Petty Theft: It’s fine line for cover band that adds own touchesSan Francisco Chronicle | January 01, 2015
“Some people think you put together a tribute band and start packing shows and making good money,” says Monroe Grisman, guitarist and backing vocalist for Petty Theft, the Bay Area group that made a name for itself playing hits and rarities from the songbook of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“It’s not really true. Most of us have day jobs, and playing covers isn’t easy. You have to learn the songs well, because even the most tone-deaf guy at the back of the room knows every note to every song — and if you’re playing it ‘wrong.’ It takes hard work and persistence to keep everything together.”
The men in Petty Theft — drummer Adam Berkowitz, lead vocalist-guitar player Dan Durkin, bass player-backing vocalist Django Bayless, keyboard player Mike Emerson, guitarist Michael Papenburg and Grisman — have been professional musicians all their lives and had no intention of becoming a Petty tribute band when they started playing together.
“Dan and Django started a cover band with some originals mixed in,” Grisman says. “When Dan became the lead singer, they decided to stick with the Petty songs. Dan sounds like the current Petty with the lower-register voice, not like the younger Petty. He’s not wearing a top hat or a blond wig. We don’t have a look, but the Heartbreakers don’t have a look either, they just dress rock ’n’ roll.”
Grisman says he never imagined they’d make a living playing Petty songs. “Five years ago, we got into branding and marketing. We created a Heartbreakers-style logo and things started taking off. We strike a balance between playing the songs the way people want to hear them and putting enough of ourselves into (the music) to have a real stake in it. We go off book in the jams and solos, but that’s nothing the real Heartbreakers wouldn’t do.
“We try to play things fans don’t often hear at a Petty show, but every time you put in something new, you have to cut something. I read an interview with (Heartbreaker) Mike Campbell. He said, ‘There are 16 songs people want to hear, then we carefully choose the rest.’ We have the same problem: How much can you fit into a show?”
– J. poet is a freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Petty Theft: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 2. $16-$18. The Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F. (415) 551-5157. www.thechapelsf.com. 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3. $18-$25. City Winery, 1030 Main St., Napa. www.citywinery.com/napa. 9 p.m. Jan. 9. $15. Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. (707) 829-7300. www.hopmonk.com/sebastopol.
Petty Theft steals the show… Tribute band from Novato excelsVallejo Times Herald | September 07, 2014
Songs already written. Check. Reputation established long ago. Double-check. Instant fame and fortune. Not so fast.
OK, so it’s never about the money. Maybe rarely. Or fame, really. Not when you’re a tribute band. But that’s fine with Monroe Grisman, a major cog in Petty Theft, “celebrating the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” that comes to the Empress Theatre in Vallejo on Sept. 12. .
It’s been 11 years since a bunch of guys in Marin and Sonoma started the salute to Petty, a 2002 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductee who has sold more than 80 million copies of his tunes.
It all started “very innocently” with some guys doing cover songs of numerous bands, said Grisman, who joined Petty Theft four years into the undertaking.
“I never expected it to get this far, said Grisman, a Tamalpais High School graduate. “I don’t think anyone anticipated doing this 10, 11 years later. But we’re stronger than ever. Every year we seem to get a little bigger, a little better in terms of audiences and places we play.”
Those hole in the wall joints seem like a distant memory with elegant venues such as the 470-seat Empress, now the standard.
“It’s a perfect setting to hear this music,” said Grisman, who couldn’t put a limit on how big Petty Theft could be. Not after seeing a video of a Pink Floyd tribute band in Australia attracting 10,000 fans.
“Some tribute bands out there are doing pretty big things,” Grisman said. “It does seem far-fetched, this tribute thing. We’ll see where these things go over the years.”
There’s no reason the real Tom Petty — or any of the authentic stars behind tribute bands — wouldn’t accept the tribute bands. As long as the music is stellar, Grisman said.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Grisman said. “I don’t think a lot of these artists think of it too much. They’ve had a really good run and have had a lot of success and made a lot of money. If I were in their position, I’d probably appreciate the ones that do it really well. And grimace at the ones that don’t.”
It’s all about having the body of work, Grisman said, though he’s heard some tribute bands where he wondered “How’s that going to work? That (real) band only had two or three songs. In that instance, they must be hard-core fans and love all the material.”
That’s not a problem with Petty Theft, the guitarist said.
“We can play for three hours and everyone (in the audience) knows every song,” Grisman said. “We’ve heard a thousand times, ‘I didn’t realize how many great songs Tom Petty has written.’ We’re reminding people what a great songwriter Tom Petty is and how great the Heartbreakers are.”
Sure, it’s easy in a sense that the material is already there, Grisman said.
“But you still have to be good at it,” he said. “You have to be a great band in order to be able to do this for 10 years.”
Though there may be instant name and song recognition, even a tribute band has to build a fan base, Grisman said.
“It’s taken us a long time to build a reputation for doing something well,” he said.
Petty Theft, noted Grisman, doesn’t try to dress up and look like Petty and his band or use guitars of the group’s peak years.
“What we do is celebrate the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” Grisman said. “We’re very true to the music, where I’m not going to mess around with the melody line of ‘Breakdown.’ We play songs the way they need to be heard.”
Having fun on stage is also important, Grisman said.
“People seem to really enjoy it,” he said. “They come to the show and are able to dance and sing all night long and have a good time.”
Besides, there’s something to be said about paying $15 or $20 to hear a solid tribute band than $50 to $150 for the real deal, Grisman said.
“It’s money well spent,” he said.
And if Tom Petty ever did catch a Petty Theft gig?
“I would hope he would really dig it and walk away feeling good about what we’re doing and proud that his music was being represented in such a way,” Grisman said.
- Richard Freeman