Meet the Band #3 - Todd "Rowdy" Tolbert
It's a bit funny to write this down because I feel like over the last 6+ years with the Rowdy Ace Band here in Virginia, I've told most of these stories on stage to our friends and fans, but here we go…..
Music Early...I Grew up in a house that had a lot of music. Mom sang, Dad enjoyed the music of the time (the '70s), and I got exposed to all of it. The ones I remember the most are Elvis, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, and Barbara Streisand. At 9 years old, my parents divorced, and we moved to Amarillo, TX, where my parents grew up; they were on home turf with their respective families. We lived with Mom and on and off with my Maternal grandparents. That's where Country music came into my life. My Grandfather loved it. Willy, Ray Charles, Buck Owens, Hank Sr., etc, etc. But my Jr. High school years would be when I latched on to Alabama. Listening to Country radio with my grandfather inevitably led to "new" artists. Alabama had killer harmonies and upbeat songs and just made me want to listen. It was scanning the radio dials for Alabama songs that I also heard this kid from South Texas named George Strait, the fabulous Reba McEntire, The Gatlin Brothers band, and other "up and coming artists". In the late 80s, while I was in college, that list of influences would grow to include Steve Wariner, Sawyer Brown, and inevitably the sounds of Garth Brooks and Restless Heart...I was hooked.
I could sing from a young age. Between school and church choirs, I was always learning how to combine my voice, with other singers to harmonize, and collaborate. I played drums in Jr. High School and learned enough to start messing around on a drum kit when a friend got one. I would end up playing drums in church while singing from behind the kit. That would be my way into music, I thought. So after a failed bit at Baylor University, I returned to Amarillo, started college at West Texas State University, bought a drum set with money I borrowed from a local Credit Union my Mom worked at, and set off to become a HILLBILLY ROCK STAR (HBRS)!!!
Early Bands...I was 18 years old and worked at a local car dealership. Two of the guys I worked with played in local country bands. I begged them all the time to let me come sing in their bands, but that wasn't going to happen. One day I was bugging Jimmy Url Whisenhunt about singing with him, and he spun around and said "get yourself an instrument, learn to play it, and then go join a band". Well, there was the blueprint! I had a drum set and learned everything I could from the radio of the time. I could sing lead and at least one harmony part on everything I heard. I was READY! So I got an audition, and the first song they pulled out was "Silver Wings" by Merle Haggard. That was not a song I knew. I had kinda missed the Outlaw Country phase because my grandfather didn't like it. So I didn't get that gig. But it gave me homework. I dug into Outlaw Country and added that to my arsenal. My next audition was with a couple of old guys (they were in their 50's and 60's), and they needed a drummer. They didn't know I could sing, but I was in when I set up a mic during my audition and jumped in on harmony. I played my first gig at the end of 1988 at the young age of 19. I was on my way.
Rowdy Ace Band...This is the part where I remind you that our band is NOT named after me. I have the nickname "Rowdy" from being a band member since the early 1990's. Read about that HERE. While all this HBRS stuff was happening, I also had a day job. And in what would be the first of several times I'd have to put music on the shelf, that day job kept me out of music for about 18 months after playing in two bands (including the Amarillo legends "Clyde Logg Band". When I returned, I wanted a gig. I had tried to start a band on my own and was pretty successful getting it going, but then got kicked out of it for some dumb reason I can't recall and had to go looking to join one. I got pointed to a band that had their drummer unexpectedly leave due to health issues. I went out to listen to the Rowdy Ace Band one night and liked what I heard and saw. RAB was a five-piece band with two guitars, a bass, a keyboard, and a drummer (sit-in for that night). They had 4 part harmonies, and I liked the mixture of country music they played. I auditioned and became the new drummer of the Rowdy Ace Band in 1992. After my first two shows, the female keyboard player who sang most of the 2nd part harmony figured out I could do it, so she decided to leave the band to spend time with her family. That wasn't really the band plan, but now we were four. The RAB of the '90s would add a female singer at one point, and she'd leave. We'd have guitar players come and go, and at the end of my time in Amarillo, we had a great pedal steel guitarist. While all this was happening, I had graduated from college, and a friend of mine had returned from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood to set up shop teaching guitar. I wanted to learn how to play guitar so I could accompany myself to write songs and maybe, one day, front a band. And between 1992 and 1996, when I departed Amarillo for Dallas, I would play drums, sing lead and harmony, play guitar, book the band, write songs, and generally just go about being a part of what I believe to be one of the best bands to come out of Amarillo, Texas.
2000's...During the late 90s in Dallas, I played drums for a couple of bands and would eventually front one called Buckshot. It was only the second band I would sing (some would say I fronted RAB from the drum set for years), and play rhythm guitar. I would end up leaving Dallas in 2000 for career and personal reasons. I sold my house, shipped everything out on a truck, loaded up my trusty Durango, and pointed it toward Nash....er...New York City!?!?! (get a rope!). Not much musically went on while I was there. Mostly because I was trying to be some high-dollar NYC technology executive, and there wasn't a live country music scene. I would end up writing a bunch, recording some, playing live at a country bar in New Jersey, and even getting some radio airplay in West New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, I just did what I could do to keep creative. But for the 6 years I was in the NYC area, being an HBRS felt like a lifetime away. I'd leave NYC and Jersey in 2007 to move to Northern Virginia with my new wife, get suburbia'd up, and have kids. For that additional six years, I didn't really do anything musically other than play guitar in my basement. In about 2014, I started playing some stuff with 3G (whom I had worked with in my day job) and a couple of other guys. 3G and I would eventually meet Paul, and off we'd go with what would end up being a new version of the Rowdy Ace Band right here in Northern Virginia and the great group of musicians and friends we've made.
Most times, when you find me with a guitar nowadays, it is in front of the Rowdy Ace Band, either with the full band or some subset of it. Musically, that's where I'm most at home. I do some solo shows because friends ask, and "when a friend asks for help, you help them!" I also still play drums here at the house or sitting in with friends. I've even been known to haul my PA out to a venue and run sound for friends. I have come to love the music scene in the NoVA area and am happy to be a member of it. Yes, I still write music, and in the last few years have been pretty active in it. I don't record a lot of it because, well, I just haven't gotten around to it, and it hasn't been a focus for the band or me.
The Horizon...While I consider myself a planner, more so than a dreamer, I can't tell you what's next for me and the RAB. Every year brings more surprises. From 2019 through 2023, this band has almost doubled the performances we've played yearly. We play in at least 15 to 20 new venues every year. And the shows and crowds keep getting bigger, and I am certainly both thankful and surprised for that. Winning "Best Local Band/Musician" in Loudoun County in 2022 just cemented what we certainly knew, and many of our fans and friends have experienced, it's not only about the music you play, how you play it, and where you play it...it's all that, AND it's connecting with the crowd, entertaining them and for a little while helping them to have fun. I'm no fortune teller, but I can confidently say I will keep doing that. See y'all out there!