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Mike Campbell Has ‘Mixed Feelings’ About Tom Petty Tribute Shows

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Mike Campbell Has ‘Mixed Feelings’ About Tom Petty Tribute Shows

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2026, and there’s already talk of a tribute show to mark the occasion. But Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell isn’t sure he wants to do it.

“The management said that if we did it, we’d get the original band back together, have some guest singers, and maybe just do a couple of shows,” Campbell tells Rolling Stone. “But then I always throw my hands up and go, ‘I can’t think about that. I’m not ready to go back and do that.’ And I don’t want to do anything to dishonor the legacy. I’m not sure how that would feel to me, to have a bunch of people singing Tom’s parts. I’m open, but I’m not overly enthralled with the idea.”

Various permutations of Heartbreakers have come together since Petty died in 2017, like at Stephen Stills’ Light Up the Blues charity event, but never more than three of the five members at a time. And they’ve never billed themselves as “The Heartbreakers.” “There’s something good leaving like it was,” Campbell says. “We left on a high note musically, and I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it.”

Campbell has spent the past few years touring and recording with his band the Dirty Knobs. Their live show is heavy on their original tunes, though they always sprinkle in a handful of Petty classics like “You Wreck Me” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” They broke out far more on Oct. 20, 2023, when they played a gig at the Bellwether in Los Angeles. It happened to be Petty’s birthday, and they celebrated him with a 10-song encore of his music. “We wanted to honor Tom and my old band,” says Campbell. “And it was emotional, it was beautiful. It was like a real high point of my life, one of my favorite gigs ever.”

Just don’t expect him to repeat it any time soon. “I’ll do a few songs here and there, but I don’t want to lean on my past too much,” Campbell says. “And I don’t want to disrespect Tom, so I just do a few that I think we could do really well and honor him. But it’s not a Heartbreakers clone band.”

Another flashback to his past came Sept. 23, 2023, when Campbell backed Bob Dylan at Farm Aid alongside the Dirty Knobs and Benmont Tench. They took the stage near the end of the night and tore through “Maggie’s Farm,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” without a word of introduction. (Petty and the Heartbreakers played behind Dylan on a mid-80s tour.)

“That was pure Bob,” says Campbell. “I got the call that said, ‘Bob wants you to put a little band together to do Farm Aid,” says Campbell. “So I used my band, and Benmont came up and played with us. And it was a flashback because we went around the world with Bob [in 1986 and 1987], and there we were again onstage. In fact, the first gig we ever played was the first Farm Aid ever, with Bob. And then there we were at Farm Aid again. It was spontaneous, and exciting and a joy. He’s just always fun to be around.”

The three-song set marked the first time Dylan played guitar (not to mention “Maggie’s Farm” and “Positively 4th Street”) in quite some time. Might something like that happen again? “It’s up to Bob,” Campbell says. “I mean, he’s pretty busy. If he gives me a call, I’d certainly take it. But there’s no specific plans now.”

There’s also no plans for additional shows with Fleetwood Mac even though Campbell toured with them in 2018 and 2019, effectively taking Lindsey Buckingham’s place alongside Neil Finn of Crowded House. “I don’t see how they can go forward without Christine [McVie] or Lindsey [Buckingham]. Stevie [Nicks] is real busy doing her thing, she seems to be blazing a trail. I spoke to Mick [Fleetwood] not too long ago, and it’s kind of up to Stevie if she wants to go in that direction.”

“There’s some stuff with Stevie and Lindsey that would have to be worked out,” he continues. “I’m sure the audience would love to see them get together again. But as far as I know, I would kind of doubt that’s going to happen.”

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Whatever happens going forward, Campbell’s focus remains the Dirty Knobs, who will release the new album Vagabonds, Virgins & Misfits on June 14. “There’s so much processed music now,” he says. “But we’re old school. I like to hear guys breathing together when they play live. That’s what the Dirty Knobs are all about.”

They’ve had the chance to open up for the Who and Chris Stapleton at giant arena and stadium gigs over the past few years. “Those kind of things just pop out of the blue,” Campbell says. “That’s what my life is like, things just fall on my lap. Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, the Who…I get a call and say, ‘Hey, this came up, what do you think?’ I don’t go looking for that stuff, but it seems to find me.”

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