FREEDOM ROAD

 

Back in the summer of 1966 a few young musicians began pulling together to be "the next Beatles" of the Midwest. Jeff Rice (guitar), Steve Vrana (organ), Dale Peterson (bass guitar), Don Peterson (guitar) and Bill Hadley (drums) met in the Peterson home for a few practices. That fall Dale Peterson talked to classmate Murry Johnston about trying out for the group. After luring Hadley out of the house for a short talk, Murry sat in using his drums and played "Wipe Out" and a few other tunes. Hadley was out; Johnston was in.

At first playing with borrowed equipment they began putting enough material together for a full show. Their first public performance was for a youth dance in the basement of the Methodist Church in Columbus, NE. No money; just fun and experience. Later some fellow-musicians invited them to what was the first of a series of "battles-of-the-bands" at Silver Creek's Pioneer Ballroom. Fate's Hourglass (their earlier name) and the Saintsational Saints squared off for the first time. The crowd loved them.

Within a year Dale Peterson was replaced Bryan Grassmeyer, who began his association with the band by building light cabinets to enhance their show, stepped up to be bassist replacing Dale Peterson. They did their first recording in the home of Jim Brouse in 1968.

At about the same time some other young musicians began gathering in a band called Fuscia Dream. Steve Kruse (bass), Don Swager (guitar), Don Mattocks (guitar), Tim Shaffer (vocals), and Tim Tarnick (drums) played at the Platte County Fair in 1969 and then disbanded. In 1969 Jeff Rice's parents asked Jeff to quit playing music and concentrate on his studies. Needing a replacement, Murry Johnston went to Fuscia Dream members looking for those musicians who would best meet the need, successfully recruiting Don Swager (guitar) and Tim Tarnick (drums). This allowed Johnston to concentrate more on vocals and light percussion and to get out from behind the drum set.

Throughout the next two years they would be booked by Yanda Music out of Kearney, playing in northern Kansas, southern South Dakota and western/central Nebraska nearly every weekend. They have mixed emotions as they share their memories of traveling hundreds of miles in their 1953 GMC school bus They played for Livestock, Nebraska's version of Woodstock, in the summer of 1970 with members Rice, Swager, Peterson, Johnston and Tarnick.

Grassmeyer returned and they switched to another agent for a short time in 1970, changing their name to Freedom Road. With this agent they played as far west as Rock Springs, Wyoming. This distance during the school year forced the resignation of Steve Vrana. At this point Johnston assumed the keyboard duties. A totally new sound was born.

After a week at the Cove Club in Grand Island, and a fire during the final performance, the band decided to switch agents again. Making arrangements with CID Production in Lincoln, NE, Freedom Road began to tour the Midwest more extensively.

Bryan Grassmeyer relocated to Kearney to begin playing with other musicians, eventually leaving the state to play with many talented musicians in both the rock and country fields. His reputation grew among the country artists to the degree that he was able to play with many of the stars on Nashville Live. Grassmeyer's career highlights have included touring with Country Music Hall of Fame legend, the late Chet Atkins at an appearance at The White House, touring with Nicolette Larsen,Russell Smith (Amazing Rhythm Aces), Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Lari White, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and performing on many nationally released albums and CD's from his home base in Nashville, TN.

With members Tarnick, Johnston, Swager (bass) and Paul Thomason (guitar) (formerly a member of the Beautiful People) they moved to Lincoln and began their work as full-time musicians. Their first trip to play at the End Zone Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri was most memorable.

The band returned to live in Columbus again within a year, but continued their relationship with CID Productions' Bob Codr and Milt Bemis. Membership changes continued with the original members coming and going and returning until they finally completed their final big Midwestern tour in 1975 where they performed from as far south as Tucumcari, New Mexico and Vernal Utah to as far north as Minot, North Dakota and all throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Musicians Bryan Grassmeyer and Murry Johnston went on to play with other bands. Don Peterson, Don Swager, and Tim Tarnick continued together for some time before Swager moved to New Mexico. Peterson and Tarnick continued with other musicians under different band names. In 1977 Johnston retired from professional music to prepare for the ministry in the United Methodist Church where he still serves. Tim Tarnick is employed as a banker in Columbus, NE. Don Peterson still plays regularly throughout the central Midwest.

Freedom Road began talking about reunion as far back as 1997. At that time Don Swager and Jeff Rice had expressed interest in getting together with old friends Tim Tarnick, Don Peterson, Bryan Grassmeyer and Murry Johnston. Unfortunately they were not able to successfully make time in their busy schedules until both Swager and Rice had died in 1999. The first reunion of Freedom Road was in Columbus, Nebraska in 2000. They have since talked of getting together again. In July 2002 they will join other Columbus bands the Echoes, the Beautiful People (who shared the ticket with them at the Platte County Fair in July 1970), and Thudwinker (consisting of former members of Nobody's Business, a 1970's band).