Each month in “The Story Behind,” I’ll look at the history of a well-known Top 40 hit based on interviews I’ve conducted with individuals who performed some of the most familiar pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s. This month, I’ll look at Bob Kuban and the In-Men’s “The Cheater.”
The story behind “The Cheater” is one of the most compelling and, at the same time, disturbing in rock ‘n’ roll history. First, there’s the mystery of how a highly successful band with three straight Top 100 hits in one year could suddenly, by the end of that year, exist no more.
Then, there’s the story of how, in a twist of fate that no one could have foreseen, charismatic lead singer Walter Scott was murdered by the man his wife was allegedly cheating with. In some ways, the group’s torturous history has overshadowed a great song — as unfortunately happens when life is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Bob Kuban started his first band during his senior year of high school, but it wasn’t until he founded Bob Kuban and the In-Men in 1965 that things really started to click. The In-Men featured lead vocalist “Sir” Walter Scott (born Walter Notheis), and they established themselves as a very popular regional group.
But at the height of the Vietnam War, just being in a popular band wasn’t enough to keep you out of the draft. In order to qualify for their deferment, some members of the band worked as teachers and others were still in college. While teaching or going to college kept them out of the army, it also meant they couldn’t tour for too long or be too far away from home, but as a regional act early on, that wasn’t much of a problem. Once they recorded “The Cheater,” however, everything changed.
“The Cheater” was recorded in St. Louis on the Musicland label, and originally, the song was written in the first person (“Look out for me, I’m a Cheater”). “But I wanted to do a song that had excitement to it, had some energy, and had a good driving tempo,” Kuban told me. “So we added a bridge, and put it in the third person.”
These alterations made the song a winner, and nationally, the record took off. It peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts and earned a gold record in the process. Bookings across the nation followed, and the group played with the Turtles in San Francisco and Otis Redding at Whisky a Go Go. They also appeared on television on programs such as Where the Action Is and American Bandstand.
Internationally, the song did well too, rising all the way to #1 in Australia. They were so big in Australia, in fact, that they were scheduled to do a nine-week tour there, and it seemed that with a Top 40 hit and international appeal, the group’s ship had finally come in.
Unfortunately, the United States government’s rules about draft deferment brought their plans to a screeching halt. Kuban says that the draft board told him that if they went, they would immediately be classified 1-A and be drafted, and that effectively put an end to any plans the group had for traveling abroad.
Instead of the planned tour, they headed back to the studio and recorded the follow up to “The Cheater,” “The Teaser.” But there were problems there as well. Kuban says, “I hated the song, and even today, I have never played it live. I fought with our manager about releasing it after ‘The Cheater’ because I knew a hit record needed a strong follow up, and ‘The Teaser’ wasn’t it. I just knew that it wasn’t a good song.”
Over Kuban’s objections, their manager released the song anyway, and despite its clear inferiority to “The Cheater,” “The Teaser” actually climbed to #70 on the charts. Next up that year was a cover of the Beatles’ “Drive My Car,” which went to #93. No matter how one looked at it, however, three chart records in one year did seem to promise great things ahead for the band.
But trouble was brewing, and unbeknownst to Kuban, their manager, of all people, was trying to break up the group. “Mel Friedman was the manager at the time, and at first, things were going very well with him, but it got so he had an agenda, which, unfortunately, didn’t involve me,” Kuban told me.
“He started causing a lot of problems because he saw the advantage of Wally breaking away for his own purposes. Wally was a very good lead singer, and he was like a Fabian or Frankie Avalon, a good showman, a good-looking guy, and Mel obviously wanted to pull Wally away from the band.”
The next thing Kuban knew, “despite the fact that we had a hit record, all of a sudden, the band was breaking up, and guys were leaving. I was in shock because I didn’t know why this was happening.” Scott left and opted for a solo career, though neither he nor the other members of the group matched the magic they had held collectively. “It was only years later that Wally told me what had happened, because by then, he realized what an opportunity we had and that Friedman had blown it for all of us. He got hold of good talent and screwed it up.”
Despite the acrimony of the group’s split, nearly 20 years after their dissolution, the band was preparing for a big reunion concert when Walter Scott mysteriously disappeared in December 1983.
In time, a bizarre tale unfolded that has even been the subject of its own book. Scott was tied up, shot in the back, and thrown into a cistern where his decomposed body was finally found in 1987. Eventually, the boyfriend (and later husband) of Scott’s second wife was found guilty of the murder (and his own wife’s) and given two life sentences. Scott’s ex-wife was also convicted of hindering the prosecution of the murder and sentenced to five years in prison. It’s obviously a cruel irony that saw the lead singer on “The Cheater” meeting his untimely end in the way that he did.
Kuban continues to perform to this day. He has recorded some solo efforts and has a band that is highly regarded and plays a variety of venues across the Midwest. One can’t blame him for thinking as he does, though, that “if Mel Friedman had stayed out of everything, we probably would have been a very successful group for many years.”
Fortunately, their moment in the spotlight, even if brief, did produce “The Cheater,” a classic that is still a favorite for many music lovers even today.