In 1957 Barry Gordy went to an audition with Jackie Wilson’s manager to hear a local group called the Matadors. Their lead singer was a 17-year-old Smokey Robinson. At the time, Gordy was writing and producing songs in Detroit for artists on a variety of record labels, most famously Wilson’s hit song Lonely Teardrops. Wilson’s manager declined to sign the Matadors, but Gordy saw potential in the young singer and his group. Gordy discovered that Smokey already had hundreds of songs written in a notebook and Gordy helped him craft the best ones. Gordy wanted to start his own independent music label and Smokey had the passion and creative talent to help make it happen. So, Gordy made Smokey his vice president and together they formed Motown records. They bought a photographic studio in Detroit and converted the downstairs into a recording studio and business office. Gordy lived upstairs. He called the house, Hitsville USA and that’s exactly what came out of it, hit after hit. In 1960 they had their first million selling record, Shop Around written by Smokey and performed by “Smokey (Bill) Robinson and the Miracles”(changed from Matadors). Between 1961 and 1971, Motown had 110 top ten hits from their all black artists, which included: the Marvelettes(who had Motown’s first #1 hit on the pop charts with Please Mr. Postman), the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and Martha and the Vandellas.
The St. Louis area spawned many famous musicians, most notably Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner and more recently Michael McDonald, who graduated from my high school, McClure , in Florissant, Mo. I had already graduated before he began high school, so I'm sorry to say, I didn't know him. In North St. Louis in the mid '60s the best local band was Bob Kuban and the In-Men. If you've heard of them, you are either familiar with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's one hit wonder list or you’re from the St. Louis area or you have an incredible amount of rock and roll trivia rambling around in your brain. I'm guilty of all three. If you were listening to popular music on the radio in 1966, you heard the song The Cheater. It was a huge hit. Click the link below to hear it.
The Cheater (Remastered) - YouTube
Bob Kuban was the drummer and band leader of the In-Men. On Friday nights during the summer, his band would play at Jackson Park, a relatively small park in Berkeley, a north St. Louis suburb. Jackson Park hosted a variety of local bands during the hot St. Louis summer nights. In the summers of 1964 and 1965, my friends and I would go back and forth between Jackson Park and the local YMCA where there was usually a band playing as well. But when Bob Kuban and the In-Men were playing at Jackson Park, we tried not to miss it. It was a first-rate band.
The Beatles and the British bands were taking over America at that time and they were the major influence on popular music. Bob Kuban's band was not your typical band of the era. It had more in common with the earlier rhythm and blues bands of Ike Turner, Wilson Picket and James Brown. In an interview, Kuban states that Ike Turner was a big influence on him and his formation of the band. As a footnote, in 1951 before Tina joined him, Ike Turner's band was called The Kings of Rhythm. They recorded a song called Rocket 88, which some believe was the very first rock and roll song.
Bob Kuban had an eight-piece band with horns, drums and keyboard, which was played by Greg Hoeltzel, who lived in my neighborhood. The lead singer was Walter Scott, who had a great voice for that style of music. During those two summers we listened to our local band, knowing they were a cut above the other local groups, playing in their unique St. Louis style. This was several years before Chicago, originally called (Chicago Transit Authority) and Blood Sweat and Tears would bring the big band sound back to popular music. In 1966 Bob Kuban and the In-Men hit it big with The Cheater. The song was all over the radio for months. That year we watched our local guys on national TV, but their run was short lived. They had only a few other songs that got national play, Teaser, and a cover of a Beatles song Drive My Car. I also remember hearing a song called Jerkin' Time and the Bat Man Theme on the radio as well, but those may have 0nly been popular locally.
Walter Scott left the band shortly after The Cheater's popularity to pursue a solo career. He never had another hit song, but in his repertoire, he sang (Look out for The Cheater) over and over again in a variety of performance venues. In 1983, when Bob Kuban was trying to get the original band back together for a reunion concert, he discovered that Walter Scott was missing. Scott was found 4 years later floating face down in a cistern with his ankles, knees and wrists bound. He had been shot through the heart from the back. In one of life's ironic turns, it was discovered that his murderers were his “cheater” wife and her "cheater" boyfriend. There was a Forensic Files TV show about it, as well as a book titled The Cheaters: The Walter Scott Murder by Scottie Piesmeyer.
I don’t know if Bob Kuban still has his band. As of this writing he'd be 81 years old. I read that not too manyyears ago the Bob Kuban Brass played a summer evening gig at Jackson Park and invited all the fans to come out for old time's sake. I would have liked to have been there. I live in Washington state and haven't been back to St. Louis since 2002. But I still have memories of those hot summer evenings in the '60s at Jackson Park, listening to our local band that made the big-time.