A Heartbreaker Makes Teen's Dream Come True

Griffin Black holds his version of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitar i i

hide captionGriffin Black used spare parts from Ebay and other online sources to re-create a modified Fender Telecaster used by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell.

Brad Horn/NPR
Griffin Black holds his version of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitar

Griffin Black used spare parts from Ebay and other online sources to re-create a modified Fender Telecaster used by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell.

Brad Horn/NPR

In the late '70s, 14-year-old Griffin Black wasn't even born yet. But "Refugee," the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1979 tune, is his favorite song. In fact, while most his friends would rather listen to hip-hop, the Heartbreakers are his favorite band.

So it's not uncommon for Black to watch old Tom Petty videos on YouTube. One night in front of the computer, Griffin was watching footage of a 1985 concert.

"And Mike Campbell, the lead guitar player from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, came out playing this really cool-looking guitar," he says.

What he saw was a highly modified — and very red — Fender Telecaster that the band called "The Red Dog." It's the same guitar Campbell had used for the recording of the hit song "Refugee." The Red Dog is a one-of-a-kind custom build.

"I knew right away I wasn't going to be able to find it at a Guitar Center somewhere," Black says, "so I figured I'd have to build it myself."

So the Vienna, Va., teen re-created The Red Dog using parts from Ebay and rare instrument dealers. But he still wasn't satisfied.

"I just thought it would be pretty cool if Mike Campbell could see the guitar sometime," Black says. "It's his signature guitar — no one else in the world has this guitar except now me and him."

Griffin Black's "Red Dog" i i

hide captionThe signatures of Mike Campbell and Tom Petty are visible (top left) on Griffin Black's re-creation of Campbell's custom "Red Dog" guitar.

Brad Horn/NPR
Griffin Black's "Red Dog"

The signatures of Mike Campbell and Tom Petty are visible (top left) on Griffin Black's re-creation of Campbell's custom "Red Dog" guitar.

Brad Horn/NPR

An Internet search later, Griffin had figured out who managed the Heartbreakers, and he gave them a call. But when he talked with the agency, it didn't seem promising. Black says the first person he spoke with told him they didn't even manage the Heartbreakers. Then he got passed to someone who confirmed that they were, in fact, the band's managers, and Black says that person seemed more interested in his story. The woman said she'd call back if she could make anything happen.

Three days later, his phone rang. He was told that Mike Campbell had gone to Black's website and wanted to meet him backstage at an upcoming show in Philadelphia.

"I was very impressed that a young 14-year-old kid would just build a guitar rather than buy one," Campbell says.

After a train ride to Philadelphia, Black was backstage with his hero. Campbell chatted with Black for a bit and then asked to see the guitar. Campbell remarked that it looked and felt similar to the original Red Dog, played a few riffs and then asked to play it.

"At first I was a little confused because he was already playing it," Black says. "But then he said, 'No, I want to play it onstage for 'You Don't Know How it Feels,' and I just said 'absolutely.' "

Mike Campbell and Tom Petty onstage

hide captionMike Campbell, left, plays Griffin Black's re-creation of "The Red Dog," onstage with Tom Petty at a July concert in Philadelphia.

Courtesy of TomPetty.com/Andy Tennille

So for the second song that July night, Campbell grabbed the guitar and did something Black won't soon forget.

"As I was playing it, I looked out in the audience and I saw him," Campbell says of Black, who was in the third row. "His face was lit up like a Christmas tree, so I was glad that I did it."

After the show, Black found that both Campbell and Tom Petty had signed the guitar. He quickly put a piece of plastic over the signatures so they won't wear away while he practices Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers songs.

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