Gary James' Interview With Tom Diab Of
Toppermost Beatles Tribute
They were formed in 1999 and voted the most popular Beatles tribute act in Michigan six years in a row. Portraying Paul McCartney in Toppermost is Tom Diab, who spoke with us about the band.
Q - Tom, you must be a real John Lennon fan. He would always say, "Where are we going fellas? To the toppermost of the poppermost!"
A - Right. We didn't want to choose a name that was pretty easy to understand. The Beatles always chose song titles to make you think. Case in point: "Rubber Soul". You think about a person's soul that's weak, think about a shoe, you think about a fish that tastes rubbery. "Revolver" has multiple names. Revolving door, a gun, revolving situation. So, I thought I would pick a word that would have a little bit of mystery. You have to look into it. I get this all the time: "What does the Toppermost mean?" Now, they just extended their conversation with me. It's also a marketing tool.
Q - You did not learn to play a left-handed Hofner bass.
A - I can't because I play so much. I tried to learn a few years ago and then I have no time to master it. I do many shows. I can't do it. I've tried, but it's a very hard thing to do. What happens is, I lose all my memories of how to play it the other way. I'm not prepared to play it the left-handed way and then there's a show to do. In the Rain Beatles tribute, they don't use a left Paul. They have a right-handed Paul. You see different tributes with that. Most people don't worry about it too much. It's not the end of the world. Somebody will say something in an off comment, but once they hear how I sing and how we perform, it's not an issue. They're more impressed with the quality of the show than anything.
Q - Are you the guy who put this band together?
A - I own the business Toppermost. I created the name and the business and my co-musician, the George, put the group together. He made the contacts to bring us together. He brought us together and I run the business and own the business.
Q - What were you doing before Toppermost?
A - It was the Toppermost British Invasion Show for 10 years.
Q - So you have always been a musician?
A - Yeah.
Q - If you don't have to have a day job, you are in the minority.
A - Well no, I still have a day job. I've always been a teacher. Being a teacher affords me the ability to do this kind of stuff in the summer. The schedule gets really hot in the summer with 12 to 15 shows a month.
Q - Do you ever tell your students you are a musician?
A - Eventually they figure it out. I do so many shows in the area that eventually one of the parents figured out and did a front-page newspaper article on me. The cat gets out of the bag eventually. That's okay by me.
Q - Did it take a lot of money to buy all the costumes and equipment?
A - I suppose. You are looking at five, six grand per person over time. You do it over time. You don't do it right away. The Beatles made all Gretsch, Rickenbackers and Hofners expensive. They weren't the most quality guitars and instruments to begin with, but since the Beatles use them, their value is skyrocketing. Rickenbacker in general has such a strong legal protection of their trademark. You can't even sell a used Rickenbacker without them e-mailing you.
Q - Where are you talking about?
A - On eBay. You have to sell it somewhere private like a store. There's rules with that. Now Gretsch and Hofner aren't that strict, but the Rickenbacker people are very strict about their product and trademark, so you have to spend the money. There's really no way around.
Q - How much competition do you have in Michigan?
A - In Michigan I have one and a half bands. There's another Beatles tribute that splits themselves up among Chicago and Michigan. There's another Beatles tribute that was the premier tribute, but they basically signed their rights a way to an agency and now have become unaffordable. And since I do all the booking, I hear all the people's concerns and they say we need to be affordable. I say "I own the group and I don't have to worry about commissions." There is a bottom price that I will take, but for the most part I work with the venue. I identify whether or not the venue is trying to trick me into taking less. Once I find out they are doing the best they can, we have no issues taking the show.
Q - Do you travel?
A - We do a two-hour radius from our base in Farmington, Michigan. We don't like to do more than that. We like to come home.
Q - How do you differentiate yourself from other Beatle tribute groups?
A - My group comes from the love of the Beatles. I don't know about other groups. They might like the Beatles, but we actually worship them. We watch YouTube videos all the time. We are always questioning their methods, there approaches, trying to be accurate. But what separates us from other Beatle tributes is that we don't follow a script. So, when we speak, we can actually speak off-the-cuff. I make that as a major role in the group because that's how the Beatles were. The Beatles weren't scripted if you saw them on Ed Sullivan or any other show. They were always having a good time and it's fun. So, my approach is, if you are going to mimic the Beatles, you have to be like the Beatles. They're funny, witty, savvy. Sometimes they pick on each other, gently. And that comes across in our show. You also get a show plus a concert. Not just a concert. We don't go up there and jam heads down. We interact with the audience. We tell a joke or two. We have fun with the audience. So that's key number one. The other key is to have as many members of our group sing as often as they can. It turns out when you look at bands today you either have Boy Groups where all of them sing or you have a Rock band where there is one lead singer and these other guys, their heads are down performing. Well, we don't do that. We make sure that Ringo, George sing as well. But you have four people that allow for the audience to pick a favorite. So now you spread your audience base. I like Ringo. I like George. I like Paul. I like John, versus I like the lead singer and that's it.
Q - Now, you hit upon why the Beatles were so great. They had four singers and every record sounded different from the record before.
A - Right. I think George Harrison is underrated. When he brought his Indian mysticism and all that cool funky sound, people might've thought he was weird, but the truth was he was pushing the envelope more than John. People thought John was the envelope pusher. George did that early "Revolver" with his sitar. He brought in all that weird mysticism and John was attracted to that. So, John would look and he would pinch things. He would knick things from people. That was his secret. He had the ability to pick what he liked. I think the Beatles had the pulse of the public.