WILD ONE-THE CAMEO-PARKWAY STORY.
WILD ONE-THE CAMEO-PARKWAY STORY.
Way before Philly Soul provided the soundtrack to much of the seventies, many of the architects of Philly Soul cut their musical teeth at Cameo Parkway Records. This included songwriters and producers Gamble and Huff, vibes virtuoso, songwriter and producer Vince Montana Jr. and many members of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band, M.F.S.B. Having learnt their trade at Cameo-Parkway Records, many of these songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians blossomed during the late sixties and seventies. What was an outpouring of creativity, saw Philly overtake Detroit, Memphis and New York to become the soul capital of America. Sadly, when people talk about Philly Soul, often, Cameo Parkway Records’ role in the rise and rise of Philly Soul is overlooked. Thankfully, One Day Music have recently released a two-disc compilation Wild One-The Cameo Parkway Story. it features fifty-tracks and is the perfect introduction into Philadelphia’s forgotten label. Before I tell you about Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, I’ll tell you about the history of Cameo Parkway Records.
It was in December 1956 that Cameo Records was founded by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann in Philadelphia. Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann had established a reputation as a successful songwriting team. Karl wrote the lyrics and Bernie the music. Before founding Cameo Records, their biggest hit had been Elvis Presley’s (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear. This was a taste of what the Lowe and Mann songwriting team were capable of.
Next to join Cameo Records, was Dave Appell, who became A&R director. Together, the trio of Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell would produce many of Cameo Records earliest hits. Dave also had his own band, The Applejacks who became Cameo Records’ house-band. They featured on Charlie Gracie’s number one single Butterfly. Unlike many record labels, Cameo released an eclectic selection of music. Doo wop, dance tracks, pop, big band, rock and of course, soul were among Cameo’s releases.
Two years later, in 1958, Parkway Records was founded. It was initially a subsidiary of Cameo Records. Throughout this period, commercial success continued to come Cameo and Parkway’s way. This was helped by Cameo and Parkway’s close relationship with American Bandstand. Hosted by Dick Clark, Cameo and Parkway artists were regulars on American Bandstand. Cameo and Parkway always ensured their artists were ready to appear on American Bandstand at short notice. Not only did this endear them to American Bandstand, but was good publicity and ensured that the hits kept on coming.
Among the hits Cameo enjoyed were The Rays’ 1975 number three single Silhouettes, John Zacherie’s novelty single Dinner With The Drac and The Applejacks Mexican Hat Rock. Then in 1959, Bobby Rydell released Kissin’ Time and We Got Love the first in a series of hit singles Bobby released on Cameo. For five years, Bobby was one of Cameo’s most successful artists. Indeed, between 1960 and 1964, Bobby’s success was surpassed by only one artist…Chubby Checker.
Chubby Checker’s time at Parkway started in the summer of 1959 with a novelty record The Glass. Then when Chubby covered Hank Ballard’s The Twist, it reached number one and became Parkway’s most successful single. After The Twist, Pony Time gave Chubby a second number one. Still the hits kept coming. Let’s Twist Again, The Fly, Slow Twistin’ which featured a fifteen year-old Dee Dee Sharp, Limbo Rock and Birdland all gave Chubby hit singles. However, by 1961, changes were afoot at Cameo and Parkway.
By 1961, it was decided that Cameo and Parkway should develop their own artists. One of these new artists was The Dovells, who featured Len Barry as lead singer. Bristol Stomp gave them a number two single in late 1961. After that, The Dovells released a variety of dance songs during 1962 and 1963. This included Bristol Twistin’ Annie, (Do The New) Continental and Hully Gully Baby. Another of Cameo and Parkway’s new stars were The Orions, an R&B quartet. They enjoyed a number two hit with The Wah Watusi. Don’t Hang Up, South Street, Not Me and Crossfire saw The Orions enjoy further top twenty singles. Dee Dee Sharp was another new signing. Having duetted with Chubby Checker on Slow Twistin,’ she had hits with Mahed Potato Time, which reached number two and then Gravy and Ride. It seemed that Cameo and Parkway’s new signings had transformed the labels’ fortunes. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
For four years, Cameo Parkway Records was the parent company of Cameo Records and Parkway Records. Then in 1962, the parent company Cameo Records was renamed as Cameo-Parkway Records, giving Parkway equal billing. While 1962 proved a successful year for Cameo-Parkway, 1963 would prove a landmark year. The Tymes enjoyed a number one single with So Much In Love during the summer of 1963. Little did anyone realize it, but this proved to be the final hit single from Cameo-Parkway Records’ most successful period.
