Mike Campbell's 4th annual "Merry Minstrel Musical Circus" benefit was held this past Saturday December 19th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. All benefit proceeds went to The Tazzy Animal Rescue Fund and to LA Unified School's Music Programs.
In the past, The Dirty Knobs have performed at all 3 benefit shows, but this particular show will remain one of my all time favorite, life long memories.
A week prior I received a phone call from Mike explaining that his day job boss (Tom Petty) wanted to take part in this year's show!!! This surprised everybody because Tom doesn't make too many special appearences. Mike told Tom that they should get all of The Heartbreakers on the gig to help make things easier. Only problem was that Heartbreaker drummer Steve Ferrone was not available to do the gig. "What about Ringo?" Mike asked. Tom said he wasn’t available either. That’s when I received the call from Mike. He told me that nobody can find out about this. It’s going to be a huge surprise. (Fumble for my Facebook App…delete!, Delete! DELETE!!!!)
I was very happy to hear that Tom wanted to do a rehearsal the day before the gig, but nobody knew what songs he wanted to do. Mike said, "We'll figure it all out at the rehearsal". Luckily I'm a big fan of The Heartbreakers and the playing style of Steve Ferrone so I kind of knew what to expect. As an added bonus Mike mentioned that Jeff Lynne of ELO was also going to be sitting in with us to sing a couple of songs……………………..wait………………..not only do I get to play with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers………………...but also JEFF LYNNE!!!! WHAT???!!!!!
You mean the guy that sang and wrote all those classic ELO hits AND produced The BEATLES????!!!!!!!!.................ok………………..I'm cool with that.
We all showed up at the rehearsal (excluding Jeff) the day before the show, still not knowing what songs Tom wanted to do. That’s when Mike told everybody that Jeff wanted to sing Runaway by Del Shannon and The Beatles version of Roll Over Beethoven. I sat behind my drums, opened my YouTube app on my phone and made a quick chart of Runaway. Then we all listened to both songs. "Ok…….got it!"
At this point we still hadn’t played a note together. The band and crew were enjoying a little catch up time since they had not seen each other since their last gig at The Forum in Los Angeles last year.
About an hour later Tom walked in with a big smile and very happy to see everybody. He eventually made his way to me and introduced himself. That’s when I told him “Thanks for having me down.” Tom said something like “Yeah man. We’ll keep it simple and fun.”
Once everybody got comfortable with their sound, Tom started the guitar riff to a song called Cabin Down Below. Luckily I recognized it right away.
Bam! We all started playing together and it felt GREAT!!! At the end of the song Tom said “Lovely!!!” (Whew!!! We’re off and running now!)
Much like starting the first song without telling anybody, Tom started a slow blues riff that morphed into Little Red Rooster. When we finished he said "Great!”
At this point Tom started to ask Mike and the rest of The Heartbreakers for suggestions and ideas of what else we could throw into the set. Song titles like Mary Jane, Honey Bee and Running Down A Dream were talked about. Inside I was flipping out at the idea that I might get to play any of those songs with the guys!!! After playing each song we all felt really good about the sound we were making. Somebody joked that we should do the entire Heartbreaker’s set. I thought Tom would only want to do maybe 3 or 4 songs. At the end of the rehearsal there were a total of 9 including Jeff’s songs. (It ended up being 10 but I’ll save that part for later.)
We rehearsed for about 3.5 hours with a break in the middle. When everybody decided that we were ok with everything, the rehearsal was over. That’s when we all just hung out together shooting the breeze for about another hour and a half. I loved hearing all the stories of today and yesteryear. I didn’t say much, but when I did I had everybody’s attention. Everybody made me feel accepted into their very cool circle of friendship.
The next morning I woke up early and listened to my recording of the rehearsal. I called up my close friend Dave Feldstein and asked if I could shed some tunes in his recording studio for a top secret gig. Dave has a beautiful DW drum kit set up in his studio ready to go 24/7. “Sure, but when?” Dave and his wife Wendy were throwing their big annual Xmas party that same night which I planned on attending. “How about 10:00am till 12pm?” I asked. "No Problem!” he said. (YES!!!! Thank you Dave and Wendy!!!!) So there I am behind Dave’s kit shedding the tunes while he’s in the control room vacuuming and cleaning the studio for the big party later that night. I am so grateful that they allowed me to do that. (They don’t make em' any better than Dave and his family!)
So the time had come!
The Troubadour was completely sold out. Still nobody knew for sure who the "surprise guest" was going to be. Not even the other bands that were scheduled to play…..except The Knobs, of course.
The Dirty Knobs opened the night at 8:00pm with a BLISTERING set! We were definitely firing on all cylinders. We had just finished a short run of 4 live gigs in the Southern California area in November so we were primed and ready to RAWK!
A lot of people said to me after our set “You guys sound like you’ve been giging a lot.” Yup!
The Heartbreakers/Jeff Lynne set was scheduled at 10:00pm so when I heard that Tom and Jeff were already there and saw the last part of The Knobs’ set it made things more exciting. (Is this actually going to happen???!!!)
So. Back to the story about the set list. Heartbreaker Scotty Thurston and I were in the dressing room when he casually mentioned to me that Jeff and Tom have added a Traveling Wilburys’ song to the set called Poor House. (YouTube to the rescue!!!) Scotty and I listened to the song on my iPhone speaker. Luckily it was a straight ahead country type song with absolutely no drum fills. Well. None that I heard the one and only time we listened to the song.
“Ok. Got it.”
By this point Tom, Jeff and the rest of the Heartbreakers had been spotted in the VIP section so the cat was out of the bag.
Mike Campbell is one of my favorite people on the planet. My respect for him as a person and musician is off the chart. He doesn’t talk much but when he does, his timing and what he has to say couldn’t be more perfect. I say this because about 30 minutes before the Heartbreakers’ set he asked me “Did you notice how animated and cool Tom was to you during rehearsals?” I said "Well no. I’ve only just met him yesterday so I wouldn’t know the difference. He doesn't act like that all the time?" “No Dude. Only with people he likes. He likes you!”
This made me feel really good and took away some of the pre gig jitters I was feeling. (There’s that timing I mentioned.)
I was still in the upstairs dressing room (closet) with Mike when I heard the sold out crowd roaring. I looked down at the stage and saw Tom and the rest of the HBs on stage. “Mike!…Mike!….We gotta go! We’re starting!!”
The reaction from the crowed was awesome when it dawned on everybody that Steve Ferrone wasn’t walking on stage, but I was. Some fans started pointing at me and cheering for me. Another cool Heartbreaker circle had accepted me into their world.
The set was:
Cabin Down Below
Little Red Rooster
I’m A Man
Dogs On The Run
Runaway (with Jeff on lead vocals and guitar.)
Roll Over Beethoven
Running Down A Dream
I joked with my friends at Dave and Wendy’s Xmas Party later that same night and said: "TONIGHT…...I was a Heartbreaker!……….. AND a Traveling Wilbury!………….. for 45 minutes."
To play with one of the last great Rock N' Roll bands of all time, as well as sitting in for one of my drumming heroes is something that I will never forget. I am so grateful to Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, their crew and Jeff Lynne for allowing me the opportunity.
Saving the best for last…..I am ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL to the dirtiest of Dirty Knobs, Mike Campbell!!!!
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