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CAMEO PARKWAY: 1957 – 1967
The Cameo–Parkway Story
Lynne Lowe had the coolest job in the world, and she didn’t get paid a dime to do it. Not that she minded – any high-schooler would have cheerfully taken the gig. Lynne was a hit-picker, charged with deciding which records teenage America would buy next. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, this was a much bigger deal than flipping burgers.
Several times a month, Lynne’s father would bring home a freshly minted recording that his company was considering for release. Lynne, often in tandem with her younger sister, Judy, would give it a spin. If Lynne liked what she heard, Dad might be more apt to send the new production off to the pressing plant and out to the record shops.
This was a mission to be taken seriously, because Lynne’s father didn’t run just any label. Bernie Lowe was the founder and president of Cameo–Parkway, the most successful independent American record company of the early 1960s, home to Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons, the Dovells, the Tymes, Charlie Gracie and many others.
It wasn’t as though Bernie, an accomplished musician and established songwriter, didn’t have ears. He was sharp. But Bernie was in his forties already, and his right-hand men at the company, Kal Mann and Dave Appell, weren’t youngsters either. This was music for the pimple-cream set so it couldn’t hurt, Bernie reckoned, to find out what the kids had to say, hopefully avoiding costly mistakes. “The Big Ones Are on Cameo–Parkway,” went the company’s slogan, and Bernie Lowe intended to live up to it.
Bernie Lowe didn’t set out to be a record man. The only boy among three sisters, he was born Bernard Lowenthal on November 22, 1917, in Philadelphia. His parents, of Russian-Lithuanian Jewish lineage, worked their tails off during the Depression, often leaving young Bernie in the care of a taskmaster uncle who made the kid practice his piano lessons religiously, training that would later pay off well.
In 1943, Bernie married a young Virginian named Rosalyn Land and the family headed back to Bernie’s hometown, where later in the decade he found his first job in the music business: arranging, conducting and playing piano for the orchestra on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club. It was there that he met an aspiring radio announcer named Dick Clark, whose career path would soon cross with Lowe’s in a most significant way.
In the early ‘50s, using money granted them via the GI Bill, Bernie and a friend established a music school. One of Bernie’s students was a fellow named Kalman
Cohen (born in West Philadelphia the same year as Lowe), who toiled as a comedy writer and partnered in a poultry plant. Bernie showed Cohen a few basic chords and sent him home to practice. When his pupil retorted that he didn’t own a piano, Bernie – who was quickly discovering that he hated teaching – exploded: “Why are you taking piano lessons if you don’t have a piano?!”
In spite of their awkward introduction, the two became friendly and began writing songs together. Kal Mann – as Cohen began calling himself – had penned song parodies, and although he admittedly couldn’t sing a lick, he came up with the perfect words to suit Lowe’s melodies.
The pair first scored with “Take Me Back To Toyland,” a mid-sized hit for Nat “King” Cole in 1955, after which they aligned themselves with Hill and Range, a major music publisher in New York. Finally, in mid 1957, Lowe and Mann struck gold: their composition “Teddy Bear,” the latest single by Elvis Presley, racked up seven weeks at number one in the nation.
But as satisfying – and enriching – as the Elvis smash was for them, Bernie and Kal had already tasted life at the top. Bernie had, at the end of 1956, borrowed some cash to establish his own company, Cameo Records, running it out of the basement of his home on Tulpehocken Street. Mann, deciding it was time to give up hawking comedy, joined Lowe’s new enterprise.
It didn’t take long for their instincts to yield results: After five flops (trivia note: the first Cameo single was Arlene DeMarico’s “Old Enough to Know”/“Don't Rush Me”), the sixth 45 RPM release, “Butterfly,” written by Lowe and Mann and sung by Charlie Gracie, an Italian-American guitarist/singer from South Philadelphia, became the first number one on Cameo Records.
“I always thought that Bernie Lowe was, if not a genius, then close to it, musically speaking,” recalls Gracie. “He knew what he wanted in the studio, and he worked on it till he got it. And Kal Mann was a good lyric writer.” So potent was Kal and Bernie’s composition that a rival version by crooner Andy Williams also topped the charts in early ‘57. Mann and Lowe were on their way.
No one today knows for certain why Lowe – who died in 1993 – settled on the name Cameo. Although there had been a Cameo Records in the 1920s, specializing in jazz and blues, there doesn’t appear to have been any connection between the two, other than an uncanny similarity in the cameo-bedecked jewelry depicted in their respective logos. Lynne Lowe Jacobus, now a successful speech consultant, recalls that it was a friend of Bernie’s, one Sol Volchok, who suggested the name.
