During his lifetime known primarily as Tom Petty’s “co-captain” of The Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell was not single-minded. For over 20-years, Campbell has maintained his side project, The Dirty Knobs (now tagged as Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs). “We would go into the studio for fun and occasionally get a bar gig to try the songs out for people,” explains Campbell. Adding a bunch of covers to the set, Campbell was content to have things as they were, as his job with TP & The HBs kept him pretty busy. “And then when my life changed, it was ‘Time to do this now,’” he says referring to Petty’s death in 2017.
The first album from Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, Wreckless Abandon co-produced by Campbell and George Drakoulias, was released just prior to the pandemic lockdowns in March 2020, scrapping all plans to tour behind it, but Campbell continued writing and going through his stash of songs, taking The Dirty Knobs back into the studio for three weeks last summer to record the new record, External Combustion, again with Drakoulias co-producing and recording the band mostly live. “Everything was coming off the floor,” comments Drakoulias. “Whatever they were playing, whatever felt good.”
As a result, that’s exactly how External Combustion makes you feel: Good, or maybe even better. It’s 11-tracks that run the gamut from straight out rockers to Honky-Tonk shuffles, Blues-inflected tracks and ballads, and not one is filler. Every tune on the album stands on its own legs, while they are placed to make External Combustion a coherent listening experience; a true album, not just a collection of songs. The guest appearances from Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter (“Dirty Job”) and Margo Price (“Cheap Talk” and “State Of Mind,” a song Campbell wrote decades ago and recently rediscovered) only add to the energy and authenticity of External Combustion. A few other tracks that merit attention include the slide-driven “Bridget Bardot,” “It Is Written,” and the album closer, “Electric Gypsy,” which features psychedelically intertwining guitars.
With External Combustion having just hit the streets, Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs are about to hit the road on a tour that’s been delayed two years. “I never gave up,” Campbell implores. “This band’s too good – I want people to hear it. And now we have two albums to promote!” With WXRT, WTTS, Lightning 100, WFUV, KCSN, WMOT, and WNRN leading the way for over 25 stations on the record, plenty of people are hearing Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs.