After almost 20 years of radio silence, Stan Lynch and Mike Campbell, founding members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, are talking – and playing – again.
Lynch is playing drums with Campbell’s band the Dirty Knobs through the end of June, filling in for Matt Laug, who had a prior commitment. The band, with Lynch behind the kit, plays the Orpheum in Tampa Wednesday, May 4 (the show is sold out).
The drummer on every one of Petty’s hits with the Heartbreakers, from “American Girl” to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Lynch was fired by Petty in 1994, after years of simmering tension.
Campbell, Petty’s songwriting partner and the band’s lead guitarist, wasn’t on the best of terms with Lynch, either, and the two fell out of touch as the Heartbreakers continued. Campbell formed the Dirty Knobs as a side project, shortly before Petty’s unexpected death in 2017.
Lynch, who lives in North Florida, said he was surprised to receive the invitation from his estranged friend.
Surprised, but pleased. “We have a lot of history,” he said. “And it was a chance to cleanse for me. To put it to bed. To put a bookend on it. If I only played one day of rehearsal with Mike, it was worth it. I got to see an old friend, a guy who was my roommate and my big brother. We made the noise. At heart, I’m probably a romantic.”
They saw each other briefly in 2002, when Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even then, Petty barely spoke to his longtime drummer.
So much time has passed, said Lynch, that the old bitterness is gone. “We’re both so old, there’s really no time for that,” he laughed (Campbell is 72, Lynch 66).
“The only thing we have in life now is to go ‘Hey man, it’s good to see you.’ I don’t think Mike spends a lot of time thinking about me, and I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about him. But when we’re in a room together, it’s pretty damn fun.
“And I’m glad he’s getting to shed being in the shadow of Tom. It’s fun to watch Mike. The last thing I remember, you couldn’t get four words out of Mike Campbell. Now it’s ‘My God, he’s a frontman? This I gotta see.’”
Lynch listened to both Dirty Knobs albums and learned Laug’s drum parts before flying to California to rehearse in Campbell’s home studio. “It put me in an uncomfortable position, learning other people’s material,” he said. “The idea of being in a room with Mike. There’s a lot of reasons not to do it.
“I hate travel. The only thing fun about the road is that you play your drums with people that you love. And I could do that without being on the road – I could do it in the rehearsal hall and be just as happy.”
Following the Tampa gig, the band has two shows in Gainesville – where Petty and the Heartbreakers all met as teenagers – and, after a break, picks up for a string of arena dates as opening act for country music’s Chris Stapleton. Lynch’s band, the Speaker Wars, is about to release its debut album.
For now, there’s Dirty Knob duty. “We’re playing clubs. They’re small, and it’s fun. I’m not that old where I can’t remember playing clubs. Occasionally, I look up and there’s Mike’s ass, right in front of me where it always was. And he’s rockin,’ and I remember that, the way he moves. And when I’m playing well, Mike reacts in a certain way.”
The setlist includes a handful of classic Petty/Heartbreakers songs, with Campbell singing lead, and Lynch providing harmonies – just like he did, behind Petty, in the earliest days.
And the audience is loving every minute of this most unexpected reunion.
“After what he says in my introduction, you could bring out a ham sandwich and it would get a round of applause,” Lynch said. “In one night, I swear to God, Mike said more nice things about me than he did in the 20 years I played with him. I have to smile.
“And I feel it from him, and that’s really what I’m there for. Mike’s a frontman, and the drummer’s job is to turn him on so he can turn everybody on.”