In the truest sense of the phrase–everything old is new again–the four-member group Mantus, which first broke onto the music scene in 1979 with the hit “Dance It Freestyle,” is back in action with a new album EST. 1976 via 825 Records. But this isn’t your father’s music industry.
All these years later, the band is hoping to re-introduce themselves and restore some of the glory that came with playing the legendary Studio 54 in New York City at the height of its debauchery during the disco era.
Mantus was a favorite of clubgoers. Vocalist Frank De Crescenzo, guitarist Jimmy Maer, bassist John Kaz and drummer Billy Amendola were well-known throughout the Tri-state area.
While their first hit got almost continuous radio airplay on WKTU, one of the major stations of the day in New York City, the band had two follow ups hits, “Midnight Energy” and “Rock It To The Top.”
But as the disco era quickly faded, Mantus faded with it. The group disbanded in 1982. But the four members remained friends. After an informal reunion in 1995, they decided to to reunite officially and record new material, according to AllMusic.
Now they’re facing a whole set of new challenges from the ever-changing music landscape.
TheImproper recently caught up with three of the four band members to discuss their latest album and their reunion.
IM: How did Mantus come together?
Billy A: The history of Mantus actually begins as early as 1972 when myself and lead singer Frank (Deac) DeCrescenzo started a group called Uncle Sam. Then in 1974, another friend, John Kaz joined on bass and then we added guitarist Jimi Braffett and changed the name of the band to Gypsy. Two years later, Jimmy Maer joined on guitar and keyboards, and we changed the name to Mantus shortly after. And that’s why the new album is called Est.1976. We were mainly a rock band, influenced by Queen, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep and The Beatles. And we always wrote some of own material as a group to mix in.
We played block parties and high schools and clubs in the tri-state area till around early 1978. We even played CBGB’s huge music festival in 1977. We got a buzz after that show when New York Times music critic, John Rockwell wrote, “Mantus is one of the best bands to come around in a long time.”
It was a bit of a challenge because ‘disco music’ was really becoming more and more mainstream. Eventually a demo found its way to a producer who was the owner of an independent record label called SMI Records and he was looking for new young talent to record. Since we all wrote songs, we had a nice collection of not only rock tunes but also some R&B and Motown influenced songs. His label was more dance-oriented so we went full-blown into becoming a ‘dance band.’
We started touring all over North America and then we went into the studio to record our first single, “Turn Around Boogie Down” which was released in Canada in July of 1978, and later that same year another 12″ single, “(Dance It) Freestyle Rhythm,” was recorded and remixed by an upcoming, young, popular DJ on the scene, named John “Jellybean” Benitez. He also mixed the first album, Midnight Energy, that followed with another single “Rock It To The Top.” “(Dance It) Freestyle Rhythm” became requested so often that it held the number two spot on the most popular radio station at that time in NYC called WKTU for eight consecutive weeks.
IM: Wow, it sounds like you were on top of the world. Then what happened?
Billy A: We toured, recorded a second album, which had our third dance hit called “Boogie To The Bop.” Then more touring, went to Canada and Italy with a No. 1 record and did TV shows for most of Europe and then back here in the states till the “disco sucks” movement happened and then just like that, it was all over. We went back to playing clubs in the city and back to playing rock, but we were confusing everyone so, we called it quits (as far as playing live) around 1982.
IM: What motivated you to get back together?
Billy A: In 1996, Jimmy Maer, Kaz, Deac and myself got back together to record an EP of new “dance” songs with our original engineer Butch Jones. We played a bunch of shows for about two years but got discouraged because no one wanted to hear any new music. Our fans only wanted the three hits and we wanted to move on so we stopped playing live, once again. Then twenty years later in 2016, we started getting back together to write new songs and back to our pop/rock roots with my son Matty co-writing and producing us. We were all having fun being together so, we decided, ‘Let’s do a new full-length album for our 40th anniversary.”
IM: What did it feel like hearing your song on (the radio) WKTU that first time?
Jimmy M: “I was a freelance artist at the time and I was painting a mural and listening to the radio (WKTU) and all of a sudden I heard the song come on the radio. It was a very exciting moment.”
Frankie: “It was very exciting! We felt like we were really going places.”
Billy A: “For me, it really was like in the movie ‘That Thing You Do.’ It’s one of the most exciting moments that will ever happen in your lifetime. Still to this day, it’s exciting when the songs come on SiriusXM.”
