Catching two Bike Week gigs by Maryland-based, self-described whiskey fueled home-fried rock act The Cheaters - one at Wahoo’s in Murrells Inlet, and the other at Pawleys Island Tavern - I came away feeling good about the present state of rock ‘n’ roll.
For eight-and-a-half years, The Cheaters have refined a sound that reminds a listener of Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Black Crowes. Straight-edged guitar riffs and firm vocals cause a listener to appreciate the simple but timeless lyrics of their songs. One may be surprised to learn that the band hails from the Annapolis area of Maryland because the group’s sound is more swamp than Chesapeake Bay.
These guys seem to make it a point to sound more Southern than other bands that actually come from the Deep South. The Cheaters play music that goes best with a shot of Evan Williams and a cold beer. Regardless of one’s interpretation of what “Southern” means, these guys’ sound and easy going attitude fit South Carolina coast’s moss covered trees, sea grass, and humid air.
The Cheaters played three shows in the Myrtle Beach area with one at House of Blues on May 16, Wahoo’s Bar on May 17, and the PIT on May 18. Fortunately, I attended the Wahoo’s and PIT shows.
At Wahoo’s, The Cheaters played to an intimate crowd of tourists and locals. The set included a mix of traditional bar rock that included covers of Tom Petty, .38 Special, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Black Crowes. The Cheaters provided an exceptional cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Soul to Squeeze” on request. This was after Jason Morton, The Cheaters’ front man, explained that the band knew no “Chili Pepper” songs. There was no need for an apology because these guys played it as if it was part of their set list for every show. I guess after eight-and-a-half years, the ability to respond quickly and improvise are necessary rock band survival skills.
Even as the crowd began to thin later in the night, The Cheaters continued to crank out rock ‘n’ roll. I walked away a fan after the Wahoo’s show because The Cheaters transported me to a time when I would drive the back roads of my hometown in Tennessee at night with the windows rolled down as Nashville’s rock station WKDF played the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, .38 Special, and Marshall Tucker Band songs.
If I was reminded of southern back roads on Friday night, The Cheaters’ Saturday night show at PIT was even more nostalgic. The PIT’s dirt and sand parking lot, outdoor string lighting, and complimentary bug spray was the perfect setting for The Cheaters’ brand of deep fried rock. The PIT’s outdoor area seemed to be a far better venue to hear The Cheaters than the Tiki bar setting of Wahoo’s.
Saturday night’s set list pretty much resembled Friday’s show, but this time the band was asked to play “Darius Tucker’s Wagon Wheel.” Morton responded that the band would be more than happy to play Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Rock Me Mama,” and the boys nailed it. Honestly though, The Cheaters collective talent doesn’t reside in their ability to play covers. Cover bands get paid to play cover songs. The Cheaters true talent is the ability to play original songs.
The band, on both Friday and Saturday, bounced between covers and songs from its two CDs, “ The Cheaters L.P.” and “ Midnight Run,” and songs from a soon-to-be released CD “ Comin’ Down the Mountain.” “Hey Hey Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Everything” off of the upcoming release reflects the band’s talent for songwriting and the ability to not sound formulaic regardless of what a title like “Hey Hey Rock ‘N’ Roll” may imply. The Cheaters’ “Bye Bye Baltimore Sky,” from “ Midnight Run” seemed appropriate considering how far the PIT is from Maryland, and the ode to bourbon, from “ The Cheaters L.P.,” “Evan Williams,” is the epitome of a whiskey and rock ‘n’ roll song especially with its easily remembered lyrics.
Even though the make-up and size of the crowds on Friday and Saturday night didn’t reflect a demand for or the knowledge of The Cheaters in coastal South Carolina, it is obvious that Wahoo’s and PIT’s patrons were given a night of authentic rock ‘n’ roll.