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Roadmaster - 2001 Interview with Toby Myers
INTERVIEW: Roadmaster (Jul 2001)
Talking all things Roadmaster with Toby Myers.





In The Spotlight - Roadmaster and Toby Myers
Interview with Toby Myers
Written by: Gdazegod (July 2001)

One of pomp rock's best loved bands came in the shape of a five man unit from Indiana called Roadmaster. Formed during the seventies, they were an institution in the mid-west region, and were at the forefront of those arena rock days where massive stadiums were filled to capacity, watching the likes of Kiss, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Styx and REO Speedwagon ply their trade. Roadmaster have been described in the International Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock as America's premier pomp band. Though they released only four albums and were unable to truly break out of their regional base, there is still a bit of mystique about the band and their musical history. Thankfully, we have been fortunate to tap into this vast reservoir of history spanning those few years with original bassist Toby Myers. Toby shares his thoughts, not only with life on the road with the band, but on his own life journeys before and after Roadmaster..

INTRODUCTION - THE EARLY YEARS

Toby, it's an awsome privilege having you on HEART of the ROCK. Thanks for hanging around and talking with us. This may seem like a strange way to open an interview, but I wonder if you really know what sort of impact Roadmaster actually had on the melodic rock community. Looking from the outside in, it's easy for the discerning fan to know, but how about for the guys within the band.. from the inside looking out. I mean.. were you aware of the impact you made?
Thanks for the interest in our band. It's quite flattering to talk in depth about something that rocked that hard that long ago. I certainly remember the fans that we had back then and the fists in the air when Mac (singer Stephan McNally) was soaring. It was like driving a fast car, real thrilling to be sure. We tried to give as good as we got, so they say here in the midwest. I'm so proud to have been part of that.

You're Indiana born and bred. For us non Americans, tell us about Hoosier country and what Hoosier actually means?
Indiana goes from way hot in the summer, like 94, 95 degrees. For you that would be in the 40's? I dunno. From very hot and humid to snowy and cold if we're lucky. I say that because I live about 10 minutes from a place I can snowboard during the 75-80 day winter season. Summertime I'm in the water as much as possible, airtime on my wakeboard behind my Malibu. It's really hot and sticky right now, but it makes the hills look so cool because they get hazy and kind of blue. My favourite Hoosier explanation is this one .. When Indiana was settled in the early 1800's, it's said that when someone would approach a stranger, they'd call out 'who's yere relations? meaning 'who are you related to? But the 'who's yere' part is said to have stuck because it was the only place in the country where people said that. Does that make any sense?

Well it does now thanks Toby. Say what about that 'big car race' they have in Indy every year? Were you yourself bought up around cars and that whole motor racing environment?
Yes, my uncle worked for Coca Cola at the Speedway, and I went to my first one in 1958. Pat O'Connor got killed then I think. I still go as much as possible because through playing with John (Cougar Mellancamp), I got to hang out with Tony George, who is younger than me and President of the IMS. Tony gets me, through his office, great passes for the track. I'm talking about standing on the track next to the cars rumbling and warming up before the greatest spectacle in racing. It's incredible. I wish Tony would put me on the payroll to be an Ambassador for the track because I can talk for a long time about why one of the coolest places on earth is at 16th and Georgetown in Indy.

How about a brief rundown of your earliest involvement in public musical performances. This must predate Roadmaster by a few years no doubt?
'Enter Sandman' just came on the radio. How bad. You know, I have an unreleased Roadmaster tune that is so bad-ass. We recorded it at my house about 1993, and it was the last Roadmaster tune ever recorded. Mac R.I.P. Anyway, my earliest public performance was at a pool party with a band called The Footmen (?). Probably '65. I remember the party lights illuminating the fine young female bodies and I said to myself 'this must be the best job in the world'. From there the journey to hook up with guys that really wanted to play well together started. So for the next six or seven years I was in a different band every year. I think the order was: The Footmen, CBMSB, The Sally, The Joys Of Life, The Urge, Awakening, and then finally hooked up with a great band on the Indiana University campus that was to become Roadmaster.

