He's probably best known for his 1966 hit record, "The Cheater". It went all the way to number 12 on the charts. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame honored this man and his hit as part of their permanent exhibit on One Hit Wonders. Bob Kuban is the gentleman we're speaking of. He agreed to talk with us about his life.
Q - Bob, what's in this autobiography of yours?
A - How I sort of got into the business. My first introduction into the music field as I recall, I was always wanting to be a drummer. One day during an assembly at school, high school, Chuck Berry was there and he hollered out for a drummer. He asked for a drummer. There was a set of drums onstage and he just has his guitar. A bunch of guys got me up onstage and I went ahead and played. That was actually my first musical experience. The irony is, this coming Friday I'm going to be one of the honorees, one of the presenters at Chuck's statue. He's getting a statue on the Walk Of Fame here in St. Louis.
Q - Chuck Berry doesn't talk much. He doesn't give interviews.
A - Yeah. I worked with him for five years. You don't really have a lot of conversations with him. I remember when we were in Las Vegas, there were times when we were sitting around waiting 'cause Little Richard was our warm-up. We'd be sitting back there in the Green Room and he just never had a lot to say to anybody.
Q - You would think he'd have a lot of experiences to talk about.
A - I remember I was playing with him in St. Louis and sometimes all of a sudden he'd get on a kick and he'd start talking. But there were other times he'd just sit there and everybody else would be doing the talking. He's not really adding too much. You'd ask him a question and he say yes or no. That was pretty much it. I guess that's the way he is.
Q - In 1964, at the height of The British Invasion, you had an eight piece band that included horns. Where did you get the idea to bring horns into the group at that particular time in music history?
A - Well, I followed Ike Turner, and it was even before Tina Turner. He had a group called Ike Turner And The Kings Of Rhythm. He had three sax players actually. I loved the sound of horns. I said I'm going to try something different. I'm going to try the saxophone, trombone and trumpet, which kind of created a unique sound back then. No Rock groups were using that at all, at that point. We kind of got that started. Chicago, Blood Sweat And Tears and all those groups sort of fell in a little bit later on in the '60s with their sound. I've heard that some of these well-known groups remember hearing us playing the Rock stuff with horns back in the early '60s, so that sort of influenced them. So, I hope we had some influences. I know it sure helped out horn players throughout the country.
Q - There was a definite horn sound to the music you heard on the radio in the late '60s with the music of Chicago, Blood Sweat And Tears and Ides Of March.
A - Yeah. In the early part of the '60s if the groups were using horns they used a saxophone. You very seldom heard a trumpet and you never heard a trombone. I had this thing in my mind; I think we can do this. As it turned out, it happened for us.
Q - What was the St. Louis music scene like in the '60s for a group such as yours?
A - There were what they used to call Teen Towns. I don't know what they call them now, if they even exist anymore. The various Catholic churches would have these dances on Friday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday nights, and of course we were playing a lot of those, which really helped build a fan base before we actually recorded and started selling records. We would draw, God, up to 1,500 people at one of these things. We had a place called Gaslight Square and we used to play down there quite a bit too. There were some good groups that used to come in. The Smothers Brothers used to play down there a lot. We used to go over and see them all the time. Barbra Streisand was just getting her start and we used to go see her.
Q - Was the money good for a band in those days?
A - You were more concerned about playing and getting your product out there than you were about the money end of it. It was adequate. I mean, we weren't working for ten bucks a night or anything like that. It wasn't bad.
Q - When you'd play these teen dances, would you get a flat rate or a flat rate versus a percentage of the door?
A - Sometimes we used to get both. It would be either or. Sometimes you'd get a flat rate and it ended up being fifty bucks a man, seventy-five bucks a man, or whatever. As time progressed and the numbers started showing up, obviously we started making more money 'cause we were drawing more people and getting a piece of the gate at the door.
Q - How did life change for you when "The Cheater" became such a big hit?
