Gary James' Interview With
Tom Petty Tribute Artist
Almost everyone has a tribute group going around playing their music and Tom Petty is no exception. Out of San Diego, California is Ozzie Mancinelli doing his tribute to Tom Petty.
Q - You have so many impressive credits that I'm guess that at one point you were in a recording group?
A - It's fair to say that everybody in The Pettybreakers was at one time or another in a recording group. Some of us have achieved higher levels of success compared to others. That would be our keyboard player having the greatest claim to fame as it were. He has recorded with and toured with The Rembrandts and Gin Blossoms. His name is David Zeman. We'd all done other recording projects as well, but nothing that's really noteworthy.
Q - Is that how you got to play these clubs like The Troubadour, The Whiskey and Gazzarri's?
A - In those bands I played with in the past, yes. Me personally in those original bands and we had the pleasure of working with some high profile people like Ollie Brown, the percussionist for The Rolling Stones. At the time we had interest from respectable labels, but it was one of those things where there was always enough competition that you just never made it to the next step.
Q - What are you doing performing in a Tom Petty tribute group? Are you saying there's more money to be made in a tribute act than going out and trying to be an original act?
A - Well, funny you should put it that way, but at this particular juncture in our lives, collectively as The Pettybreakers, I would say that is a fair statement, yes. If we were all in our, let's say mid-20s to late-20s, early-30s, then perhaps that would be a different story chasing down the recording end of it. The recording life, as you probably know, there's a lot of travel required, touring, the kind of things that are more a young man's game as it were, not that I'm going to reveal our ages at this point. (laughs) But we're much older than 25. While we do travel, we travel extensively for our tastes, it's just enough. We usually do extended little weekend tours, Thursday through Sundays, that kind of thing. In fact, we have a residency coming up at Harrah's in Reno. It starts on March 17th (2016) and it goes through the end of July (2016). We'll be playing in the Sammy Davis Ballroom. We'll be playing Thursday through Sunday and of course there are a lot of major markets nearby where we could drive to and like a Wednesday night concert or a Sunday afternoon, Summer concert or a Spring concert. We hope to tie some of those in as well. For the most part we'll be flying up on Thursday morning, doing shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday and flying back home Sunday mornings to be with the family.
Q - Isn't that going to be expensive? Who pays for the airfare?
A - I believe it's contracted, but fortunately for us, Reno to San Diego there are good fares so it's definitely do-able. It's probably like a New York to Philadelphia flight or something like that, that are running these days. Basically here you're talking about maybe a $200 ticket.
Q - Round trip?
A - Yeah.
Q - Every weekend?
A - Correct. There's definitely enough money built in. It makes it very worthwhile.
Q - Before this Harrah's gig, where would you perform? How much work is there for a Tom Petty tribute?
A - We make it our goal to work at least a hundred dates a year. It's something we're still shooting for. We're beginning I think our fifth year. We're going to exceed that now with our four month residency. If we could perform Fridays and Saturdays, that's been our goal basically. We've played House Of Blues in San Diego. Obviously it's in our backyard. Las Vegas. We've also played Dallas and Houston, House Of Blues. We play casinos pretty much all over the country. We're heading out February 6th to Chandler, Arizona. We've played casinos in Washington, The Point, just north of Seattle. I can't remember the city. We do the Arizona circuit. Several times a year we get up to Washington State. We do a lot of festivals. Summer festivals.
Q - I almost hate to ask this question, but you are a full-time musician then? There is no regular job. For you, this is it?
A - For me, this is it, yeah. I was kind of a late bloomer in the whole fatherhood thing. My wife had our first child five years ago when I started just a few months before. My daughter was born when I started the Pettybreakers and up until then I was the traditional weekend warrior doing local bar gigs and working during the daytime as a Vice-President Of Sales And Marketing for a local company. I take that back. I didn't do that up until my daughter was born. I did that up until about 2006 as a V.P. of sales and marketing for that particular company. Then I branched out and did it on my own, but unfortunately right around 2010, that particular industry that I was involved in sort of shrank and just went away. At that point is when I found my second career as it were and figured I'm going to start playing music again. I'll be the one staying home, taking care of our new daughter, raising her while my wife does the traditional 8 to 5 job and it's worked out really well for us. So, I've been very fortunate to have the ability to fall back on something like music. It definitely takes two incomes. It's not like this particular gig alone takes care of my family. It provides the second income that makes most traditional families work.
