When I heard about a new tribute band getting its act together I wanted to know more about Runnin’ Down A Dream.
This five-piece group is made up of Mike Bouche on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Harry Coddington on lead guitar and backing vocals, Marty McLeanlen on bass and backing vocals, Steve Brown on keyboards and backing vocals, and drummer Roger Howard (who also handles the business end of things for the band). They are working up a show featuring the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Being a big fan of the late rock icon myself, I was pleasantly surprised, when checking out their website and the videos there, to learn that they have captured the signature sound Petty fans will recognize both musically and vocally.
I reached out to Howard at his home in Scarborough on the 11th of this month to conduct a phone interview to learn all I could about this tribute act.
Q: Having visited your website, I must say you guys are on the money when it comes to successfully portraying Tom Petty’s sound and style.
Howard: Yeah, that was our goal. We knew when we initially had our first meeting, it was the members of the band Fender Bender. We got together with Mike Bouche, who we knew sounded and sang just like Tom Petty naturally, and we all jammed on the Tom Petty songs just to see if there was a possibility of starting a tribute band. And that one meeting convinced all of us that, yes, this is really the start of something good here.
Q: After that first meeting, did it take very long to get the act up to speed?
Howard: Well, it took about two years before we had enough songs polished to start booking gigs, because we all had commitments — day jobs, other bands we were in. So for all of us to get together it took us those two years to be ready to go out and play.
Q: When was that?
Howard: That was the spring of 2019, and at that point I started contacting venues. We started getting momentum right through January of 2020, and then the pandemic hit and stopped all public performances for a year and a half.
Q: And that proved to be the death-knell for some bands and even some venues.
Howard: Many didn’t make it through it. We continued to practice during the pandemic outdoors and in our guitarist’s two-car garage. He opened up the doors and we just jammed out there with social distancing. That way, at least, we were keeping things going. We were practicing the music and learning new music again. Then in the spring of 2021 we realized that venues were opening up, and I started contacting for summer gigs. So we basically started all over again playing out little by little. We did a lot of fairs and festivals, because that’s what people seemed to want to do — they wanted to be outdoors where it was safer.
Q: How about the winter months?
Howard: Well, the wintertime is still slow. It was last winter again because of another surge in COVID, and this winter, too, is pretty dry. But we’re actually going to work on some new material this winter. I have a few different venues that have shown interest for spring dates, so I’m confirming which ones will be on which dates. We’ve got some summer stock already booked, and some other potential ones right now hanging on the edge (chuckle). We’ll put the calendar out shortly once we have a number of gigs on there so that people can see where we’re going to be.
Q: When did Runnin’ Down A Dream come together for that first meeting you mentioned earlier?
Howard: We started the band in the spring of 2017, and six months later, Tom Petty died. So we realized people can’t see the original artist anymore. We wanted to create a great show so they can see what it was like to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. All of us have seen them, and we knew what we had to do to put together a show like his. We had an agreement that we would work on this material and polish it until it gets to the point where if you close your eyes, you think you’re listening to a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performance.
Q: What kind of response have you been getting from folks at your shows?
Howard: We’ve gotten a lot of great, great feedback from the crowds as far as our sound and how accurate it is.
Q: Are you familiar with the “Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology” that came out in 2009 on Reprise Records? It’s a huge, comprehensive four-CD set that covers shows from 1980 to 2007.
Howard: Yes! We’ve taken a number of songs from that and learned those versions so that the audience can see, again, what it was like to see them live and hear the live versions of those songs.
Q: One of the things that really grabbed me as I was checking out your videos is the fact that you use Rickenbacker guitars. That jangly sound is just what you hear on his studio albums as well as the live tracks. And as far as the material you are working up, do you concentrate on one time period of his work over another?
Howard: No, we draw upon the 40 years of his career by playing Heartbreakers songs, his solo work and The Traveling Wilburys.
Q: Is there anything that you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Howard: We’re always looking to expand our audience in the venues we play in. It’s exciting to play to a new audience or a new venue we’ve never been in and get that response that we always get. It shows us that we are accurately recreating the Tom Petty experience. The bottom line is this, we love what we’re doing, and we’re all in it for the long run.
Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 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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