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Mike Campbell’s Electric Spontaneity

mike Campbell

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist shows Shifty how he bottled an electric reaction to “The Waiting” on the song’s simple, iconic solo.

Mike Campbell knows how to write the perfect parts to a song, and records them with the perfect guitar, amp, and tone to match. That’s why Shifty has the Heartbreakers’ lead man on this episode to get a look under the hood at what drives Campbell’s solo on “The Waiting.”

The song, from 1981’s Hard Promises, was tracked at Sound City, where Campbell recalls the band had “every amp in the world lined up across the room, every amp you can imagine.” After miking and testing each, Campbell says they settled on a Fender Twin, which he brought to life with a white Les Paul he got from a pawn shop. Shifty notes the song’s music video led him to believe the solo was tracked with a Rickenbacker, but Campbell snickers that it was just for show: “I did that different just to fuck people up,” he grins. (“I hate that video, I think I look like a total idiot,” he adds.)

Campbell, who started playing guitar by ear at 16 on an “unplayable” Harmony acoustic, says he didn’t labor over the solo for “The Waiting,” favoring spontaneity and instinct instead. “I like to come in fresh and capture as I’m discovering what it is, there’s some electricity in that moment,” he explains. “The listener can hear that you’re discovering it as they’re discovering it at the same time.” That approach applies to his songwriting experience in general, too: “I don't even wanna talk about it too much, because its mysterious,” he says. “It comes to you when it wants to.”

Later, Campbell lays out how he and Petty balanced their guitar parts, and why Campbell favored “droning” open notes over complexity for many of his leads. And stick around to hear how he figured out Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar parts for Fleetwood Mac’s 2018 tour, the difficulty of backing Bob Dylan, and why original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch almost got in a fight with Johnny Rotten.

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Producer: Jason Shadrick

Executive Producers: Brady Sadler and Jake Brennan for Double Elvis

Engineering Support by Matt Tahaney and Matt Beaudion

Video Editors: Dan Destefano and Addison Sauvan

Special thanks to Chris Peterson, Greg Nacron, and the entire crew.