Been meaning to scribble about this for a while. If you haven’t heard Tom petty’s most recent studio album – Mojo, birthed in 2010 – you need to. It’s not going to rock you out of your undies, but parts of it actually do rock in a vintage way.
When I heard the tune “I Should Have Known It,” I was like: holy cow! Right away I wondered if the whole album was that way, but of course I knew it wouldn’t be.
Anyhow, Tom Petty’s guit-slinger is Mike Campbell, a somewhat unsung hero covered here before because he has some cool tone. Again, not the rock tone, but in “I Should Have Known It” he does have that going on. A rock tone, a riff tune, sounds great.
What was the difference? Did Tom and the boys set out to write a rock tune?
The big difference: a guitar. Specifically, the semi-mythical ’59 Les Paul Standard, aka the “Burst.” Mike acquired it some time before the Mojo sessions, and it inspired him so much he apparently played it on every tune. (If you don’t own a Lester Paul, yes they are a hugely rock inspiring….)
From the Toronto Sun:
“I got a new guitar which is actually an old guitar,” [Mike] says from his Southern California home. “It’s the classic Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Eric Clapton-era guitar. There were only 500 or 600 of them made that year. There’s just something about the harmonic overtones in it when I picked it up and plugged it in, it immediately had that classic British blues sound. It was kind of eerie.
“And Tom had been listening to a lot of blues on our break. So when he heard that guitar, he said, ‘Why don’t we build an album around that guitar?’ It kinda came from that. It was a combination of Tom wanting to explore that aspect of our influence and wanting to feature this guitar.”
Pretty cool, eh? He also says in the vid below, “Now I see how they wrote those riffs…because this guitar leads you into that style.”
Mike’s amps are small, lower-wattage Fenders. I’m not a Fender amp expert, so I’ll let the experts name ’em (please do! – Princeton, Champ, Vibratone?), but of course that formula – old Les Paul into small Fenders – has generated wood for several slingers (Gibbons, Page, many others), so no surprise it comes out here, particularly since Tom wanted the guitars up in the mix.
Cool vid on the making of Mojo:
Add that plus playing live in the room, no overdubs, and you get: WOOD!
From the same Sun interview:
Sun: This album feels like a travelogue. You’ve got British blues, but also the sounds of Chicago, the Delta, Texas, Memphis. Were you trying to check all those boxes?
Mike: The influences were just instinctual. There wasn’t any conscious effort, aside from wanting to put the guitar up front and do it live. And of course, we wanted to have really good songs, not just have a bunch of jamming. Tom worked really hard to write good songs. Growing up in Florida, we listened to a lot of blues, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins. And that’s still the stuff we listen to when we’re on break. And then there’s the influence of the British stuff. So this is just a hybrid of all the things we’ve been influenced by.
Were there specific songs or artists you were trying to honor?
Not really. I know Jeff Beck’s name came up. But only in the sense of saying, “Let’s make it sound like a Jeff Beck record, where the guitar is really loud and the band is behind that.” Which we’d never really done.
The only other criteria we had was we didn’t want to do overdubs. So it was all live off the floor all the solos and most of the vocals. We played without headphones, except for Tom, he had a little earplug so he could hear his vocal. But we were all in the same room, and we just played together.
I think that’s the beauty of the record, everyone’s in the room, everyone’s listening, there’s no polish. It was, ‘We’re going to play this top to bottom, and the solo better be good, because if I screw up we’ve gotta play the whole song again.’ And that’s really a fun way to do it; it’s like playing a gig. You count it off and you go for it. You just have to know in the back of your mind that there’s no punching in, no fixing.
It steps everybody’s game up quite a bit. Everybody focuses more and listens and makes more of a performance out of it.
> He doesn’t tour with his Burst. He said, “Gibson has made me a replica that’s almost identical. It sounds 95% as good. That’s the one I’ll take on tour. It’s just too expensive to carry the real one around. I may play it locally when I can carry it with me. But I want to use it on the next record. I don’t want to damage it out on tour.”
Mike talking about his live guitars and rig