What was the earliest incarnation of Roadmaster and how did the band come together?
This band was called Pure Funk. And was it ever.. It was fronted by a huge guy called Asher Benrubi, and did a lot of soul stuff. The keyboard player was Mike Read, and they started the band together at a predominantly black school in Indy. Benrubi was an incredible frontman who fronted this band of musical buffoons. Enough can't be said of Benrubi. I auditioned for the band in the spring of 1972 and started playing with them not long after. I played mainly Yes riffs for Benrubi at my audition. He came to my cabin and I played along with the 'Yes Album' on my Rickenbacker bass.

Yeah, I remember seeing Asher in your live video. Man, what a character he was! So, with everyone pitching their own styles together in those early days, who were the band's biggest influences back then?
Mike Read the keyboard player (who from now on in this interview will be referred to as 'Bone'), was influenced by the soulful atmosphere where he went to high school. Laura Nyro was a fave of his. I can say this with certainty because me and Bone lived together for about five years, and his Baby Grand was under my bedroom. He was a night owl and I wasn't, so as I was drifting off to sleep I would hear his great takes on Laura Nyro, The Young Rascals, Stevie Wonder, Tod Rundgren, Sly (and the Family Stone)... great soulful stuff like that. My influences were most anything British and anything Motown, so me and Bone hooked up real strong from the word go. Then 'Close To The Edge' by Yes came out in 1973 and we just about died. Went to see them on tour and they started with 'Siberian Khatru'. Bone's writing then took on a great blend of funk, Todd (Rundgren), and Yes. I wasn't writing yet, but living with Bone got me going. Bone was the writer in Pure Funk.

What was it like leading up to the point of your debut album in 1976? Considering getting a deal with Village, doing support slots etc.
Leading up to that album was probably the most fun part of my rock and roll career so far. We were kings. The band was so good. We played during halftime at Indiana Pacers games, huge Frat gigs, we rocked Chicago sideways, would go down and slay them in Cincinnatti. Just the choicest gigs imaginable on that level. Frat band with no record deal. But the popularity of the band allowed us to play originals in our sets, and all credit to Bone's writing, they were well received. But this fine tuning period maybe two years from 1974 to 1976 was amazing. Ricky Benick came on board during this time and we were unstoppable. 'Golden Rick Wonder' Rube would call him, because Ricky was from Washington DC and came from a band that wore make-up.. not much, but like eyeliner and hairspray, while Benrubi, Bone and me were real down dressers. So the mix of a real flashy guy on guitar surrounded by farmers was pretty funny.

I have to say, those days of stadium/arena rock must have been a buzz. I've just been watching 'Detroit Rock City' on video about those guys who go all out to see a Kiss concert. What do you remember of those times playing to large audiences, especially in Indiana?
We would regularly blow people away during this time. The combination of Benrubi and us players was amazing. So, when we blew away Todd Rundgren at a club in Cincinnatti, that was about the best. He freaked. We were doing a song of his called 'Slut', and Benrubi changed the words to something real pornographic. But Todd could undoubtedly hear his influence in Bone's writing and our overall show. We were huge fans of Todd's 'Something Anything' album, that stunning record he made after leaving The Nazz. So we thought we were dreaming. Next thing you know we're in Woodstock NY recording with Todd. That oddly enough was the event that led to Benrubi's demise and the rise of Roadmaster.

If we go one step further and think about the entire mid-west region in general. I mean, bands like yourselves, Head East, REO, Styx, Kansas, Shooting Star were really drawcards back then. Mid west fans are a fanatical lot aren't they? Why is that?
I think fans are particularly rowdier in the midwest and on the east coast. Like getting to see Nirvana in NYC, unbelievable. Or playing a three night gig at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. I don't know. I don't think toxicity has anything to do with it though.

THE ROADMASTER YEARS

'Sweet Music' had some great moments on it like 'Higher Higher'. The synth work of Michael Read made a lot of people sit up. Did you take notice of who else was playing in a similar style to you back then? I mean bands like Starcastle, and Angel etc..
The outro on 'Higher Higher' was inspired by Todd Rundgren's 'Marlene' on 'Something Anything'. But Bone's live presentation which back then dictated studio stuff because live ideas over a period of nights would be incorporated into songs upcoming, was guided by what Rick Wakeman was doing with Yes. The multiple keyboard thing. As for Starcastle and Angel, I never listened to them.

