Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Live Wires

We've always kinda fought for keeping ticket prices down. It's our responsibility I think. I always put myself in their shoes. It costs a lot of money to go to a concert, and we certainly don't need to gouge the people that love us.

-Mike Campbell


Photo of Mike Campbell by: Dennis Callahan

Some Things Change, Some Stay The Same

Live Anthology offers a nice perspective on how The Heartbreakers have changed as a live band over the years, as well as highlighting what a consistent bunch they've been through the decades.

Tom Petty by Susan J. Weiand
"There's a through line with Tom and Mike and I, and the great thing is we have Ron [Blair] back. When Howie left, before he passed away, Ron had come back, so we again had someone who had grown up in Gainesville. He's one of us, and that's really important," says Tench. "We now have Scott Thurston [rhythm guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, backing vocals], who loves the music and he's a really brilliant musician and a wonderful singer. The main difference is the feel. Ferrone's feel is entirely different than Stanley's, and his way of thinking is entirely different than Stanley's. So, that's been an adjustment and it's forced us to pay attention in different ways to how we play and how we interlock the grooves. Steve is a marvelous, stupendous drummer, so it may be subtle to people watching us, but as a musician it's absolutely shaken things up. Stanley is who I grew up playing with. He's from Gainesville and he plays back and listens in a certain way. He rides with the rest of us and doesn't say, 'Here's the beat.' He says, 'I'm with you guys,' and Ferrone says, 'The beat's over here.' That's just a different mindset. Ferrone listens but it's a different thing. I'm really glad you get both of them on [Live Anthology]."

"Well, I think we've grown in maybe our finesse [laughs]. When we were young we were maybe a little inexperienced but there was still a lot of fire and I was pleasantly surprised by the musicianship [when I listened to tapes]. We've improved and aged and all that, but it was really good for what it was. We were just really happy it didn't suck," says Campbell. "This band is based around the singer and the song. We try to serve the song, and as we've played out there's some songs where we can allow the musicians to jam or stretch out. We can do that as well as most bands but it's not what we focus on the most. We've always played around a song. That's what we enjoy and that's what gets us off."

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
By Michael Zagaris
"What we grew up on was Elvis, The Beatles, the Stones, The Beach Boys, where the song was always the main thing. As it got into the '70s it became more about the drum solo or the guitar solo, which is fine for what it is, but we're kind of from a different ilk," says Campbell, whose phenomenal guitar work reflects this focused, economical approach. "If you listen to a Beatles record, the guitar does its thing and then gets out of the way of the vocal. Ideally, you come up with a line or a sound that compliments the song and doesn't distract from it. That's the challenge. It's a lot harder than just noodling along."

"The problem we have now with the catalog is with shows at an hour and a half or two hours we can't get to it all. So, we try to pick enough things from the old catalog that people feel like they got their money's worth and then give them a few surprises to take home with them," says Campbell. "If I go to see a band I like and I'm going to buy a ticket and park and walk and take four hours out of my life to give to this experience, then I'd kind of like to get what I wanted, which is to hear the songs I like. So, we look at it that way – these people are there for us and we owe it to them to give them what they paid for. And part of what they paid for is the songs they're familiar with. That's our responsibility. I also think it's our responsibility to give them a little bit extra – a cover or take a song and stretch it out a bit musically and take it to a place it wasn't in the recording – and if you can do both then you've put on a good show."

"We take the setlist and the pacing of a set very seriously. We want it to be a journey that builds to certain peaks and valleys, so it's kind of like – I hate to use the analogy – sex, in a way, so you really get off all together in a certain way," explains Campbell. "Once we have a set that works and does that, if you start throwing things out too much it might upset that. We can inject new songs along the way as long as they don't upset the journey."

One shift with the studio work over the years is more and more of producing has been done by Petty and Campbell instead of outsiders.

"Producing is kind of like directing. I've always played with tape recorders and I'm very tuned into the recording process. I'm totally addicted to it and I love it. As the records went on it seemed like Tom and I would tend to look to each other for input on how the records were taking shape. So, we became co-producers just because that's basically what we were doing, and that's just kind of how we work now," says Campbell. "It's just mutual respect; I trust him and he trusts me. If we both like something then usually it's on the right track. In a perfect moment we get what we wanted [on tape]. It's a mysterious and wonderful thing to do, recording music and writing it and trying to make it sound timeless. It's a challenge but it's really rewarding when it works out."

"Our love of our craft is way beyond anything any industry could touch. It's a religious thing with us. It's what we love and what we live for," says Campbell. "We don't do this just for the money. When we started out we didn't have any money and I'd still be doing it even if I didn't make a living at it because that's just what I'm born to do. If that's who you are then it makes it easy to take it that seriously. If you're someone who's out to be a rock star or make a bunch of money then you might get stuck."

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