Post-Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell takes to the road with The Dirty Knobs

Campbell is forging ahead with an album and tour by the Dirty Knobs — a longstanding band composed of talented friends from Los Angeles. For nearly 15 years, the Knobs have played hometown shows during the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ downtime.

SHARE Post-Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell takes to the road with The Dirty Knobs
Jason Sinay (from left) Mike Campbell, Lance Morrison and Matt Laug of the Dirty Knobs.

Jason Sinay (from left) Mike Campbell, Lance Morrison and Matt Laug of the Dirty Knobs.

Pamela Littky

UPDATE 12 p.m March 6: The Dirty Knobs with Mike Campbell show originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 11 at Park West has been rescheduled to Friday, October 9.All tickets purchased for the March 11 show will be honored for the new date.

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Mike Campbell issued this statement on Friday:

Hey everyone, Mike here.

On Sunday night my doctors discovered some health issues which while fully treatable, need to be addressed before going out on tour.

The good news, well really it’s great news, is that I’m going to be just fine.

The bad news, and I say this with much frustration, is the tour which was scheduled to start next week will need to be postponed and rescheduled for September. Subsequently, we’ll also need to postpone the album release until September 18th.

We can’t be at New Orleans’ Jazzfest this April but the already announced shows from June onwards with Chris Stapleton and Zac Brown Band will go on as planned.

If you bought tickets to any of our headline shows, they will still be good for the rescheduled dates. If you are unable to make the new date, you can obtain a refund at your point of purchase and we hope to see you another time soon.

I know that many of you made plans to travel to the upcoming shows and I’m so sorry that those plans have been upended.

However, health is the most important thing and I want to bring you the best show possible. I truly appreciate everyone’s understanding.

The Knobs and I are eagerly looking forward to seeing you and sharing more music with you, just a bit later than we had hoped.”

The last time Mike Campbell visited Chicago to play his own songs, it was as co-captain of America’s premiere rock and roll band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The iconic rockers were headlining at Wrigley Field on June 29, 2017, in the pouring rain, but the consensus was that the Heartbreakers delivered one of the summer’s most euphoric concert experiences.

But the band’s 40th anniversary tour wasn’t meant as a farewell.

Fans in Chicago didn’t realize they were saying goodbye to their musical hero, and neither did Petty’s bandmates. The singer-songwriter-guitarist died that October at the age of 66, a week following the tour’s final show at the Hollywood Bowl.

“We had a lot of plans,” says Campbell. “We were going to make another record. We were just going to keep on doing what we do.”

The guitarist coped with the loss of his longtime partner by staying busy. Campbell was recruited to play for Fleetwood Mac in a globetrotting line-up that performed at United Center in 2018 and 2019. Campbell expects more activity with the Mac, but says that all involved are ready for a break.

“It was a long, tiring tour, but it was a total joy,” says Campbell. “We had a meeting and agreed that everybody should do some other things for a while.”

Campbell is forging ahead with an album and tour by the Dirty Knobs — a longstanding band composed of talented friends from Los Angeles. For nearly 15 years, the Knobs have played hometown shows during the Heartbreakers’ downtime. The songs on their debut release “Wreckless Abandon” will stoke fires at any rowdy roadhouse, and may represent Campbell’s revitalized opportunity to save rock ‘n’ roll.

“Wreckless Abandon” honors a career and companionship with Petty, without directly addressing the passing of Campbell’s “band brother.” Campbell acknowledges subconscious flashes in certain songs like the album’s jangling title cut.

“When I heard ‘Wreckless Abandon’ on the radio, I thought the lyrics could be subliminally talking to him,” says Campbell. “Like a kind of ‘be careful, you’re getting too close to the fire’ kind of thing.”

The swaggering, Zeppelin-esque “I Still Love You” is deeply personal. “It means a lot to me and my wife,” says Campbell. “I still want you by my side,” he sings, with possible layers of meaning. “That could be about [Tom], too,” he adds.

Honky-tonk scorcher “Pistol Packin’ Mama” features Chris Stapleton, the country music star and soulful singer who opened the drenched Wrigley Field show. Stapleton returns the favor this summer. “Ironically, I’m going to be opening for him at Wrigley Field in August,” says Campbell.

Campbell and Stapleton were strangers in 2017, but formed an easy songwriting partnership afterward. “I love that guy,” says Campbell. “We just hit it off. We’re like birds of the same feather.”

Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench plays sparkling piano on “Aw Honey.” “He’s my other brother, and we play really good together,” says Campbell. “We’re intuitive. I deliberately left keyboards off the record, because I wanted to have an identity of my own. But then we thought, ‘God, it would be great to have Ben.’”

Fans may not have heard the last of the Heartbreakers. A coveted reissue of Petty’s 1994 album “Wildflowers” missed its 25th birthday, but an expanded project may see release this year. “One of the CDs is Tom’s demos for the record, with just himself doing all the instruments at home,” says Campbell.

The Heartbreakers may even return to the stage to support the fan-favorite record. “Tom had this idea to tour it in theaters, but have different singers come out and do the songs,” says Campbell. “It’s on the table as something to think about in the future. I’m still a little gun-shy of grief now to take on a Heartbreakers show of any kind without Tom. Maybe with time I’ll get to the point where it will feel right.”

In addition to songs from “Wreckless Abandon,” Campbell promises to celebrate his musical legacy with a few Heartbreakers gems.

“There’s a song on “The Last DJ” record called “Can’t Stop the Sun,” which is really beautiful,” says Campbell. “The punchline is, ‘You can’t stop a man from dreaming.’ And we were playing ‘You Got Lucky’ the other night without the keyboard, just the guitar. It sounds really good that way.”

Campbell laughs when considering a further set list addition. “Another one I was thinking of is “First Flash of Freedom,” because I heard on the radio the other day. That was actually a Knobs song before Tom stole it.”

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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