Praise for an underappreciated guitarist

08Jun10

Props to a great guitarist who has been content to spend his career in the shadows of his boss.

Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, hooked up with Daryl Sterdan of the Toronto Sun this week to discuss the group’s new album, Mojo. Over the course of reading their candid conversation, which covered everything from Campbell’s new prized purchase, a sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul, to his own reticence to record a solo album, I got thinking about how much I admire Campbell’s playing.

Content for three decades now to stay in the shadows as Petty’s sideman, Campbell has nevertheless shared in the songwriting on most of Petty’s best-known work and laid some fantastic guitar licks and solos to tape. I watched an old episode of the British musical television show, The Old Grey Whistle Test, a couple years back and found myself stunned by the beauty, sparse tastefulness and all-around brilliance of Campbell’s playing.

The show looked to be from the late’70s, which would mean Campbell was still in his 20s at the time — a young musician with an incredibly mature command of his instrument. Whether  peeling off the famous pull-offs in the outro to the band’s first major hit, American Girl, or ripping through urgent classics like Damn the Torpedos, Campbell shone throughout the performance.

And he has maintained that level of precision and passion throughout the band’s career. Hats-off to Mike Campbell on the eve of another Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album. I’m sure his playing will, as always, be a major highlight throughout the disc.

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