WHAT IS 20/20?
In 1981 and 1982 Cheater was ripping it up! The lineup of Don Mancuso (guitar), Chris Mawdesley (guitar), Kevin Mckee (bass), Blayne Pierce (keys), Ron Rocco (drums) and I, were riding high on the release of our first album. It was a 4 song, ten inch EP named “Ten Cent Love Affair.” The title track by the same name was getting heavy rotation on a number of radio stations around the northeast United States. It was also selling better than anyone in the business would have anticipated. The first pressing of 10,000 records had sold out in months! This was drawing the attention of major record labels. Which, of course, was the whole idea behind releasing the EP.
Our manager Jim Taylor released it on his own record label, Mallard Records. He then met with Lenny Silver of Amherst records to distribute it for us. Lenny was an awesome guy. One of the nicest in the business. He was responsible for the success of the national band “Spiro Gyro” as well as others. He distributed The EP throughout his territory. He owned “Record Theater” which was a well know record store for years and our record was in every one of them.
There were many factors that went into releasing a record. Jim Taylor releasing it and Amherst Records distributing it was a part of it. Lenny and Jim then had to promote it to other music and record venues to sell it. The House of Guitars in Rochester, NY is still to this day the biggest supporter of local music. They were HUGE in helping us get the record out through their distribution outlet also.
Most importantly, on order to sell the record, they had to get radio stations to play it. A lot of good people stepped up for us to make it happen. They did a great job. We had airplay everywhere we went.
Another thing that had to be done to sell the record was something we had to handle as a band, TOUR!
We were touring ALL THE TIME! In 1982 we played 345 shows! …yup!… one-nighters everywhere!
We played in small clubs to concerts halls, covering the area from Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York. Round and round we went! (The stories I will tell of that year are endless.)
Selling 10,000 records by a local band was unheard of, but it was still only a semi-national release, without worldwide distribution.
Lenny Silver and Jim Taylor were busy getting us in front of major record companies that were now interested. We knew it was just a matter of time before we would get picked up by one of them. The dream was at hand and we were good enough, strong enough and tough enough to handle it. Until then? …Keep writing at sound checks and in hotel rooms, but most of all, keep spreading the word with our performances.
We were performing at a biker club in Niagara Falls NY, called “Shutters and Boards,” (that place rocked!) when Jim Taylor came in the dressing room with the announcement all musicians dream of …we were signed! We were going to be recording and releasing a national album within months.
We went on stage for the next show and announced it to the sold out crowd. They went crazy, we went crazy…it was crazy.
Record deals are never simple. There are many details that need to be drawn up and made iron clad. Atlantic Records and Capital records were the two biggest labels that were interested. We were waiting for a commitment from them. A smaller label called Passport Records had committed right away. Passport’s biggest claim to fame at the time was “The Good Rats.”
What we knew was distribution is the most important part of releasing a record. If there isn’t a major distribution company involved, your chances of people around the country, or the world being able to put their hands on your record were slim. Of course a company like Atlantic Records would have all that. Would a smaller company like Passport Records be able to match that type of distribution?
The answer was yes. It turned out that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, distribution companies in the world, GEM International, was the distributor for Passport Records.
We had a choice to make. We could wait for one of the bigger labels to commit or go with Passport. If we signed with a big label we would just be another band on their incredible roster. If we signed with Passport, we would be their baby! We would have their full attention.
Knowing that we would have the same distribution as the majors, we signed with Passport Records.
Over the next few weeks we were flying high! We were eagerly waiting for the studio schedule so we could get off the damn road and record. Playing every night is very grueling but knowing we were signed to do an album made it easier. I kept myself busy writing lyrics for the music that the band would be coming up with. I did most of the lyric writing for Cheater, so I wanted to be ahead of the game. After some time had passed we were bugging Jim Taylor about if he had heard anything about when we would start recording the new album. He hadn’t and we were getting anxious.
When you are on the road time can fly by easily. You get caught up in trying to be ready for each night and lose track of how many days have zoomed by. Sometimes I was confused what town I was in! “Hello Cleveland!” doesn’t work well when you are in Erie, Pennsylvania. (I did that…)
It had now been going on two months and we had no word. My reading material always consisted of the latest Stephen King book, the days newspaper headlines and Billboard Magazine. It was the latter that brought the world crashing in…
In Billboard Magazine there was a story. Headline: GEM INTERNATIONAL BANKRUPT.
One of the biggest distribution companies in the world went belly up? Our distribution company?
We immediately reached Jim Taylor. He told us he had known for a while but didn’t want to tell us yet because Passport was scrambling to find new distribution and that the deal was still on the table.
Big labels could just pick up another distributor. After all they had a lot of artists with records being released. A small label like Passport was not going to be able to render their problem (our problem now) so easily…if ever. Needless to say. The contract with Passport Records wasn’t worth the paper it was written on anymore.
We hoped for the best but it wasn’t meant to be…
Devastation isn’t a big enough descriptor for how I was feeling. So F* ing close!
The music business is fickle and all about “what have you done lately.” Going back to other labels that were interested before was not an option. Too much time had passed and the fever that was, just a few months ago, was now old.
Was it a stupid decision to go with the smaller label? Should we have waited? Hind sight… well we know what that is… At the time though…well…you can be the judge.
The answer now, for Cheater, was to write and record more demos and start the process of “deal” hunting again. We set our minds on that task. Oh!.. and of course… we would stay on the road.