Back in January 1979, we had two bands from Central Indiana that seemed to be poised to hit the “big time”. The bands were Muncie/Yorktown’s Faith Band, who’s timeless song “Dancing Shoes” had just hit the Top Twenty in a cover version by Elton John’s drummer Nigel Olsson. Faith Band was a more mellow of a band that would be a natural on Yacht Rock radio formats and playlists. The other band, Roadmaster, was like many of the “faceless” bands that I covered earlier this summer. You could hear the influences of Styx, REO Speedwagon and Head East in Roadmaster’s music. My high school LOVED Roadmaster. And, that loyalty was reinforced after Roadmaster played a concert after a basketball game that month.
Roadmaster had just released their best album Sweet Music back in 1978. And, somehow, our high school got a concert performance by the band. At the time, the band had taken on a new lead singer, Stephen “Mac” McNally. Mac was replacing Adam Smasher, who was becoming one of the biggest DJs in the Indy radio market. That change gave the band a lead singer with a soaring voice like that of Tommy Shaw of Styx. The band had great musicians too. Of note is bassist Toby Myers, who went on to join John Mellencamp’s 80s touring band. The rest of the band would go on to join Henry Lee Summer’s band or other lesser known artists.
But, that cold January night in 1979 was magical. The band, unfortunately for them, were stuck in the school cafeteria for their concert, that was stuffed with sweaty teenagers everywhere you looked. My buddies Mike, Doug, Jeff and I walked over to the cafeteria from the gym, where we had just gotten with our home basketball game. Since we played JV, we were cleaned up before the varsity game. We got in quickly to save some seats for the other players who were showering after their loss (For the record, the JV had won that night!).
As you probably can guess, even though there were no alcoholic beverages being sold that night, the band was probably thankful for the hyper enthusiasm of the high schoolers. That night, my untrained ears were certain that I was witnessing a band that was going to become as huge as Foreigner. Their set was tight, as they focused on songs from their great second album Sweet Music. And, when they played their epic title song, they were able to display the individuals’ musical prowess.
After the concert ended, I swear that snow was instantly melting as hundreds of teens came walking out all hot and sweaty from one of the most glorious musical night ever held at the high school. The great thing about the concert is that you can strike up a conversation with any of my classmates and they were probably there. For me, the concert was the one non-athletic school events that sticks in my mind to this day.
As I go back to listen to Roadmaster’s catalog as an adult, I understand a little more why they did not hit. While their songwriting was good, it was rarely tight. Plus, they unfortunately were picked up by Mercury Records in 1980, just in time for their fourth and final album was about to be released. At the time, record companies were looking for new wave artists and were not going to put any more energy behind a band like Roadmaster. So, that album stiffed nationally, yet was still a big seller in the Indianapolis area.
You can still find their vinyl albums at used record stores and record shows. Recently, an English music company by the name of Rock Candy has re-released Roadmaster’s last three albums with Mac on CD, though you cannot find the first one on CD. Additionally, the reunion album from 1990, Live Plus Five, is difficult to find and will cost a pretty penny here in Central Indiana, though it’s probably much more reasonably priced throughout the rest of the U.S.
While Roadmaster did not make the history, one Hoosier did, the aforementioned John Mellencamp. Mellencamp has developed nicely as an artist here in the last decade as he has begun to take on a more southern acoustic blues sound. Unfortunately, Faith Band did not hit either. Ironically enough, one of their band members, the ultra-gifted John Cascella also joined Mellencamp’s 80s touring band. Unfortunately, John passed also passed away in the mid-90s.
Unfortunately, I no longer have my Roadmaster T-shirt, but I could NOT fit in it today either. But that night in January 1979, I really did think I had just seen the world’s greatest band. Long live Roadmaster!