Some great times on the road I'm sure, playing with everyone from BOC to Frampton, Molly Hatchet etc. What was your favourite tour and with whom?
My favourite tour was the BOC, Pat Travers and Roadmaster tour. From one side of the country to the other, and back again in an RV with those great guys, and Ivan, the engine driver.

'Hey World' was more of the same, with some trademark songs contained within. Were you concerned with the band's direction considering other bands like Blondie and Talking Heads were taking off, or did you just get out there and do your own thing irrespective?
We were having so much fun cranking out that stuff that we barely noticed, We kinda got snookered early into it by management and a possible deal with Columbia Records. So we were living right in the moment, no future plans. Just the next great song and show.



Roadmaster (circa 'Hey World')
Top: Bobby Johns - drums; Michael 'Bone' Read - keyboards; Stephan 'Mac' McNally - vocals
Bottom: Toby Myers - bass; Rick Benick - guitars


At a time when punk and new wave were in vogue, Roadmaster released the 'Fortress' album. A marked contrast compared to the other three. The AOR guys probably loved it, the pompsters perhaps less so. How much did radio dictate the direction for this one?
Like I said just before, we just played from our hearts, and if that wasn't gonna cut it on radio, so be it. Flo and Eddie came in to produce us, and they just about died when they heard us working up 'Someday' in The Warehouse. Thats the people we wanted to impress, the musicians and the people that bought tickets to our shows.

Some awesome songs too .. Yeah, we reckon that 'Someday' is hailed by many as being a classic track on 'Fortress'. What songs stood out for you?
My fave on that record is 'Ride The Wind Away'. Steve MacNally .. what a voice..

I recall at the time Rick getting a small piece written about him in Guitar Player Magazine for his work on 'Fortress'. Did you ever get quizzed by your peers in much the same way for your bass playing?
That didn't really happen for me until Mellancamp.

I know from reading about some of the record labels what a bunch of prats they can be. My speel on the GLORY-DAZE site aimed at EMI America in particular is a testament to how I feel about them. Roadmaster's falling out with Mercury I suppose has been replicated many times elsewhere throughout the industry. Did you really find them helpful at any stage throughout those four years?
Yeah, they paid for us to get really high and make music and tour and see the country and open huge shows. Sure, they were great, but we all felt we could've been on Columbia.

The JOHN COUGAR MELLANCAMP ERA

You mention on your site that Rick, Michael and yourself tried to keep Roadmaster rolling on for a wee while later, but a bigger and better offer was around the corner with John Cougar Mellancamp. Though I understand it wasn't all plain sailing at the start?
It was great, just totally different from anything Roadmaster. So for that reason it was scary, pretty scary!

I'd always though JCM was a cross between someone like Bruce Springsteen and a lighter version of Rick Springfield. How did you find the transition playing that earthy mid-west style versus what you were trying to achieve with Roadmaster?
I thought the songs were pud, compared to Roadmaster!

To give all those budding bass players out there some insight, give us a typical breakdown of how your working year was structured during your time with JCM? ie: how many weeks/months in the studio, how many on the road, when you got time off, what you were doing in between times.. I'm sure it wasn't all plain sailing..
We recorded every year so there was a certain amount of time learning those songs. John really likes to have the band rehearse a lot, so whenever there was a project it was 110% about six days a week. My favourite 'John moment' were the three Who shows we opened in 1982. You know, you can't narrow it down to anything, it was all great. We did a lot of stuff. TV, movies, videos, records, tours.. it was great! My last gigs with John were in Germany, and I went snowboarding on the off days in Garmsich. What a great place to stop.

OTHER PROJECTS

You've done some sessions with Henry Lee Summer and I know Rick and Michael were in his touring band. He's an Indianapolis boy too so I guess all you guys are pretty close in that local scene?
I did those sessions with Henry about '89. So it's been a while. I live in Brown County, about sixty miles south of Indy, so I'm never up there now. Henry has a monster voice. Check him out singing one of my tunes on my 'Big In Japan' release.