IM: Describe the music scene in 1979.
Frankie D: “We were going into a state of transition. Going from punk and disco to hair bands and new wave.”
Billy A: “It was wild times in the clubs but it started to change quickly. Disco was on the way out and ’80s new wave was the next big sound becoming popular. But, there were so many more places to play back then. And people went out to hear live music. If you had a band, you had a chance of something happening. People still bought music religiously back then. It’s nearly impossible these days even though there are more opportunities to make your own records practically in your room and then promoting it on social media. But, it’s so saturated unfortunately and a bit overkill.”
IM: Tell us some of the highlight shows you performed at back then?
Jimmy M: “We played Studio 54. What an experience. They had us set up elevated over the dance floor. It was crazy but wonderful.
Frankie: I remember our roadie Big Dave (God rest his soul) calling us that there was a huge line of people waiting to get into L’Amour in Brooklyn to hear us play. Of course, we didn’t believe him. Then we pulled up in the limo and saw the line going all the way around the block; that was very cool. I remember at the Fun House [in Manhattan] our second live percussionist AC fell off the stage as soon as we started to play that was memorable. And Studio 54 was definitely a highlight.
Billy A: Studio 54 was without a doubt one of the coolest shows. I remember the New York Coliseum was a big show. L’Amour and the Fun House were always packed and fun to play. I enjoyed filming the TV shows we did in Italy. We really felt like rock stars at that point.
IM: In 1982, what prompted the band to step away?
Frankie: “We were done with our label SMI. Disco was dead and we wanted to get back into writing pop/rock songs. The economy was in the toilet. Record labels were letting bands go left and right, and no one was getting signed.”
Billy A: “I think it was just time for a break after most of us being together almost ten years at that point. We were all getting older and getting into different things. The best thing was we all remained brothers and still communicated both socially and musically.”
IM: What prompted the reunion?
Jimmy: “I don’t call it a reunion. I always felt we never left.”
Frankie: “We knew we still had a lot of material no one had heard and we always loved writing new songs. Plus we all always got along well.
Billy A: It just felt like the right time. And we knew with Matty Amendola and Butch Jones on board, literally, it would be the best of what we had to offer.
IM: For Mantus, what does the record industry look like these days?
Frankie: For most musicians these days, it’s all very DIY. Streaming is the new way people listen to music. Hopefully, soon, a fair percentage of the revenue from streaming and downloads will rightfully find its way to the songwriter.
Billy A: What record industry? (laughs) I’m asked this all the time, and there’s really no answer. The business is so different from when we started. There’s so much good about all the technology available and the Web and social media but as good as it is; it’s just as bad. If you catch me on a good day, I’ll say, ‘It’s great being in music.’ If you catch me in a bad mood I’ll say, “It sucks and you better find another job.” It’s so complex, and there are no set ways or rules. This answer could be a whole book.
IM: What are you goals with the new Mantus album Est.1976?
Frankie: “To make everyone both in and out of the music business aware that we are back and still have a lot left in the tank. We did sign a deal with The Jerry Lembo Entertainment group with Jerry being our Artist Consultant. We have a forty-year catalog so it would be nice to place a few songs in film and TV. And also, we’d like to write and produce for other artists. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Jimmy: “To be rich and famous. (laughs)”
Billy A: “I didn’t go in with any high expectations. I don’t feel bad if no one buys our records; they don’t buy anyone’s these days so, I don’t take it personally. We’re all very happy and proud of the album and we just want people to hear it and hopefully dig it—and to show that we’re the real deal. We like to write hooky, three- to four-minute pop songs that hopefully touch someone. It’s been amazing hearing from people sincerely telling us how much they like the album. I’m not going to drop names but when some of my very famous friends call to rave about it, I do feel good.”
IM: Will there be any new live shows?
Frankie: “It’s harder than ever to get people to come out and see a live show. Music is not the commodity it used to be. There are so many other forms of entertainment, and all on very small hand-held devices. You don’t have to go out to socialize. Just press a few buttons. But, you never know.”
Billy A: “Right now, only a few surprise pop-up shows here and there are possibly in the works. You’ll just have to keep checking our Facebook page, Mantus Online for updates.
For more info about Mantus and 825 Records, go to band’s Web site, MantusOnline.