Whatever its nebulous origin, the Cameo label – and later Parkway Records, named in honor of Philly’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway – was one of the most ubiquitous sights in teenagers’ record collections and on jukeboxes everywhere for more than a decade.
Cameo–Parkway, of course, owed its success to others beside Lowe and Mann. Dave Appell (pronounced apple) was the first and undoubtedly most invaluable addition to the staff. Five years younger than Mann and Lowe and another native Philadelphian, Appell had begun his career in the 1940s arranging for numerous jazz greats. He then became the musical director for TV’s Ernie Kovacs Show before Lowe hired him at 50 dollars a week to write arrangements for the label’s recordings.
Appell swiftly proved himself a capable songwriter and bandleader as well – his own group, the Applejacks, provided the backing for much of the company’s output, Appell himself supplying the guitar. He learned how to engineer, mix and produce records, and brought in new artists, background singers and musicians, eventually earning the title Director of A&R (artists and repertoire). “I did everything,” he says. “I even had a broom in my hand and swept up the place. You name it.”
Appell, who’d met Lowe on the local musicians’ circuit, quickly began accruing co-writing credits alongside Bernie and Kal. Eventually, when Lowe dropped out of the creative end to concentrate on the business (he had not only written but played piano on many early Cameo–Parkway sides), the tone-deaf tunesmith Mann and the multi-tasking Appell dominated the Cameo–Parkway catalog.
The other indispensable component of Cameo–Parkway’s success wasn’t even an employee: Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand, the highly influential national TV phenomenon that featured Philly teens dancing to the latest hit records. The program had debuted locally in 1952 as Bandstand, hosted by disc jockey Bob Horn. The 26 year-old Clark took over hosting duties in 1956 and the following August, when the program went national, American Bandstand and Dick Clark became household names.
Clark often found himself facing an unexpected hole in the schedule caused by a no-show. “Cameo was in Philadelphia and immediately available,” he confirms. “If we needed an artist, they’d send somebody. They were part of the family and we had a very warm relationship.”
Virtually every significant Cameo–Parkway artist benefited from massive American Bandstand promotion (as did the signings to other new Philly labels such as Swan and Chancellor), and their appearances on the show aided Clark’s enterprise as well. Without Dick Clark, it’s impossible to say if Cameo–Parkway would have reached the plateaus it did, but the broadcasting legend’s role in the saga cannot be discounted.
Says Charlie Gracie, a regular since the Horn days: “Going on Bandstand was like hitting a home run with the bases loaded.”
Cameo–Parkway, at its peak, virtually lived on the best-seller lists. In all, during its roughly 11-year existence, the company placed more than one hundred singles and a few dozen albums onto the Billboard charts. Any style of music, any artist, was fair game as long as someone at the label thought it might sell. Many albums were geared toward adult tastes (Lowe himself recorded the very first Cameo LP under the name Dizzy Dan), but the company’s bread and butter was unquestionably the 45 RPM single, bought by teens, newly flush with disposable income and an emerging culture of their own.
“The music industry was just starting to recognize teenagers as consumers,” says Jon Cohen, Kal Mann’s son, “and this was music that was designed for teenagers and the dances at the high schools.” Following the success of Gracie’s “Butterfly,” Cameo aimed its singles almost exclusively at the teen market.
It was a wise decision. Before the label was a year old, Cameo had returned to the Top 40 with Gracie’s “Fabulous” and Timmie Rogers’ “Back To School Again.” Lowe also purchased a finished master from songwriters-producers Bob Crewe and Frank Slay, the now-classic doo-wop by the Rays, “Silhouettes” (backed with the hipster anthem “Daddy Cool”), which Cameo sent to number three.
The pace picked up in 1958: new hits included the Storey Sisters’ number seven rocker “Bad Motorcycle,” the Playboys’ sorrowful doo-wop ballad “Over The Weekend,” Billy Scott’s “You’re The Greatest” (written by Kal as an anniversary gift to his wife, Esther Cohen), Georgie Young and the Rockin’ Bocs’ “Nine More Miles” and two by the Applejacks themselves: “Mexican Hat Rock” and “Rocka-Conga.”
