This week, I’m bringing a new tribute band to your attention, Won’t Back Down. This sextet is highlighting the music of the late Tom Petty, one of the most prolific singer-songwriters in the rock world. His catalogue of songs is huge and much loved by a legion of fans worldwide, and his passing in October of 2017 robbed the music scene of a talented multi-instrumentalist, record producer and actor way too soon. On Aug. 29 this group of musicians will perform live at the Somerset Abbey in Madison (for more information, head to www.somersetabbey.com) and to that end, I called Jeff Corkery — a member of that band — at his Boston-area home to find out more about Won’t Back Down.

Q: When did this tribute band start for you?
Corkery: Ah, 2018.

Q: Oh, so this is a fairly new act.
Corkery: Yeah, I would say so, yeah.

Q: Were you doing anything musical in nature before this?
Corkery: No. I had many years ago and I stopped, but then I got called to fill in for a bunch of friends of mine who were doing a show. That kind of got the juices flowing again making me want to play again, … so I put this band together.

Q: Have you played out much since you started?
Corkery: Yeah, quite a bit, actually — mostly theaters that hold six or seven hundred people, that type of thing. But with COVID we have shows that are basically postponed and on-hold, because theater owners don’t want to cancel shows. They’re hoping against hope that eventually we’ll be able to get in there and play.

Q: Since this pandemic started have you been able to have any performances at all?
Corkery: We just played an outdoor place last weekend in Swanzey, New Hampshire, at the Cheshire County Fairgrounds — a place called Drive-In Live. We had 400 cars pull in and park, kind of like a drive-in theater, for a show. We had a light show, and there’s a video of it on our Facebook page. It was a great night, great show, great everything. … It was just an awesome night.

Q: Now, song-wise how do you go about picking what you play?
Corkery: We like his best hits, and we have certain songs that are our favorites. We love Tom Petty music, and we have very deep cuts that people don’t know, but we really like them. We all, as band members, will kind of pick and choose and vote on what we want to do and what fits with what, and we come up with different set lists for different arrangements. So far we’ve been very lucky at what we’ve been picking. People seem to respond very well to the music — it’s easy when it’s Tom Petty music. … I wish I could say we wrote it (laughter).

Q: Well, with that thought in mind, do you have any aspirations for doing something original, maybe in the style of Petty?
Corkery: Well, maybe. We have a couple of songs that we’re in the process of writing that mirror the style and technique of Petty, so eventually we’ll come out with those, … but we’ve been doing our distancing from ourselves as well, so we haven’t had as many practices as we normally would have. We’ll probably have one practice before our gig up in Maine.

Q: This COVID thing is really impacting everything nowadays, isn’t it?
Corkery: Well, I’ve actually been working in the COVID field myself on my day job, and I can tell you, it’s people 75 and up who are paying the price. They’re all dying.

Q: What is your day job then?
Corkery: I’m a forensic genealogist, so in this particular instance I’ve been working for the Commonwealth. … We’ve done an awful lot of work up in Maine, too, all over New England, all over the country and all over the world. Basically, they need us to find a relative for folks who have died from COVID with no record of family members who can claim the body. … It’s sad, it really is, but it’s part of dealing with the issue that’s just not a happy thing, for sure.

Q: Now earlier you mentioned your upcoming gig in Maine which makes me wonder if you’ve ever played up in my fair state before?
Corkery: We have never performed in Maine, so this will be our first time — our debut performance in the lovely State of Maine.

Q: What is one of your sets like—how long does it run?
Corkery: Most of our shows we actually play a lot longer than most people do — we’ll do up to two-and-a-half hours of music, with a couple of breaks, … and we put on a show which is a lot different than most bands do. We also have a Stevie Nicks impersonator, as well, her name is Lucy and she does an outstanding job on “Edge of Seventeen,” and she sings the “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” duet with our lead singer, Ryan Fitzsimmons, and does one helluva job as an entertainer. … She can belt it out. There’s a lot of harmonies and things like that on different songs and, boy, can she sing and, boy, does she put on a show. … Just seeing her is worth it; I can tell you that right now.

Q: Now, what part do you play in the band?
Corkery: I’m the drummer (laughter), … and I’m a weird one that sings, too. It’s tricky; it’s one or two songs singing back-up, but it’s just a lot of fun. It really is. Another thing I like to tell folks is that doing these type of shows allows regular folks who don’t have the money to pay $400 a ticket to get up close and personal for a lot cheaper and still get the same quality and level of music, and a really good show, to boot. It’s nice to be able to do that for folks, because that’s what Tom Petty was about: giving people their money’s worth and more. I mean, we’ll play 28 songs a night — we start at 7 and we’ll probably go all the way to 10, … and we don’t mind, it’s fun (laughter).

Q: Is there anything, Jeff, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Corkery: If you love Tom Petty, we’re the band for you! I mean, we love Tom Petty and I think it comes through in what we do, … and we love the audience participation. If they can sing along the more the merrier. It just makes it a really good evening.

 

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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