By DONNA BALANCIA – Mike Campbell may be known as “Gator,” in his band The Dirty Knobs but the only thing ferocious about him is his extraordinary guitar playing.
Campbell, known for his day job as Tom Petty’s guitarist and co-founder of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is one of the most “social” onstage musicians around. Younger musicians can take a page out of his book. Campbell recently kept the house at the Echoplex in jovial spirits as The Dirty Knobs paced a fast and rockin’ show.
As the performance becomes ever more important in the financial health of a band’s career, Campbell sets an example of what to do onstage to retain a fan base. As many of the audience members at the Echoplex knew his ‘schtick,’ it’s clear Campbell keeps ’em coming back again and again.
How? With fantastic music, and he addresses audience members individually with compliments and quips.
“And I’m Steve,” Campbell joked after introducing his band known by nicknames: Ape (guitarist Jason Sinay), Swampfox (drummer Matt Laug) and Crawdaddy (Lance Morrison). And the audience members, getting in on the fun, did just that, calling out the newly created moniker between songs, yelling “Yay Steve,” and having a good time.
In between the songs there was a reverential silence akin only to being in the presence of greatness. Campbell pointed it out, saying The Dirty Knobs play biker bars where glass is smashed, so it’s nice to have the silence between songs once in a while. But from that point on, there would be little of that for “Shecky” Campbell.
Heckling Has its Rewards With The Dirty Knobs
“You’re bitchin!” called out one gal from the audience.
Not missing a beat, Campbell asked her name — Laurie? — and said that was the nicest thing anyone had called him. He promptly invited her to the front of the audience as a reward.
He singled out a lady photographer in the audience saying she had a hairstyle that reminded him of “Mrs. George Harrison.” Of course, the comment was not lost on the photographer — none other than the renowned veteran rock shooter, Heather Harris.
Campbell has volumes of experience in big-time music biz, not counting the massive worldwide touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Campbell has co-written songs with a bevy of heavy hitter musicians including Don Henley, Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.
He co-produced most of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers albums, along with Petty’s solo recordings. But yet, this guitarist who’s been named to almost every “top guitarist” list that exists likes the simple things: His doggie table where his beer and towel rest during his show, his Rickenbacker guitar and playing music.
Campbell started The Dirty Knobs as a way to have fun and play music he enjoys. It also gives him a way to keep in close touch with the people, which seems to becoming less and less valued but is needed more than ever.
“What I like is that he really takes note of who’s in the audience,” said an Echoplex concert-goer named Bobby. “He looks everyone in the eye, he winks. He smiles and he cracks jokes – I think he’s having fun.”
It’s obvious he’s doing just that. The Dirty Knobs, name aside, is a powerful group aside from being a great marketing tool for Campbell. The band has some amazing originals, but also covers The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead, much to the appreciation of a diverse audience, ranging in age from 20s to late 60s.
The undercards were no slouches either. Marc Ford and his band had played earlier in the evening and Campbell called the well known guitarist for the Black Crowes up to jam with the Knobs. It’s easy to see why Ford has done so well in the competitive world of music.
Local Band: The Blessings
The opening band, The Blessings, are a local favorite the audience appreciates. Frontman Jeremy White looks the part of an upscale rocker from the 1970s as one astute audence member commented.
The other band members impress with drummer Jason Upright, keyboardist Jeffrey Howell, Duffy Snowhill on bass, Mike Gavigan on lead guitar and backing vocalist Lavone Barnett.
But more than their appearance, The Blessings have matured into a contender for RNR success. Two of their CD releases, Shipwrecked and Tomahawk Inn, are of special note.