But the most memorable Cameo hit of the year may have been “Dinner With Drac, Part 1,” a novelty recording by the deep-throated John Zacherle, who hosted a horror-movie TV program on Philly’s WCAU and called himself “The Cool Ghoul.” Mann and Lowe (using the pseudonyms Sheldon and Land, the middle name of Kal’s son and Rosalyn Lowe’s maiden name, respectively; Appell, meanwhile, sometimes published as Dave Leon, his first and middle names) set spooky, limerick-like lyrics to a rinky-dink tune and plunked the vampire-esque Zach in front of a studio microphone and the Applejacks. Not only did the Philly kids go for “Drac,” so did enough national record buyers to send it into the Top 10.
Cameo Records was growing modestly, turning out the occasional blockbuster hit and a fair number of contenders. But the label still didn’t have a major artist.
That was all about to change.
With the arrival of Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker on the scene in 1959-60 Cameo–Parkway began in earnest its four-year blitz of the airwaves and sales charts. Rydell was born Robert Ridarelli in 1942 and grew up among the low-slung row houses of South Philadelphia, home of cheesesteaks and the Italian Market. Handsome and talented – he played drums and did impressions of film stars even as a child – he got his first break at age nine on the same Paul Whiteman TV program on which Bernie had led the orchestra.
Signed to Cameo in 1959, Rydell recorded a couple of non-starters before Kal and Bernie set him up with their rockin’ “Kissin’ Time.” It just missed the Top 10, and Bobby’s appearances on American Bandstand catapulted him to instant teen idol status, a fantasy object to squealing young females across the U.S.A. Bobby scored his first smash, “We Got Love,” before the year was out, and in 1960 he revisited the Top 10 with “Wild One,” “Swingin’ School” and “Volare,” the latter a remake of an Italian language hit for Domenico Modugno and a perfect showcase for Rydell’s amiable, outsized pipes. “Sway,” a number 14 record also released in 1960, helped coronate the new pinup king.
At the same time that Bobby was celebrating his eminence, another South Philly kid, Ernest Evans, was searching for his break. Several months older than Rydell, he’d been working at the poultry shop in which Kal Mann had a stake. When Dick Clark called Bernie looking for someone who could mimic current hitmakers for a musical Christmas card, Kal remembered the outgoing teen who sometimes sang for his customers. It was Clark’s wife Barbara who heard Evans’ spot-on Fats Domino imitation and dubbed him Chubby Checker.
Inked to Parkway, the new imprint that Lowe had launched in late 1958, Checker’s first release was the novelty record “The Class.” It cracked the Top 40 in 1959 but Chubby was unable to follow it. A full year passed before Clark, learning of a dance that was all the rage in Baltimore – one in which the participants didn’t touch – called Bernie to inform him of “The Twist.”
Hank Ballard, a 1950s rhythm ‘n’ blues pioneer, had written the uptempo dance tune but it had languished largely unnoticed on one of his B-sides. Clark intuited that a local artist might get some mileage from it, particularly if that artist instructed the listener how to do the Twist: pretending to dry one’s back with a towel while stamping out a cigarette with both feet.
Checker’s recording of “The Twist,” promoted vigorously by Clark on Bandstand, catapulted to number one in September 1960, Cameo–Parkway’s first chart topper since “Butterfly” in 1957. What Checker, Clark and Cameo–Parkway could not possibly have foreseen was that both the record and the dance would enjoy a second life down the twisted road. Even as the single faded from the charts in late 1960, its momentum was just beginning.
By late 1961, Cameo–Parkway Records was an established powerhouse, a formidable player in the music industry. So consistently strong was the company’s performance that Lowe took it public, the first independent record label to sell shares on the stock market.
A major stockholder was Kal Mann, who was certainly earning his keep. Having added production to his checklist of tasks, Mann was responsible for several of the label’s greatest successes of 1961, among them “Bristol Stomp,” a floor-shaking number two on Parkway by the Doyens, a quintet from West Philadelphia led by the soulful vocals of Len Barry. Mann also called the production shots for Chubby’s next chart-topping dance record, “Pony Time.” And, that summer, it was the always-enthusiastic Mann who – noticing the enduring popularity of the Twist at the clubs he frequented in order to keep his finger on the pulse (Kal never invented a dance, only wrote songs to accompany existing ones) – came up with “Let’s Twist Again,” writing (along with Appell) and producing Chubby’s next Top 10.
What transpired at the tail end of 1961 and early ‘62, however, was simply unprecedented. The Twist had not only persevered, it had transcended the pop music universe to become a social phenomenon, co-opted by the hoi-polloi. Celebrities clamored to be seen at New York City discotheques Twisting the night away – the dance was suddenly everywhere.
