Seems hard to believe, but for the first time in their 37-years together, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers topped the Billboard 200 chart for the week ending August 3rd with their latest album, Hypnotic Eye.
While Petty will not be in Mammoth next weekend, a Bay Area-based tribute band, Petty Theft, has been voted best band in Marin County three years running by readers of the North Bay Bohemian.
Petty Theft guitarist/vocalist Monroe Grisman spoke to The Sheet this week about the band, which has been in existence for ten years, and has boasted the same lineup for the past five.
Grisman said the band was originally formed as a general cover band which played a fair number of Tom Petty songs, but when the lead singer left, the band decided to zero in on Petty exclusively.
Dan Durkin too over as the band’s lead singer. “A lot of people say he sounds like Petty,” says Grisman. “Personally, I don’t think that as much.”
Grisman says the band, which is composed of musicians who have all toured at one time or another with their own indie bands, is “not trying to be Tom Petty. We just try to honor him and be true to his music and play within that construct.”
Sheet: How long does it take to learn a new Petty song? Will we hear anything off the new album?
Grisman: We probably won’t be playing any of that. In a way, we have the same dilemma that Tom Petty has. He has so many big songs, and so many songs that you have to play. Out of 20 or 22 songs, there are about 16 you have to play – American Girl, Last Dance With Mary Jane. We have plans to work up one or two songs from the new album, but you kind of have to let that material gestate with the fan base for awhile [before you play it].
Being a tribute band, says Grisman, is a little harder than it appears.
“It’s easier in that you don’t have to write original material … but even the most tone deaf guy in the world knows every note to every solo,” he says. “You still have to be good, you still have to develop a following and you still have to connect with the audience.
When I listen to what we sounded like five or six years ago … we’ve really developed.”
A mistake people make when starting a tribute band, he said, is in choosing an artist with enough material – not an issue with Petty, but certainly an issue with other artists/bands who might only have five or six songs. Petty Theft has 55 songs it can play.
Sheet: Do you do any of his Traveling Wilburys stuff?
Grisman: We do stuff from his solo albums, Traveling Wilburys. We’ve even thought of doing a song from Mud Crutch.
As Grisman explained, Mud Crutch was a predecessor band to the Heartbreakers. A few years ago, Petty decided to get the band back together, produce an album and tour. Grisman and a few bandmates saw Mud Crutch play the Fillmore in San Francisco.
“Talk about hitting the lottery,” he said. “Forty years later, to have your former and now famous bandmate call you up and invite you on tour.”