Q - When you were in sales and marketing, was your hair shorter?
A - Well, it's interesting. When I was the sales and marketing guy I had shoulder length, black, curly hair. With age, that crept up and up and up to the point where I now wear it a very close buzz. Obviously my natural hair color is not blonde, although many people ask me if I'm a natural blonde or if I iron my hair, if I flat-iron my hair, if I dye my hair. All these questions come up. People do believe in the presentation and being a sales and marketing guy you definitely want to make a good presentation of your product. I think it would be a little bit harder to sell a Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers tribute if you didn't have the blonde hair. It's show business to us. If you were to go on Broadway you would see people wearing costumes to perform. We do similar. We do our very best to put on the best reproduction possible of a Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers concert.
Q - Does everyone in your group try to look lie everyone in Tom Petty's group?
A - To a certain extent. You definitely want to take talent above look any day. So, for example, Ron Blair, the bass player for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, is tall and very thin. Our bass player is not so tall and not so thin. But I mean, the hairstyle is there and most importantly the talent is perfect to reproduce Ron Blair's role. Our drummer, Steve Ferrone, is Tom Petty's drummer at the moment. He replaced Stan Lynch when they parted ways back in the '90s. He's bald. Our drummer is too. Only Steve Ferrone is little taller and thicker. Our drummer is a little shorter and thinner. So, you give and take a little bit. Our keyboard player wears the fedora. He goes out of his way to replicate Benmont Tench's look as much as possible. Same with John, our guitar player. We do our best to not only replicate the sound, note for note reproductions, but also the feel, the look, that kind of thing.
Q - I ask about that only because when I interview Beatles tribute acts, fans will notice if they guy playing Paul is playing the bass right handed or left handed, or if the guy in a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute act portraying Ronnie Van Zandt wears shoes on stage or like Ronnie is barefoot. Do Tom Petty fans pay as much attention to detail as Beatles and Skynyrd fans?
A - I would say probably not. Well, it's hard to say. Nobody's really come and said, "You don't have a beard like Tom Petty does," and I don't. Nobody has ever come up and commented to that affect. But I can see where if you're in a Beatles tribute there are a lot of signature things about The Beatles. I would expect people would expect to see more of a close replica. For Tom Petty, I think they hold us to a certain standard, but maybe not as much as you said about Skynyrd and The Beatles.
Q - You've seen Tom Petty hundreds of times. What is there about Tom Petty that so appeals to you?
A - First and foremost the music, the lyrics, the songs. The lyrics have always touched me in a particular way. I've always related to his lyrics especially, and the melodies are just catchy. When I first heard him on the radio I thought he's not American for sure. Who is this guy? What accent is that singing It's alright if you love me. (laughs) What the heck is that? You do a little research and you find he's a Florida boy. From "Breakdown" it just hooked me. I just kept following the band. What's not to like about a guy that's got a huge, deep catalog that we can easily do a two and a half hour set and at the end of the night fans come up to us and say, "Man, what a great show, but why didn't you play that one and that one?" Wow! even after a two and a half hour set of all the hits and a few deeper cuts, people still want to hear more and there are more familiar songs to people even if they weren't Top Ten.
Q - You're also in a Stones tribute?
A - No more. I left that project to start the Tom Petty project.
Q - Who were you portraying in that Stones tribute, Mick Taylor?
A - Actually, I would have preferred Mick Taylor, but I was channeling Ronnie Wood. No offense to Ronnie Wood. He's obviously a very talented guitar player and songwriter. But I've always been influenced by the Blues all the way back to John Mayall when Mick Taylor played with John Mayall. He was one of my favorite guitar players. He influenced me a lot. On stage the look was definitely Ronnie Wood. In fact, after I left the Stones tribute band, which I was an original member of, after I left that band and tried to get the Petty project going, I subbed for other Stones tributes across the country.
Q - With a name like Ozzie, why aren't you in an Ozzy Osbourne tribute band?
A - (laughs)
Q - Now that would really be something.
A - That would be something. I guess for one I don't have an appetite for chicken heads or bat heads or whatever he likes to bite off. Growing up I obviously had my fair share of Black Sabbath and solo Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not a Metal fan or that Hard Rock fan. I'm a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, but that's about as hard as my taste goes.