Not keen to miss out, Cameo–Parkway jumped into action. Chubby was coming off yet another Top 10 dance record, “The Fly,” when the label re-released “The Twist.” By January 1962 it had rebounded to number one, selling even more copies the second time around. No other single in the history of the Billboard charts has ever risen to the top spot, dropped off entirely, and returned to the peak. Chubby Checker was now one of the most in-demand and talked-about performers in the country – and a history maker.
Cameo–Parkway was entering its golden age as 1962 kicked in. It was a well-oiled machine, its writers, producers and artists cranking out new records practically daily. With Twist-related music accounting for nearly half of C–P’s sales, Lowe would later report that the company enjoyed nearly $9 million in gross sales during 1962, a rather significant increase over the $630,000 earned in 1958. Contributing significantly to the windfall were two new names: Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons.
Both were products of Overbrook High School in West Philly, the same institution that had bred the Dovells, who logged two hits of their own in 1962, “Bristol Twistin’ Annie” and “Hully Gully Baby.” Sharp, all of 16, was impossible to ignore when she arrived on the scene in March: Two records bearing her voice entered the chart simultaneously and both ultimately found their way to the Top 5.
She was born Dione LaRue in North Philly in 1945. A strict, religious upbringing dictated that most of her early singing took place in the church, and that dancing was verboten. Yet Dee Dee Sharp would become associated with one of the most popular dance records of the ‘60s, “Mashed Potato Time.”
Dee Dee came to Cameo–Parkway as a background singer, but hers was a voice that couldn’t be suppressed. Mann noticed it immediately and placed her in the studio with Chubby (Mann also became involved in the management of both singers) on a work-in-progress Checker was recording, “Slow Twistin’.” The duet format turned out to be the ticket, and the record quickly ascended to number three in the spring of ‘62.
It had company though. For her first record under her own name, Dee Dee cut “Mashed Potato Time,” a song whose structure was so deliberately similar to the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” that Cameo avoided the inevitable copyright lawsuit by simply sharing authoring credits with Motown’s writers.
“Mashed Potato Time” nudged past “Slow Twistin’,” rising to number two on the pop chart and number one R&B. Dee Dee would prove unstoppable for the next several months, as the follow-ups “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” “Ride” and “Do The Bird” also lodged in the Top 10.
The Orlons, meanwhile, took more time to find their niche. The three-girls-and-a-guy vocal group, introduced to Cameo–Parkway via the Dovells’ Barry, first issued two flop doo-wop-style records. They were kept busy singing backgrounds for others until Mann and Appell came up with “The Wah Watusi,” the latest in Cameo–Parkway’s never-ending string of dance records.
Finally, they’d found the formula – “The Wah Watusi” put the Orlons at number two and set them up for a string of memorable hits that would last two years, among them the Top 5 classics “Don’t Hang Up” and “South Street,” the melody of the latter not so discreetly based on the 19th century minstrel song “Camptown Races.” (“They did a really good job at stealing songs. That’s what they were famous for,” comments the Dovells’ Jerry Gross of the C–P songwriters. “Hey, there’s good crooks and bad crooks,” Kal once shrugged to an interviewer.)
Cameo–Parkway’s executives didn’t always get it right, of course. Among the artists reportedly turned down by the company were Barbra Streisand (“Bernie felt she would never make it because her nose was too big,” says Joe Tarsia, who became the company’s chief engineer) and the Impressions, the brilliant R&B group led by Curtis Mayfield. Some outside song material was also rejected, for example “Roses Are Red,” a ballad offered first to Bobby Rydell but dismissed by Bernie as a nursery rhyme – it became a chart-topper for newcomer Bobby Vinton.
Despite the few bad calls, Cameo–Parkway’s track record remained steadily impressive. Rydell came back with “The Cha-Cha-Cha” and “Wildwood Days,” while Checker collected a number two record promoting a different kind of dance: “Limbo Rock” – originally an instrumental by Billy Strange called “Monotonous Melody,” to which Kal added lyrics – dared the listener to bend over backwards, shimmy under a pole and see “how low can you go?”
There were new arrivals as well, including notable 45s by Floridian Jo Ann Campbell and R&B singer-songwriter Don Covay, who’d written Chubby’s “Pony Time.” And in 1963 a new Parkway signing, the Tymes, returned the label to number one, releasing one of the most exquisite vocal recordings of the era, “So Much In Love.”
