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SOUNDS GOOD: UP-AND-COMING JOINS TRIED-AND-TRUE

Mention the name Tom Petty and images of endless touring, blues, folk, rock and southern comfort mosey through the mind.

After 19 years on the music scene, Petty overcame the mid-'70s doldrums by mixing rhythm & blues structures with southern influences and pop-rock choruses.The back alley drone of "Breakdown" and the angry blues of "Refugee" certified Petty as a working-class hitmaker. Other hits that followed included "The Waiting," "Don't Come Around Here No More" "Don't Do Me Like That," "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "Free Fallin.' "

And in keeping with the electric/acoustic sound Petty made his own, another up-and-coming artists has caught the attention of the business.

Guitarist/songwriter Pete Droge will open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Thursday, Aug. 10, in the Delta Center. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

"It's a total joy to be on the road with a band like Tom's," said Droge, who sites Petty, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Gram Parsons, J.J. Cale, Hank Williams (Sr.) and AC/DC as some of his influences. "It's also great to play to the Heartbreaker's audience and see them listening and getting into it. It gives me a great feeling of validation and a sense of security."

Though Droge can now look back on his career and feel the sweet sting of success, it hasn't always been easy.

"I've been playing for 22 years and I'm 26," he said. "I really began writing songs when I was 10. Then I began recording demo (tapes) when I turned 19 and have been plugging away ever since."

Before moving to Portland two years ago, Droge lived in Seattle and involved himself in a few punk bands (one was called March of Crimes, featuring Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd on guitar) and worked in many pizza parlors as a dishwasher, busboy and cook.

At one of the pizza joints, Droge became friends with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, who steered Droge to the country-rock blend of the late Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. After the dust cleared on the punk scene, Droge decided to lean toward the folk sound. With his mature voice and mindful arrangements, Droge caught the attention of manager Kelly Curtis (who also manages Pearl Jam) and producer Brendean O'Brien, whose most recent credits include Neil Young and, gasp, Pearl Jam. O'Brien landed Droge the American Recordings contract, and Droge has been out touring ever since.

The trick to success, said Droge, is to find your passion and never get lazy.

"I've found through trial and error and trial and success that if you don't get your music out, no one is going to walk by your window, hear your songs and decide to sign you," he laughed. "You need to hustle a little bit and get your music into the hands that will help you. Make yourself available to luck. Find people who will help you and ask for it."

Droge also said looking to the future is another part of attaining success.

"I worked a regular day job for 40 hours a week, rehearsing at night and going out on weekend gigs," remembered Droge. "At each stage of the process I was happy to be there, but I always made short term goals, reached them and asked myself, `What next?' "

Lately, that workhorse/en-ter-prising ethic has definitely found Droge many open doors. Not only did he release his debut "Necktie Second," but his tongue-in-cheek single "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)" was featured as the first sound-track cut released from the Jim Carrey flick "Dumb and Dumber."

"I'm lucky to be in a band that includes five people who bring into the music what they know best - passion," he said. "This is exactly where I want to be."

He was determined to play music for a living.

"I figured I'd do it or keep trying until it killed me," he said while packing and preparing for the upcoming tour from his home in Portland, Ore. "I kept my mind on doing it in whatever way I could."