September 12, 2018
Back in April of this year I put a call out to Frank Murray, who leads a Tom Petty tribute band called “Petty Fever,” for an interview. His band was coming to play the Granada Theater in The Dalles, and of course I thought it would be timely to talk about the music, especially since the unfortunate passing of the original iconic rocker in Oct. of 2017. Frank gladly responded and said he wanted to do it, but his schedule prevented him from writing in right away, and that caused me to miss the newspaper deadline for that week, and, apparently, for the last five months. To make matters worse, it wasn’t until last week that I even remembered that I had an interview with Frank, that’s when I saw that the band was featured at Huckleberry Fest over in Bingen.
It’s funny and ironic for me to forget this, since a tribute band is all about remembering the songs you like. We were just treated to an Allman Brothers tribute show at the Ruins the other week, Families in the Park just had an Eagles tribute, I’ve seen Pink Floyd tribute band Pigs on the Wing over at the Bingen Theater, and I fondly remember being at the Trillium Café a few years ago for a tribute to The Cars.
Tribute bands are fun, and, with apologies to Dave Barry, (one of my favorite humorists) here’s why: (Note: You must know every song, lyric and guitar riff of these songs for this to work)
1) You like these songs.
2) You remember hearing these songs and liking these songs when you bought the album/tape 20-25-30-35 years ago.
3) You remember seeing and liking the original band from 20-25-30-35 years ago.
4) You are most likely talking to someone else at the tribute show, during the song that you like, who also likes these songs and remembers liking these songs.
5) You have had 4 beers.
Frank Murray was kind enough to send in answers to my questions, and whether or not you play in a tribute band, or are in a band that pays tribute to other artists in some way, or like to listen to tribute bands, it’s fun to learn about the approach he and his band uses to get the songs into shape, what got him started down the road in music and the emotional obligations of carrying on the music of Tom Petty. Thanks for your patience, and see you at the next show!
You must be a very loyal fan to devote your music to Tom Petty. How long have you been doing this and was there a specific album or song that made you want to be in a tribute band?
I’ve been a huge Tom Petty fan since Breakdown hit the airwaves in late 1976. I literally learned it and covered it in a band the following week! I was primarily into writing my own songs back then and still am. The tribute band didn’t actually happen until recent years. Since I kind of looked and sang a bit like Petty plus knew a bunch of his material, I had people approach me over the years about doing a Tribute and I would laugh, saying that would be a lot of work and I’d rather put the effort into my own material. About a little over 9 years ago, I got talked into doing a Petty tribute show with which is my current band, Petty Fever, at a Theater in Hillsboro, OR and I thought I’d give it a shot to test the waters. It went over very well and so that was the beginning of Petty Fever.
Is there a specific decade that you guys specialize in or can you play songs from the entire catalog?
We cover the entire gambit, from the 1st album to the most recent, Hypnotic Eye! This includes all the hits and at least one song from every album, plus a number of B-Side/Deep Cuts for the hardcore Petty fan! I can honestly say, there is not one song in Petty’s 400 plus catalog that I do not like! We are constantly adding new material to the list. And as a bonus, each time I learn a Petty tune it’s a lesson in songwriting, he was one of the greats!
Of course Tom Petty’s recent passing must have been terrible news. Do you feel that there’s any emotional difference playing shows now that he’s gone?
His passing was tough, it was like losing a friend I never met. I now feel as though I have an obligation to carry on the legacy of Petty’s music giving fans old and new the opportunity to hear these great songs performed live once again. There are also Petty fans that might not have gone to see a Tribute in the past but have now come out just to experience the music and the memories, there have definitely been some emotional moments.
It looks like you guys dress up and play the parts of a real Tom Petty concert. How many hours or practices does it take before you feel a song is ready to be added to the setlist?
As far as dressing up, we just try to make sure we have a solid Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers vibe to our stage attire, plus we may focus on some key components made famous by tour photos from time to time. Bottom line is that we just go for a classy rock band look, which is basically what the Heartbreakers have always done over the years.
Depending on the song, there’s a process I personally go through before bringing a song to rehearsal with the band. It takes anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks depending on how many songs I need to learn simultaneously. The other band members have their processes as well. The first thing we do is determine what song to learn, who is playing which part and singing harmonies, then pick a target rehearsal date.
Here is my process: 1) I get familiar with the chords, arrangement and melody, 2) memorize lyrics, 3) focus on instrumentation details, vocal harmonies and phrasing, 4) play and sing the song until I feel comfortable, 5) rehearse the song with the entire band and fine tune vocal harmonies, 6) review dynamics, instrumentation detail and tones with the band, 7) rehearse again with the entire band to determine if the song’s performance ready.
We’re glad you’re coming back to the Gorge. You played the Hood River County Fair last year… how was that and are you excited to be coming to the newly re-opened Granada theater?
I actually did the Hood River County Fair as a solo act last summer and that was fun, however if given a choice I prefer playing with the entire band. I just love the give and take energy that is generated when performing with the band live on stage.
It’s exciting to be coming back to The Dalles, I’ve heard they’ve done a lot of great things with the Granada Theater, we’re really looking forward to playing there!
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