That “Live Anthology” album was awesome.
A: Thanks. It took a lot of work, a couple of years to compile 30 years of recordings and try to pick out the highlights. Our engineer, Ryan Ulyate, did a lot of the legwork on that. But we were surprised and pleased at some of the older recordings, as well as the recent recordings, at how well the band was playing.
Q: You were here in Glendale for the Super Bowl a few years back. Was that a good experience?
A: It was a great experience for me, personally, because as it worked out, it was two days before my birthday, so my kids came down, and I’ve gotta tell you, dad was looking pretty good that day (laughs).
Q: I read a recent interview where you said of your working relationship with Tom, “If we agree on it, it’s probably a good idea.” I was wondering if you can think of any instances where you agreed on something and it wasn’t such a good idea.
A: (Laughs) Well, there are probably lots of those. That’s a good question. I’m not sure if this would be a good example, but we did this album called “The Last DJ” that was a bit of a bitter attack on the music industry, and I think maybe we thought that was gonna do better than it did. So maybe that’s an instance where we thought that it would go down easy and it didn’t.
Q: Have you talked at all about what’s next?
A: We’ve been so busy the last three years with the film we did, the “Anthology” album, Mudcrutch, “Mojo,” now this tour, that we haven’t talked about what we’re doing after the tour. I’d like to do another Mudcrutch record at some point, if we could. And of course, there will be another Heartbreakers record of some sort. We’ll just kind of see how we feel and follow our instincts.