By Perry Lefko
While the recent sudden passing of Tom Petty saddened the music world, his songs will live on through his work and a cover band fronted by a popular Toronto-area sports broadcaster.
Caledon resident Barry Davis grew up listening to the music of Petty and it remained with him throughout his career, including 14 years for Rogers Sportsnet, much of that as the sideline reporter for the network’s TV coverage of Blue Jays’ games.
And when Davis decided to go in a different direction with his life and career this year, he wanted to remain in the industry in some form of entertainment (his father was a lounge-act entertainer/actor and his mother was a dancer). So he returned to his roots playing music, which he did prior to launching his broadcast career, while also venturing into sports and entertainment podcasts.
“Being the youngest of three kids, I was heavily influenced by the music my brother and sister listened to, specifically my brother,” said Davis, who was born in Florida and raised in Etobicoke.
“He’d always come home with albums every week, and I remember him bringing home Damn The Torpedos. The first thing I was taken by was the cool-looking cover. I loved the look of the Rickenbacker guitar. And then my brother put on the album and the first song was Refugee. Right away I said this was really good. Not only did we play that record all the time, but we’d do air guitar bands. Every one of those songs brings me back to my childhood. It’s one of those albums that have been a huge part of my life.
“They say music is the soundtrack of your life. As time went on I started to discover more and more of Tom Petty’s music.”
His return to performing music, something he had done from age 16-21 singing and playing bass in a group called Fusion, happened organically. Five years ago, Davis joined his son, Zane, a drummer, for a performance put on by his drum school.
“Once I got back on the stage playing music I got bitten again, and it hit me that I had to be playing music because I get such a joy out of it,” Davis said. “There’s certain things in my life in which everything feels perfect, such as playing music. There’s no worries in the world. All the stresses and anxieties are gone, so I said I’ve got to get back in music. So then it was, how do I do it? Do I start doing original songs or go the route of playing covers? It was around that time that I watched the documentary about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Netflix, and as I watched that it reminded me of how many of his songs I knew and loved. I knew I could do his voice. Now it was a matter of getting musicians.”
Through Facebook, he put the word out he was putting together a Tom Petty tribute band and wanted to know if anybody wanted to be part of it. He gradually put together a five-member band and named it We Ain’t Petty.
His group played as one of several bands at a Toronto charity festival in early March, and later that month his band played three sets and a total of 40 songs at Brooks Sports Bar in Bolton. Family and friends were in attendance.
“It meant a lot to play there,” he said. “I knew we could pack the place just from the amount of family and friends in the area, and they didn’t disappoint me. It was great to look around and see a lot of familiar faces. A few showed up that I hadn’t seen since I was in a band in my late teens and early 20s, and there they were watching me play all these years later. We’re getting a nice little following of people coming out to multiple shows.”
The band has played at Roc’N Doc’s in Mississauga, in which Davis lived for a while after marrying in his late 20s.
Because Davis realized it would be hard to pay the bills strictly playing music, he was introduced to the idea of a sports podcast by his band’s drummer, Matt Macfarland, also a Caledon resident. Davis had no idea what a podcast was, but was told it was like doing a show on the Internet instead of a radio station.
Davis utilized his many player contacts from covering the Blue Jays and called the podcast Outta the Park with Barry Davis and Matt The Producer. That spawned the idea of a second show, Outta the Park Midweek, featuring an athlete. A third show, called Outta the Park Extra, has just been introduced about music, lifestyle, news and sports. Someone from the music or entertainment industry is featured on that show, and guests so far have included Gord Deppe of The Spoons and Mike Score of A Flock Of Seagulls, whose band played a charity concert in Brampton in early November.
“We found that there is this really interesting correlation between sports fans and music fans,” he said. “People that love music love sports, and people that love sport loves music, so we’re able to kind of keep the same audience, but not alienate a certain part of our demographic. We wanted to keep the same name just to give it that little bit of consistency and kind of go from there.”
A fourth show will soon debut about Fantasy Sports, with stats guru Paul Bruno.