A - It obviously changed a lot. We were getting all the recognition, but keep in mind all this time, especially when "The Cheater" became a hit, I had a manager then who was out to destroy both me and the band. His goal was actually to go with the British sound. He talked to the rhythm section, minus myself of course, being the drummer, into forming another group with the British sound. He was against the horns. He felt that the horns were something that shouldn't be happening. He under-minded the whole operation even though we had a hit song. And now that I look back on it, this guy was horrible, what he did. And finding out from other artists who were recording around that same time, they also ran into guys just like this character. I mean, this guy, he was something. It was kind of a double-edged sword for me. It was a great feeling to have a hit record, but then you've got this guy you knew was trying to chop your legs off on this thing. I mean, he did everything that he could.
Q - Is he still in the business?
A - No. He had a heart attack and died. He was in a casino and got into an argument with his wife and died right there. Young man too. He wasn't very old when he died. I think he was maybe in his mid-60s.
Q - Did he financially rip off the band?
A - Well, if you want to consider the fact that I recorded the song "The Cheater" and have never made a penny of royalties off that song. We got a Gold Record, which means we sold at least a million copies. But this guy saw to it that all the money went elsewhere.
Q - I shouldn't be surprised. I've heard this kind of story from so many of the people I've interviewed over the years.
A - Yeah. I understand Barry Manilow had the same thing happen to him. Somebody was telling me he was on the Piers Morgan Show. He didn't make a penny off the "Mandy" song. I'm getting this second hand now. Somebody told me this. They said they thought of me right away. He got ripped off too.
Q - After "The Cheater" became a hit, did you headline or go out on the road as a support act?
A - While "The Cheater" had come out as a hit, we were doing a little bit of traveling. We were out in San Francisco and The Turtles opened for us. That was before they had their big hits. They might have had one hit. We worked with Sam The Sham and people like that. Sam didn't open for us. We opened for Sam. I just recently worked with Mitch Ryder. He's still hangin' in there and doing his thing.
Q - Another guy who's very difficult, if not impossible, to get to talk to.
A - Yeah. I know exactly what you're saying. He's not a lot for conversation. He's a musician, you know?
Q - When people refer to you as a "one hit wonder", you say what? Are you proud that you got that hit? Do you regard that "one hit wonder" tag as a put down?
A - I don't regard it as a put down because I say I would rather have one hit than no hits. I would rather be a one hit wonder than a no hit wonder. There's a million groups out there that are no hit wonders. That sort of shuts 'em up right there. I'm in the process of writing another book and it's going to be a lot of the fact how this guy destroyed the group. Once we had this hit, "The Cheater", he had a tiger by its tail and he knew it. The only thing he could do was to make sure that the follow-up to "The Cheater" was a piece of crap and that's exactly what it was. I hated it. I did not want to follow up "The Cheater" with that song. That was his goal. His goal was to follow it up with a lousy song. He was gonna break the band up anyway. He didn't really care.
Q - Who was in charge of the band? Who was the leader?
A - I was the leader of the band, but he was the manager. That was what he was planning at the time. I found this out and now I run into artists, since all this, that he took over after my band and ran into the same problem. One of the guys sings with The Four Tops right now. And, he tried to do the same damn thing to him. He said "you think you've got some bad things to say about him, you oughta hear what this guy has to say about him." So, the guy (the manager) had a tainted background when it came to that, that's for sure.
Q - Your first label was Norman Records. Who was behind that label?
A - A guy by the name of Norman Weinstrower. Neatest guy on earth. If the music business had guys like him in the business, it would be perfect. There would be no problems in the business.
Q - Where you the only act on Norman Records?
A - Oh, no. They had several local bands. They featured a lot of Dixieland groups. Going back to Gaslight Square, there were a lot of groups that appeared down there that were Dixieland, that type of thing. So, they recorded and Norman recorded them. Norman was a neat man. The irony there is, he was the guy who ended up introducing us to our manager.
