In the mid-1980s, Tobacco Road was mainly a horns band, with no guitar, piano, bass, or drums. Not long after forming, they were already playing around town several nights per week at venues like the Old Time Café, Croce’s Top Hat, Patrick's, and the Belly Up, even though most of their songs dated back to no later than the mid-1950s, with many of the tunes taken from the Great Depression period and earlier. The band won seven San Diego Music Awards from 1986 through 1994.
Acoustic bassist-vocalist Preston Coleman used to play in the house band at Harlem's Apollo Theater, Cats and the Fiddle. Accordion player and pianist Sue Palmer has also played with the Hayriders, Earl Thomas, 2000 LBS of Blues, and Missy Andersen. April West (also of Euphoria Brass Band) and Sharon Shufelt had previously played with Palmer in an all-women rock band called Ms. B. Haven. The lineup also included trumpeter Phil Shopoff and saxophonist Chris Klich.
After releasing their first three albums on cassette, their fourth full-length, Ain't Nobody's Business, billed the band as Preston Coleman and Tobacco Road, reportedly in hopes of landing a record contract on the strength of the 73 year-old's widespread recognition.
Tobacco Road split after Preston Coleman had a stroke and Sue Palmer left to play with Candye Kane. Palmer later fronted her own band, the Motel Swing Orchestra.