The Dirt on The Dirty Knobs, Direct from Mike Campbell





Written by Joe Bellissimo | Photo by Pamela Litky

There are some guitarists in the world of rock music who, with a single lick played in their signature style, have the ability to transport fans to moments in his or her life that are rich with nostalgia. Their sound, instantly recognizable, rings with the emotional depth of each story that a song might be aiming to tell. Classics like Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” or Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around…” all brought memorably to life—and co-written by— the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mike Campbell.

Known the breadth of his four-decade career as lead guitarist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Campbell has recently embarked down two new roads as a musician, one wholly unexpected, and the other, a favored project that he has cultivated over the years. As a new, full-fledged member of Fleetwood Mac, Campbell has found himself on yet another whirlwind tour of the world, playing lead guitar parts that are engrained into the minds of most every Fleetwood fan, always mindful of doing justice to each note, striving to honor the body of work while staying true to his own form. The other road, while by design a bit more dusty and rutty, is a band known as The Dirty Knobs.

“The Dirty Knobs is an organic development of a band that started about 15 years ago,” says Campbell. “ These guys I met, we started messing around in the studio in between Heartbreakers tours. We would book small gigs, y’know, clubs and little theaters now and then.” True to a musician who travels in a world of masterful players, Campbell’s casual reference to the band as “these guys” downplays their stature in the industry. Guitarist Jason Sinay has worked with legends such as Neil Diamond and Jerry Lee Lewis, bassist Lance Morrison has played with Alanis Morissette and Melissa Etheridge, and drummer Matt Laug, who also played with Morissette as well as Alice Cooper. Together, the sound is a crafted, gritty, driving rock with just a bit of twang. “It’s a little more raw than The Heartbreakers. We don’t have a keyboard. It’s just a four-piece, guitar-based rock band, but it’s become a really great band over the years. We’ve gotten really tight.”

Originally, the quartet was a forum for Campbell to try out new material. “Some of the songs in the Dirty Knobs were woodshedded in little bars and such and evolved to become Heartbreakers songs,” says Campbell. “There’s four or five of them that morphed their way through this smaller band.” Now that life has put him in a new and unexpected direction, The Dirty Knobs is no longer Campbell’s incubator, it’s one of his babies, and he’s set his mind to giving this baby the full attention of a good father. “In the past I always in the back of my mind would think ‘well I’m gonna show this [song] to Tom and hopefully he’ll hear something and write to it,” says Campbell. “Now that I don’t have that outlet anymore, I’m basically on my own, I’m just gonna write for The Dirty Knobs or anyone else that wants to write with me.”

The band has now reached a critical mass of worthy material and they’ve finally set upon committing their songs to wax. “We have a record that is 95% finished that I am really really proud of,” he says excitedly. “We have a blast. This band is a total joy. It’s fun. Nobody’s in it for the money. And everybody’s in it for the right reasons.”

When describing the songs and the band’s distinct, semi-improvisational style, it is in a way a reflection of how Campbell has come to this point in his career and how he has continued to move forward, at full-tilt, doing what he loves. “Our songs are structured in a way that there’s movement for spontaneity. It’s more guitar improvised here or there and sometimes we don’t know exactly how long the song will go at the end, but that creates room for some real magical things to happen."