Q - What's in that exhibit in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame regarding you and your band?
A - I think there's a picture and the record's in there too. But I haven't seen it. In fact, ironically, I ran into a disc jockey the other day from Cleveland. He had a couple of copies of the original "Cheater". I couldn't believe it. He said he's seen the exhibit.
Q - Since your singer Walter Scott is no longer around, who sings that song "The Cheater" when you're onstage?
A - I sing it along with the lead singer of my band. I have a lead girl too. It's sort of an ensemble type thing anyway. Well, he's been gone now, my God, twenty years.
Q - He was murdered in the '80s, wasn't he?
A - Yeah, '83. Twenty-eight years. God, it almost seems unreal. I just took his mother out for her 88th birthday about two weeks ago. I took her out for dinner. Getting back to how I found out I was being under-mined with the band, Wally told me all this before he died, before he was murdered I should say. He stopped over at my house one day and he started telling me what went on. He spilled his guts on the whole thing.
Q - How many original guys in your band these days, besides yourself of course?
A - There's nobody. Wally's dead. Skip is out in Las Vegas. In fact, I'm gonna go out and see him in a couple of weeks. After he left me, he traveled with Wayne Cochran for a long time. He's been there for thirty years, I guess. Pat, the trumpet player, he lives in Cincinnati. We're supposed to get together for lunch next week. Harry Simon, the sax player, I see. He still gigs around with various bands. The guitar player is gigging around. Greg, the keyboard player, is a retired doctor, so he's not doing anything right now. Mike Krensky, he was the bass player, he's retired. He's definitely not playing as far as I know.
Q - For a time, weren't you teaching in high school?
A - Right. For six years. While "The Cheater" was going on. I started teaching in '63 and taught until '70.
Q - What were you teaching?
A - I taught music.
Q - While "The Cheater" was a hit, you were teaching high school kids?
A - Right.
Q - Did they know that their teacher had a hit record?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - How did that go over?
A - It was kind of neat. The kids were all knocked out by the fact I had a number one hit song, and here it's there band teacher. Stop and think about it: Band teachers in Rock 'n' Roll, that was kind of unheard of. I was sort of blazing the trail and then to come out with a hit record to boot. It was kind of a neat thing. It was all new. The administration didn't know what to do about it. I showed up for work everyday. I was never late. I didn't fall asleep during class. We were working a lot back then. If we were traveling, I would fly out on, like a Friday and we'd play a gig in Chicago or L.A. I'd be back in time on Monday morning.
Q - I don't know how you did it. Well, you were a young guy. You didn't know any better.
A - Well, that's it. As I said, you weren't that concerned about the money end of it as much as you were playing. It's a gig.
Q - You went to the St. Louis School Of Music. How did that help you in your career?
A - To be quite truthful with you, it had nothing to with playing Rock 'n' Roll. I was taking piano. It was a legit school. I was taking drums. But as far as Rock 'n' Roll, back then I was playing a lot of Jazz. They accepted that. Then of course you had to play your Mozart and Beethoven in recitals, so it was mainly your reading. But as far as Rock 'n' Roll, forget it. They didn't even teach guitar back in those days. That wasn't even considered an instrument, unfortunately.
Q - Since 2000, you've been playing drums for Chuck Berry. How'd you get that gig? Did he remember you from that school assembly?
A - Obviously Chuck knew me. We would cross paths for years with different shows. We would open for Chuck. His band is from St. Louis. My band is from St. Louis. My records were being played on the radio. His records were being played on the radio. So, we sort of knew each other professionally. I don't know what happened with the tour drummer, but his bass player saw me playing one night. He said, "You know what? Chuck might be looking for a drummer. Most of his gigs are during the week. Would you be interested?" I said "Sure." So, that's how it started.
Q - You still perform today. How many gigs do you perform a year?
A - Oh, we probably average a hundred and twenty.
Q - That's pretty good.
A - Yeah. In fact, this summer has been pretty good. I was really surprised.