Although it was another four years before Cameo-Parkway Records was incorporated into MGM Records in 1967, things started to go wrong from 1963 onwards. Things started going wrong when Dick Clark’s American Bandstand moved from Philly to Los Angeles in early 1964. At once, Cameo-Parkway Records lost the nationwide exposure their music had enjoyed. Then musical fashions changed.
Suddenly, British groups became more popular than their American counterparts. When this happened during 1964 and 1965, Cameo-Parkway Records’ sales were badly affected. Then Bernie Lowe started to loose interest in writing and producing music. He was depressed and suffering from nervous exhaustion. The writing was on the wall in 1961, when Bernie cut back on songwriting. Bernie sold his stake in Cameo-Parkway in 1964. Soon, Kal Mann and Dave Appell sold their stakes. By mid-1965, none of Cameo-Parkway Records founding fathers remained. Worse was to come.
A further blow came when Cameo-Parkway Records’ biggest stars left the label. Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell, who’d been the jewel in the label’s crown headed for pastures new. Unfortunately, new management couldn’t revive Cameo-Parkway Records’ fortunes.
Neil Bogart, who’d later masterminded Buddah Records rise and rise, became Cameo-Parkway Records’ new head of A&R during mid-1966. He was just twenty-three, but was determined to turn round Cameo-Parkway Records. To do that, he turned to garage bands, including Question Mark and The Mysterians. Their single 96 Tears, reached number one in the autumn of 1966. This proved to be Cameo-Parkway Records’ last major hit. Despite signing Bob Seeger to his first recording contract and releasing his first five singles, Neil Bogart couldn’t revive Cameo-Parkway Records’ fortunes.
So, in mid-1967, Cameo-Parkway Records became a subsidiary of MGM Records. Then when Cameo-Parkway Records’ financial problems worsened, the ailing label was sold to Allen Klein, who renamed the label ABKCO Records. After eleven years, Cameo-Parkway Records was no more. However, Cameo-Parkway Records leaves behind a back-catalogue that’s full of soulful delights. Fifty of these soulful deligts feature on Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story. I’ll now pick the ten tracks from Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story.
Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story features an incredible twenty-five tracks. There old school tracks, just two to three minutes long. That’s all it took to grab your attention and hold it forever. The music is eclectic, ranging from rock ‘n’ roll, dance tracks, doo-wop, novelty song and old fashioned pop music. For anyone expecting the Philly Soul made famous by Gamble and Huff, Thom Bell, Norman Harris or Vince Montana Jr, then this is very different music. There’s no lush strings, although growling saxophones and harmonies are in plentiful supply in the twenty-five tracks that comprise Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story.
The Dovells’ Bristol Stomp was released in 1961 on Parkway Records. It was written by Kai Mann and Dave Appell and features Len Barry on lead vocal. On its release, this classic slice of doo-wop reached number two in the US.
Dee Dee Sharp was only fifteen when she made her recording debut. Mashed Potato Time was released on Cameo in 1962 and featured on her debut album It’s Mashed Potato Time. Written and produced by Harry Land and Jon Sheldon is a tantalizing taste of a hugely talented singer early in her career.
Although Don Coyay’s debut The Popeye Waddle was a novelty record, and very different from what he later recorded, at least it was the first step in his recording career. That career would last over five decades. His debut single was released in 1962 on Cameo, and was written by Dave Leon and Jon Sheldon. During this period, novelty songs were proving popular and commercially successful. While The Popeye Waddle gave Don a minor hit single, the best place for newcomers to his music start is the music he released during the seventies. After all, The Popeye Waddle is hardly vintage Don Covay, it marks the start of a successful recording career.
When The Dream Girls released Oh This Is Why in 1959, someone at Cameo thought this was a potential hit. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. For Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, the compiler through curiosity, has tried the B-side Don’t Break My Heart. Written by Edwin Harrell and Tom King, it surpasses the quality of the single and reinforces an important lesson, always listen to a B-side.
