This Friday, December 13th, Georgia natives the Sundogs will be performing their third annual Tom Petty show at Smith’s Olde Bar. While the band’s style has a sound that changes from song to song, one constant has always been the influence of Tom Petty. Alex May spoke with bassist Will Haraway about the group’s history, what we can expect from the upcoming show, and how the group pays tribute to one of music’s greatest songwriters.
First, can you give us a little background on your band?
The band the Sundogs has been around I’d say about 10-12 years because my brother and I started the band together, and we’ve been playing together as the Sundogs since around 2001 in Atlanta and put out a couple of records, BB Gun Days in ‘04 and Instrument of Change (2007). So we’ve been around playing all different kinds of gigs in Atlanta and all over the Southeast. The current version of the band has been together since ’08, right after we put out the last record.
We get compared with a lot of people, Black Crowes and the Band because of the brother thing and the fact that we really try to find really melodic harmony parts. But that’s kind of shifted over the years. I think people thought of us as an alt-country band, which the first record kind of shows that, and now it’s sort of more southern rock and it’s almost become more of a regular pop rock type of sound. Throughout all of that, people always threw out that Tom Petty reference. and that’s definitely apt, because we always used him as kind of a template. His little philosophies are so great – don’t write a bridge unless it’s a great bridge, unless it’s better than the verses; don’t bore us, get to the chorus – those kind of things. We’ve always really believed in that. As far as short, good, melodic songs with choruses and hooks, harmony, and short, non-overindulgent guitar solos that’s sort of one of the epitomes of Petty’s sound. We always covered him, and that’s why we started doing the show once a year.
Are there any other artists that the members of the band share a collective interest in?
Lee (Haraway) and I grew up on the Stones and Beatles, because my parents had a really great record collection, so we slide towards that way for sure. Jon (Harris), the other songwriter in our band, he joined us in 2008 and he’s a real blues man kind of a guy which is awesome, it’s very different from what we do. We’ve got a couple of songs that we’ve put out this year. It’s funny, as you’ve all noticed how the music landscape has changed. Making an investment in an album, we’ve sort of gone the other way- putting out a song every few months, using that for promotion and once we get ten or twelve, we’ll package it all together.
You mention that you play a few B-Sides in your set. How do you choose which songs to perform in a tribute concert?
With stuff like that, you want to play the hits, for sure. But the great thing about Petty is that he has so many hits, and they’re all fun to play, and really good. We can always cover things like You Wreck Me, I Won’t Back Down, but beyond that, when we started doing it three years ago, you fall in love with certain songs. Like Refugee, we’ll sneak that in as the encore. Beyond that, they’re all really great. We just wanted to show off the different sides of what he does, like his new wavy sounds from the 70’s like You Got Lucky, and then you want to show off some of that acoustic stuff, because that’s a main part of his sound. We do acoustic shows every now and again around town, and there are certain songs we always play.
That’s kind of how we go about it. We try and choose the hits, and the other ones we choose that either somebody does really well, or if they show the strengths of our band.
What are some important things to keep in mind when doing a tribute show?
This is the only one I’ve ever done, so I can only speak to that, but I would say you definitely want to learn the songs, but you don’t want to necessarily get too hung up on doing it exactly the way it’s done, like the way you hear it on the radio. You want to do it that shows off the way your band plays, it’s an interpretation. We’re not going to have one guy sing all the songs like Petty would. I sing some, Lee sings some, and Jon sings some, we do that to make the song fit the singer, and that’s the way I would advise anybody to do it. Do it in your own way, while staying true to it, but have some fun, it’s not supposed to be homework, you know what I mean? Don’t get up there like you’re taking a test. We do it the way that feels good. If you see Petty now, he does American Girl in a different key that’s easier for him to sing. That’s brilliant, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s the best way to be a singer.
What can concertgoers look forward to when they go to see a live performance?
We are always going to give you a good show, a very high-energy show. We kind of rely on the crowd, the crowd makes the show in our eyes. We’re going to be having fun regardless, because we love each other and love to play together, but when the crowd is providing the third wall of that, that’s when it’s really, really special. We do very energetic sounds, very melodic sounds. Some of John’s tunes, the way he brings them out, kind of gives some of that Black Keys type of a feel that people like these days, which is fun. Big harmony, big hooks, we feel like we’ve got some of the best guitarists in the city. Always it’s just high energy and a fun rock show, One you can dance to, one you can pump your fists to. It ain’t no fun if the crowd ain’t having fun, I know that for sure.
What we’re gonna do for this show particularly, is we have a band called the Dirty Souls, they’re also from Atlanta, and they’re going to open up. We’ll have their singer do one of the Pettys with us. So after they do their set, we’re going to do our own Sundogs set, a shorter one than we would normally do, just a few songs. We certainly want to get to the Petty, but we want to do a little bit of our own stuff, too. We’ve got a horn section coming, which is great, guys we use which we call the Ace Notes. They’ll be joining us, and Mimi Thomas, who is a singer we’ve known for many, many years, and is the wife of our keyboardist Kevin Thomas, she’s going to come and be our resident Stevie Nicks on Stop Dragging my Heart Around, which Petty wrote. That adds another element because she’s gorgeous and has a great voice.
We look forward to seeing the show later this week, and make sure to grab your tickets to this once a year event!
Doors at 8pm. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show. Online and phone sales close at 2pm day of show.