By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
Originally published Nov. 1, 2013
Bobby was a typical kid who was bit by the Rock’N’Roll bug, and his story has the elements common to so many similar stories. It could almost be a movie – one filled with cliches.
As a kid from the Buffalo’s East Side (the Central Train Terminal area), Bobby and his friends followed the typical tradition of teens emulating the sounds of the Black vocal groups (“doo-wop”) they heard from The Hound’s radio show – singing under bridges, at the playground, on street corners. Bobby seems to have had something extra from the start – an exciting way with a vocal – and he was a good dancer.
Like most such kids, he was knocked out when he heard Elvis. And inspired – enough to hop a bus to New York City at the young age of 16 and start knocking on record company doors, cold calling, in the hope of being the next teen discovery. He found some interest among the Brill Building record sharks but they all wanted a demo recording. Lacking one he returned home.
Hanging out in bars (too young to drink!) he was encouraged by his friends to show off his singing and dancing, karaoke-style, to the jukebox. Word spread and he sound found himself in front of a true R&R band, The Rock-Its. Finally making some money in music – and still only 16! – he cut a demo locally, then returned to knock on the music business doors of NYC.
Music biz veteran Joe Rene liked what he heard enough to want to put Bobby on his new label, Claro Records. Unfortunately there seems to have been trouble right from the start with Joe pushing his own teen idol-sounding “Don’t Talk, Just Kiss” and Bobby pushing his self-written rocker “The Cheater.” By record label custom “The Cheater” seems to be the denoted as the A-side, but by logic one would guess it to be “Don’t Talk.” The label credited ‘Bobby De Soto With Bobby De Soto’ as he overdubbed his own harmonies. This confusion over which side to push dogged the record’s run on the local charts.
The musicians on the record were Rene’s NYC studio cats. The Rock-Its – apparently a good and LOUD band – weren’t invited and were in the process of breaking up anyway.
Returning to Buffalo… the now 17-year old singer now had a record to push locally but he without much help from the NYC-based Rene. He was hooked up some local people anxious to get into the record game but there were problems coordinating his promotional efforts, Rene’s efforts, and those of the local guys. The run of a few thousand records finally got distributed in the Buffalo area and apparently sold out but other cities were mostly ignored. His relationship with Rene soured.
And Bobby, while attracting lots of attention from local DJs willing to help his career, was not attuned to the politics and rivalries between the local DJs and radio stations, all of whom would have wanted an exclusive on him. Whether this played a part or not, local play was split between the two sides, which hindered chart placement – at that time, chart placement was by song (side), not by record (both sides).
Bobby played lots of local gigs and sock hops. He was taken to New York City for appearances; he hit some other cities; but there was no momentum building. Buyers couldn’t find the record. As the distribution problems with Claro became apparent Bobby tried contacting some of the majors but just couldn’t make the connection. Eventually he had to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen.
So he went on, sometimes performing, sometimes trying a bit of recording for fun; finding a career outside music, and eventually returning to the clubs on a low-level way.
The record took on a second-life, as good records are wont to do, and found a home on several compilation albums of Rockin’ music, the most famous being Desperate Rock ‘N’ Roll, Vol. 18.
Picked by the clubs in Europe (mostly the UK) where people still dance to this kind of stuff, it’s currently an in-demand record again! People who weren’t even born when Bobby singing in the bars of Buffalo are now mouthing to the words to a song that.. well, here’s Bobby’s own comment, from a YouTube posting of “The Cheater”:
‘I’m Bobby DeSoto & I wrote this song humming the melody as I was I walking down the street. I was 16 yrs. old. & the words came to me. The words had no specific meaning in my young life. Rock ‘n Roll music was simply all about winning or losing in love. Went to NYC where the song was recorded on Claro Records in 1959. Had fun with the music.’
Lots more on the Bobby DeSoto story can be found in the recent book No Stoppin’ This Boppin’ by Bob & Terri Skurzewski. Look for it!