WHAT IS 20/20?

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.

19 comments found

  1. How frustrating! To be so close and yet so far, that has to be difficult to swallow. All that gigging that Cheater did at the time had an obviously positive effect on the quality of the music and performance. At the time, you were the most polished and impressive “bar band” I’d ever seen. I mean that as a sincere compliment. A Cheater show was fun, energized and checked all the boxes when it came to what you would hope to see, hear and feel at a rock show.

    I’m looking forward to hearing some Easton West stories. That band showcased your talents as a performer in a way that I hadn’t seen prior and remains the most memorable Jeff Cosco experience for me.

    I really am enjoying the blog. You are a really good writer.I hope you write a book. I’d buy it.

    1. Once again, high praise from you. You are a barometer for me. If you keeping liking what you read, I know I’m doing OK! Thank you Rich!

  2. Jeff, I thank the Lord for my Rochester roots and being part of the Cheater era. I always felt you, Lou and Phil had the best vocals. God had a hand in much of this!

  3. Those were great times, you guys were an awesome band! Great players and genuinely nice guys. I was so excited for y’all when it looked like you were gonna get over the “hump” and go national. Truth be told, I was envious as well. If memory serves, didn’t 805 have a similar story in their journey?

    1. Hey Mark. Thanks so much for reading and the compliments. You and so many others deserved more. By no means is this story unique to us. There were many bands at that time that had things go upside down on them. It was the nature of the times and the business. There was a big crossover happening with artist and representation from the record labels. AOR was peaking but the companies were not sure of the shelf life. I will talk about this in a future story.
      Very interesting times! Thanks again Bro!

  4. I never knew your story and reading it brought back so many memories of pursuing our dream while living on the road (it’s so different these days!!). Pearl’s was so similar when we played A major NYC club and were picked up by a major entertainment lawyer for management. We signed & thought the golden door had opened for us but as time went on, things didn’t progress in the way we thought they would. It was more than disappointing but it wasn’t in the cards & we went on with our lives. Now we’re older & thankful for family, friends and all the riches that did come our way. Vita Bella!!!

    1. Vita Bella! Indeed. I’m sure we share many familiar stories. Pearl was one of my faves! I’ve already told you that many times but I say it again! As my stories continue you will see that this story was just the first of many “missed it by that much” stories Lol!
      Thanks for reading Debbie. It means a lot.

  5. My brother was attending RIT in the early 80’s. We would come down on the weekends d to see you guys. I cant remember the name of the club but one was half rock and the other side was more of a club scene. I still listen to the MP3 and once in awhile drag the needle across the EP. Cheater is still one of my all time favs. God Bless…..

  6. Jeff, I was lucky enough to be able to see Cheater hundreds of times in the years you guys were together. You guys were one of the hardest working bands around and we all hoped you would get a major deal. I remember getting to hear the new album that you guys were working on from a good friend who I worked with at kodak, Joe Spoto and was just totally blown away by the sound, and talent on that album. I remember one night at the Playpen when you fired your light guy and you asked me to do lights for you guys while Rick Treist was doing sound, That was just one of many memories I will always cherish seeing you guys perform. Thank You, and the band for being one of Rochesters best and always making everyone feel like family! Best wishes always, O000hh Fucking Yeah!

    1. Hey Mark, I know you have supported the music of all of us for years. I can’t thank you enough for that. So many great memories!

  7. Hey old friend !! Those were the days ! Cheater was such an influence in the Rochester rock scene . Made me get off my butt to do the same !! How I was able to continue on my way to my own bands and have the opportunity to play not only your music, but also the local music of the most popular bands of our era on the home grown show with Unkle Rog. Such warm memories . We always played you guys ! I even have your first album , unopened ! Love and kisses ! Laura Lee

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