You got involved with Bruce Henderson's project Hearts And Minds. Bruce seemed to be influenced by JCM as well, and another JCM cohort Andy York was involved too. Did much come of this association? I understand there was an album on AandM around about 1990.
I don't really remember much about that one.

Musn't have been that memorable then. Any other interesting projects you were involved with that perhaps aren't so well known?
No, not really.

POPPIN' THAT BASS..

I guess the band Yes played a big part in your musical upbringing, so one can only assume that Chris Squire is there or thereabouts as one of your personal influences. What do you think of his playing, and have you ever met or played with him over the years?
I never met Chris, but my wife did. I have stolen a lot from Chris. Namely his flair for the dramatic.

What about rating a few of your other bass playing peers then? Perhaps a quick one-liner on each of them:
Jack Bruce (Cream)
Greg Lake (ELP)
Geddy Lee (Rush)
Louis Johnson (Brothers Johnson)


Jack Bruce - 10, Greg Lake - 7, Geddy Lee - 7, Louis Johnson - 8.

My style is Chris Squire, James Jamerson, Jack Bruce and Sir Paul (McCartney) all mixed just right.

Tell us about your own bass playing. What you use.. the amp gear you run through etc. Are you a Rickenbacker man by any chance?
I have a Hartke endorsement (amps and cabs), and about fourteen vintage guitars, and two are Ricks. A 1972 '4001' bass, and a blond '66 12 string.

ON THE ROAD

You've had some interesting experiences on the road I bet. You've even been down to Australia. I mean New Zealand is only a hop skip and jump next door (Aussies will say otherwise). What did you think about this part of the world? You know they drink vast quantities of beer down this way, so they don't get dehydrated they tell me..
The Southern Hemisphere is so bright, but I was in the water as much as possible and boogie boarded at Bondi in Sydney and the Gold Coast, and even Perth on the western side. Would love to come down and see New Zealand..

Were there any other far away places that took your fancy?
I really enjoyed Sweden, Denmark, England, and most especially Paris..

Reading about your initial acquaintance with your now wife Roberta (Churko) amused me somewhat, even more so that she's a big fan of hard rock as well as being a super model (I'm sure she won't mind me saying that bit). I haven't heard any stories about your marriage though, which was onstage at Farm Aid 95. A big wedding reception and guest list I take it? (ha ha)
That was unreal. I had no plans to get married when I left the house for the gig, so I didn't take any money with me. We had to stay over in Louisville Kentucky that night to make it official and the court fees were $27. The judge gave it to me. 44,000 people saw us get married!

PERSONAL

You now have a young son.. Cash. How has fatherhood been for you after so many years away on the road?
I'm having the time of my life. I just wish I had started earlier as I'll be 65 when he graduates from high school, but really he's the best.

On a sadder note, the loss of Steve McNally in 1998 would have affected you in much the same way as the rest of the Roadmaster camp I'm sure. He was a pretty special guy?
Mac was the man. The realization that I, or we, can never really play those spectacular songs live and hear his beautiful voice is a real blow.

If there were any moments in your life you wish you'd done differently, what do you think some of those might have been?
No changes, only maybe I should have started tracking down Roberta a little earlier.

Any regrets?
I regret that 'Emotional Love' on 'Mr Happy Go Lucky' (Mellancamp '96) wasn't a single. Purely selfish, but I sure wish it had been.

I suppose the $64,000 dollar question will be: is there a chance for a Roadmaster reunion of any sort, despite the fact that Mac's not around?
No, like I said, with Mac gone, there's no way.

Where to next for Toby Myers then?
Out to the kitchen, to make coffee, and then head out to the barn for rehearsals with my new bass player Craig Koons. I have a trio called No Net. We bad..

To check out more on Toby, surf on over to his site TMZ (Toby Myers Zone) (www.tobymyers.com)

Related Articles:
Roadmaster - 1976 Roadmaster
Roadmaster - 1978 Sweet Music
Roadmaster - 1979 Hey World
Roadmaster - 1980 Fortress
Roadmaster - 1989 Live + 5
Roadmaster - 1994 One For The Road (Live)
Roadmaster - 2001 Interview with Toby Myers

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