It seems fitting that my final choice from Disc One One of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story is one my favorite tracks. This is Charlie Gracie’s timeless classic Fabulous. It’s another track from the pen of Harry Land and Jon Sheldon Released in 1957 on Cameo Records, Charlie’s vocal and the arrangement has been heavily influenced by Elvis Presley. That’s no bad thing. For two minutes, you’re transported back to a time when rock ‘n’ roll was King and singers like Charlie Gracie represented the future of music
It’s no exaggeration to say that the music on Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story is eclectic. There’s everything from rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop, novelty tracks and dance songs. Most of the tracks have aged well. Considering some of them are over fifty-five years old, that’s testament to their quality. Sadly, some of the novelty songs and dance tracks haven’t aged well. They’re a reminder of another musical age. Proof of this is Don Coyay’s novelty debut single The Popeye Waddle. Thankfully, the good outnumbers the bad and there’s plenty of good music awaiting discovery on Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story. Overall, much of the music on Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story demonstrates why Cameo-Parkway Records is such an important label in the history of music.
Just like Disc One of of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, Disc Two features an eclectic selection of music. Again, rock ‘n’ roll, dance tracks, swing, doo-wop, novelty song and pop music features during the twenty-five tracks on Disc Two. Many of the same artists that featured on Disc One feature on Disc Two. Mind you, given the quality of music on Disc One, I’m not complaining about that. Especially if it’s music from Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker. Alongside Cameo-Parkway’s biggest stars are one hit wonders and long forgotten artists. They’re all on Disc Two of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, which I’ll pick some of the highlights of.
Bobby Rydell was Cameo-Parkway’s second most successful artist. His success was surpassed by only Chubby Checker. One of Bobby’s hits was Wild One, released in 1960 on Cameo. It was written by the songwriting team of Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell. After one listen you’ll realize just why Bobby Rydell was such a successful artist.
Before signing to Cameo, The Rays, an R&B quartet from New York had been signed to Chess Records. The Rays’ Cameo debut was Silhouettes, released in 1957 on Cameo. While there’s no doubt that Silhouettes is a quality fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and doo wop, the B-side Daddy Cool is every bit as good. Written by Bob Crew and Frank Slay it’s a three minute roller coaster of energy and emotion
Dave Appell proved to be one of Cameo-Parkway’s most important signings. Initially, he was in charge of A&R, but cowrote and produced songs. For some time, his band The Applejacks, were Cameo-Parkway’s house-band. One of their best singles was Rocka-Conga, released in 1958 on Cameo and penned by Jon Sheldon and Dave Leon. Quite simply, it’s two minutes of totally memorable and irresistible rock and roll that unfolds at breakneck pace.
Gven Cubby Checker was Came-Parkway’s most successful artist, it would almost be remiss of me not to mention him. Released in 1960, The Twist gave Chubby a number one single. Another of Chubby’s singles from 1960 was Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, which reached number fourteen. The B-side featured another dance track, The Hucklebuck, written by Andy Gibson and Roy Alfred. WhyThe Hucklebuck wasn’t released as a single seems strange. After all, it’s a hook-laden track that’s like a call to dance.
Shake A Hand by The Mike Pedicin Quintet is the final track from Disc Two of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story I’ve chosen. The Mike Pedicin Quintet were true musical innovators, who fused swing, country and R&B. Having released a handful of singles on RCA Victor, they released the Joe Morris penned Shake A Hand in 1957 on Cameo. It’s a delicious slice of rock ‘n’ roll that once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget. Indeed so good is this track, that it’s the highlight of Disc Two of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story.
Like Disc One of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, the music on Disc Two is mostly highly memorable, hook-laden and truly timeless. Sadly, just a few tracks that haven’t aged well. They’re mostly dance tracks and novelty songs, which never tend to stand the test of time. When comes to the other tracks, Mostly, it’s just some storming rock ‘n’ roll sitting side by side with doo-wop, dance tracks and novelty songs. Some tracks are a fusion of styles, others point towards the way music was heading. Overall, Disc Two of Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, like DIsc One is a compelling and captivating musical journey that delves into Philly’s musical history. Founded in 1956 Cameo Records remained an important part of Philly’s music scene until 1967, when Alan Klein bought and renamed the company. After that, many of musicians and producers, who’d cut their musical teeth at Cameo-Parkway went on to play crucial roles in making Philly Soul the soundtrack to the seventies. This includes Gamble and Huff, Vince Montana Jr. and many members of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band, M.F.S.B. Although the music they recorded for labels like Philadelphia International Records, Philly Groove and Atlantic had one thing in common with much of the music Cameo-Parkway released…quality. Proof of this is Wild One-The Cameo-Parkway Story, which at less than £4, $6 or €5, represents one of the best bargains you’ll find during these recession hit times. Standout Tracks: The Dream Girls Don’t Break My Heart, Charlie Gracie Fabulous, The Rays Daddy Cool and The Mike Pedicin Quintet Shake A Hand.
WILD ONE-THE CAMEO-PARKWAY STORY.