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Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: The Dirty Knobs Returning to SOhO on Friday

Mike Campbell, guitarist for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, talks about the upcoming show

Mike Campbell, left, performs at Bonnaroo in 2013 as part of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Campbell will be performing with The Dirty Knobs at SOhO in Santa Barbara on Friday night.
Mike Campbell, left, performs at Bonnaroo in 2013 as part of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Campbell will be performing with The Dirty Knobs at SOhO in Santa Barbara on Friday night.  (L. Paul Mann photo)

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

When I saw The Dirty Knobs at SOhO last year, a band fronted by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' master guitarist Mike Campbell, it was a two-hour show with lots of cool cover songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and JJ Cale. Plus, there were plenty of amusing obscurities and original songs.

The Dirty Knobs return to SOhO this Friday, April 18, one of the few venues that they visit with any regularity. Tickets are available by clicking here.

If you've seen them before, I bet you'll be back. If you haven't, come check them out. Still not convinced? Read what Campbell tells Noozhawk about the upcoming show. (The full interview is available by clicking here.)

                                                                         •        •

Jeff Moehlis: We're lucky that The Dirty Knobs play somewhat regularly in Santa Barbara. To what do we owe our good fortune?

Mike Campbell: I put The Dirty Knobs together about eight years ago. We were in the studio, and we decided we wanted to go out and play, to try the songs out live. I was talking to my partner Tom about it, and he goes, "Yeah, that's cool, but it might be cool if you stay out of the Hollywood area." And so we were looking for places to play that were kind of under the radar, and we found SOhO. That was one of the first places we played, and we just loved it there. So we keep coming back.

JM: I saw you guys last year, and you did some covers of really well-known songs and some covers of songs that are pretty obscure. How do you decide which songs make it into the repertoire?

MC: That comes from rehearsal. There's a rehearsal coming up. I might start thinking about what might be fun to play. 'Cause, you know, The Dirty Knobs is all about fun, and not having to stick to a setlist. I might hear something on the radio and go, "That'd be good to try," and then we try it out in the rehearsal and if it sounds like fun we keep it in the set.

JM: And what about originals?

MC: It's probably about half original and half covers. It's a good chance for me to try out new songs. Sometimes we play songs that were just written the day before, or maybe the week before, and we just want to see how they perform in front of people. It's a great place to woodshed the tunes.

JM: When you look up The Dirty Knobs online, it's kind of cryptic. Can you tell us who the rest of the band is?

MC: Oh yeah. It's myself — I sing, if you want to call it that [laughs], and write some songs. The other guitar player's a guy named Jason Sinay. He writes a little bit, he sings with me. He sings a few songs and we do harmonies together. We play guitar really well together — we have the same influences and good chemistry. On the drums is a fellow called Matt Laug. We call him Swampfox. Everybody has a nickname in The Dirty Knobs. He's Swampfox, Jason is Ape, because he is kind of an ape. Our bass player, Crawdaddy, his real name is Lance Morrison. He plays with Don Henley on solo tours and he's done a lot of recording. And Matt Laug, the drummer, has played with Slash and he does a lot of sessions around town. [Campbell's name with The Dirty Knobs is Gator.]

The four of us just ended up in the studio, and we really connected as friends and players. So we keep The Knobs as kind of an oasis from all the craziness of the music business. You know, have some fun and play in little rooms with no pressure. A lot of times that's really where the beautiful magic music happens, in a little place when it's spontaneous. That's really, kind of, what we live for.

JM: Do you have any plans to record and release any material as The Dirty Knobs?

MC: Well, that's a good question. I have no specific plans. The only agenda I have is we have done a lot of good recordings that I'm holding. At some point I may decide to share those. But the thing is, I realized pretty early on that I don't really want to put out a Knobs recording as long as I'm in The Heartbreakers. It's just a conflict. Because if I did put out a CD or a record, it would require a lot of promotion and getting involved, and that would take a lot of time away from my regular job. So I kind of decided awhile back that I'm just going to keep working, getting a bunch of tunes, and at some point if The Heartbreakers take a break or wind down, then I can put my full energy into it.

JM: I know there's a new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album coming out soon. What can we look forward to on that new album?

MC: Well, I can't tell you too much about it except that it's basically finished. They're mastering it. It's an extension of the last album, called Mojo, in the sense that it's mostly 90 percent live on the floor with the band all playing at once. The songwriting has taken a deeper turn. There's some blues-based things, but there's also some things that kind of are jangly or more familiar with what we might have done even on our first album. Some of the new stuff has that kind of energy. So it's a combination of the Mojo kind of blues and a thread of the kind of stuff we've always done. Great songs. You know, Tom wrote some really great songs, and really great words. We're real proud of it.

JM: With the new album coming out, I assume that there will be a tour. Can you reveal anything about what the future holds?

MC: We were going to go to Europe, but we were late getting the record in. We pushed that back probably until next year. So this year, it starts in August. We're going to do the States and a few Canadian shows. I think 30 shows spread over two months, with a break in the middle, the usual type of run that we do when we go across the States. We will be playing a lot of the new album, and a lot of the stuff that we normally do.

JM: You're always welcome in Santa Barbara!

MC: I love that amphitheater up there. I don't think it's on the list this time. There's a lot of stuff on the East Coast. I don't know what the L.A. area shows are. I haven't heard anything about Santa Barbara, but I do hope that we can get it in because I love that spot up there.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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