Tom Petty. That singular name means so much in the annals of music history that his contemporaries and those that have come after him have made the man an icon. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if anything Tom Petty is imitated all of the time. At times with incredible success and at other times blatant failure but can a band that isn't named "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" do it justice?
Tom Petty has become one of the most influential parts of rock history, he has written countless songs that literally enable the masses to singalong with his music as it wafts through the nearest speaker. Petty has enjoyed great success in rock since that first album in 1977 (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and the singles "Breakdown" and one of the greatest singles of all-time (and one of my all-time favorites), "American Girl." The success of Petty isn't merely a one-time thing, he has released thirteen studio albums and fifty-four singles nine of which were number one on the Billboard charts.
Petty's reach has made its way into the success of other bands and performers as well. That is a little more evidence about the importance of Petty's work when you think about it and for the most part those that remake Petty's music do it in a way that is very complimentary. As an example while watching "Dancing With the Stars" on September 22nd, 2015 I watched as a someone on the show said they were going to dance to a song by Elle King called "American Girl." I didn't think much about that until I realized the song was actually the song written and performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I will admit my head exploded a little when I heard this person say she was dancing to an Elle King song when she was REALLY dancing to a Petty CLASSIC. Yes that angered me so I decided to listen to the Elle King version and it sounded like the ORIGINAL so if you feel the need to use a song for your variety show make sure you know the origin of the music you are using! Rant over, kind of.
The version by Elle King is a really nice version, its exceptionally well done and it honors the original perfectly which is a wonderful thing. Too often people that remake music from artists like Petty are judged not on their own merits rather they are compared with the original and that is a disservice to the original artist altogether as the remake attempt cannot be the same as the original simply because it isn't the original. Inasmuch as that is all true in my minds eye to those that remember to give proper credit to those that actually created the music in the first place.
That rant is reflective in the importance of anyone doing the music of another artist, and that also rings true with the infamous "cover band." I have seen innumerate cover bands and all too often those bands either do the music exactly the way they think it should be done or they do it in a fashion that is comedic because it is so bad. I have seen many bands that will do a cover of a classic song and it will be so butchered that by the end you expect it to be roasting on an open spit with some store bought BBQ sauce slathered upon it. Look, not all cover bands are bad but COME ON just because you can play guitar and sing doesn't mean you should attempt something that is beyond your means. Here's a helpful tip, when you learn a song or two gather about ten strangers, not your Mom and Aunt Betty and play those songs for them, watch for their reactions while playing and look for the disgust, fear, love or lust in their eyes you will immediately know whether or not you should ever do those songs again.
When I attended Taste of Minnesota in Waconia, Minnesota July 2nd - 5th, 2015 we were there for two real reasons and honestly neither were related to food. Obviously the reasons are directly related to music, more specifically two bands: OWL and Free Fallin'. Having written about Free Fallin' before it is obvious how much I am a fan of the band but there have been changes that make this time a little more special. Free Fallin' is a Top Petty and the Heatbreakers tribute band, not a cover band the difference is immense. Free Fallin' has devoted itself to mastering the sound, the music, the vocals and the presence of the band as closely as they can while it still being obvious that they themselves are not trying to be Tom Petty.
I saw Free Fallin' initially at a free show at the Mississippi Moon Bar in Dubuque, Iowa and I wrote about the show because I was completely blown away by their skill and literal mastery of the catalog of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Following that performance I saw the band on several other occasions and each time the musicianship, vocals and showmanship of the band really was reflective of seeing Petty in concert. That is an honest assessment because right down to one of the creepiest Tom Petty songs in my eyes "Don't Come Around Here No More."
If you remember the 1985 song you will remember that creepy "Mad Hatter" and "Alice in Wonderland" theme that resonated in the video and that eerie sitar that twangs through the music. Free Fallin' does their own twist on the video if you will, complete with the "Mad Hatter" and since I saw it the first time it has struck me as brilliant showmanship. The lead vocalist killed that entire persona and little stage show type thing they did and it always became a point that I looked forward to live. When Mark Larsen, the drummer of Free Fallin' told me that the lead singer I remember vividly doing that very bit left the band and a new singer took his place, I immediately thought back to "Don't Come Around Here No More" performance and I wondered how the band would do or if they would even attempt it in the first place.
This is the point in the program where I tell you that when I met "Tom Petty" rather Scott Yard, he seemed like might fit the bill physically but his ability to pull off that stage presence had to be seen. Yard was incredible vocally and through his stage presence as well. I really liked the tone of Yard's voice as he performed as Petty, it had a tone on an even keel with Petty and to top all of that off he really reminded me of Petty throughout the performance (and through "Don't Come Around Here No More). Yard has taken ownership of the role and is exemplary.
Free Fallin' made another addition to the band before Taste of Minnesota that was really interesting as well. By adding Craig Wolke to Free Fallin', the band added a proven performer with excellent vocal skills as well that added another layer of depth to the superior vocals of the band. As I mentioned that Yard is Petty in the band Wolke is in the Scott Thurston role if you will (Thurston is a harmony singer / guitar / bass / harmonica / keyboards / lap steel and even ukulele in the Heartbreakers). Wolke is a great addition as well!
What I saw from Free Fallin' that warm July night in Waconia, Minnesota was exactly what I expected, great music and talent. Free Fallin' literally played two shows that night with the shows being separated by a fireworks display that was really cool and lots of fun but the band didn't seem to miss a beat between them. The band is always exceptionally tight but I really thought of the four shows I have seen this was one of their best which when you take into account the fact that the band had two very new members plus a fireworks display at the end of the night of a festival is impressive.
Taste of Minnesota is an interesting festival that attracts great talent to entertain its guests and although the chance to dine on Scandinavian food was not present at the event the parallel with music and food was ever present. As I harken back to the "Don't Come Around Here No More" video by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers again I am reminded of the "Alice" cake that featured slabs of cake, rather slabs of Alice being served and I am thankful that such cusine was not served. Instead those in attendence were treated to the next best thing to Mr. Petty himself in the clever guise of the band "Free Fallin'." The band brought forth two new members with exceptional talent and prowess and at the same time performed like they always do and have: Exceptionally.
Free Fallin' is not a guilty pleasure, they are a real treat that you should see live, or clamour for your favorite establishment to bring closer to you so you can see them. Free Fallin' isn't Petty nor are they a "cover band" what they are is perhaps one of the best bands travelling and performing live today, oh and they happen to be a tribute band too. Great job once again gentlemen!!!