01/01/2015 San Francisco Chronicle, Feature story , 'Petty Theft: It’s a fine line for cover band that adds own touches'
“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
If you go
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.