The Tymes had been around since 1956, initially as the Latineers. But it wasn’t until they came to the attention of Cameo–Parkway producer and songwriter Billy Jackson that their career jumpstarted. Working with Jackson and songwriter-arranger Roy Straigis, the Tymes took “The Stroll,” a song penned by their lead singer, the smooth balladeer George Williams, and reshaped it into “So Much In Love.” With its understated production and wispy cadence, it was the perfect summer record. The Tymes would release another Top 10, a cover of the Johnny Mathis hit “Wonderful! Wonderful!,” and the Top 20 “Somewhere” before ‘63 was out.
Bernie, Kal and Dave, aided by a loyal and experienced, staff, were keeping Cameo–Parkway thriving. “They were three completely different personalities, and yet they really liked each other and got along very well,” says Esther Cohen. “There was a great deal of respect and real love. There were arguments, sure, but they managed somehow to get the songs out.”
“All of them were beautiful people,” says Steve Caldwell of the Orlons. “When you’re dealing with people that enjoy what they’re doing, it’s never a problem. We went there with the expectation of being taught, and that’s what they did.”
Anecdotes involving Lowe, Mann and Appell abound among former associates, touting their strengths and recalling with amusement their eccentricities. Bernie, being the boss, comes in for the most good-natured ribbing – his stubbornness, perpetual nervousness and penny-pinching ways are still legion.
“We used to record in the evening, and Bernie was never there,” remembers Appell. “I hired musicians, got the song, engineered it. Once he said, ‘When you’re done, play it for me over the phone.’ I said, ‘Bernie, it’s going to sound horrible over the phone. There won’t be any bottom [bass]: He said, ‘I understand that. I’m a musician. I just want to hear the concept and see how it feels.’ So I played it for him. He says, ‘It ain’t got no bottom.’”
Mann, who died in 2001 after a career in which he wrote more than 60 charting songs and produced over 20 Top 10 singles, maintained a mutually appreciative, if sometimes thorny, relationship with Lowe. Recalls Appell (who went on to produce Tony Orlando and Dawn in his post-C–P days), “Kal would show his lyrics to Bernie. Bernie would say, ‘Nah, that’s horrible.’ Kal would go out with a frown. So one day Kal took the number one song in the country, wrote all the lyrics down and showed it to Bernie. Bernie says, ‘I don’t like it.’ And Kal says, ‘Goddamnit, that’s the number one song in the country!’ That stopped him after that.”
“Bernie was one of my mentors,” says Jimmy Wisner, an arranger who worked at the label. “I learned from him to forget you wrote it or produced it, to sit back and ask, ‘What’s the audience going to say about this?”
Joe Wissert, who began producing at Cameo–Parkway while still in his teens, says, “Kal would ask, ‘What are the kids saying? What’s the jargon?’ He liked to tap into that. He was funny and a great teacher. And through Dave I learned structure and form and working with the different musicians.”
A March 1963 edition of the music business periodical Cash Box included a special pull-out section honoring Cameo–Parkway on its sixth anniversary. It’s a testament to just how far the company had grown, how highly considered it was among its peers in the industry. Lowe is pictured on the front cover, his “rags to riches” story recounted within. Artists and employees are profiled and thanked: General Manager Harry Chipetz (formerly C–P’s distributor), comptroller Allan Cohen, national sales manager Herman Kaplan, promo people, office workers and, of course, Lowe, Mann and Appell.
Cameo–Parkway had long ago abandoned its first outpost in Lowe’s basement for slightly larger quarters on the sixth floor of 1405 Locust Street, an office building across from the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Much of the label’s recording activity took place in a cramped makeshift studio within that office, although sessions could only take place on nights and weekends so as not to disturb neighboring businesses. Cameo–Parkway also farmed out a great deal of the work to the Reco-Art studio, initially on Market Street and then relocated to 212 North 12th, where skilled engineer Emil Korsen worked his charms turning out hits (Reco-Art was later purchased by Tarsia and renamed Sigma Sound). The company also utilized Bell Sound, a state-of-the-art facility in New York City, for some of the more demanding projects.
As Cameo–Parkway expanded during the early ‘60s, its catalog ballooned into one of the most eclectic and fascinating around. Dotted with one-offs and oddities, its curious output would keep record collectors occupied for decades to come. A scan of the discography reveals singles and albums from the likes of TV personality Merv Griffin and jazz greats Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry, among many others. Most notable among the eye-poppers from this period, perhaps, was Clint Eastwood’s Cowboy
Favorites album, which featured the distinctive voice of the actor giving his all to such standards as “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “San Antonio Rose.” (Little known fact: A 1963 Cameo album by the Campers, Camp Favorites, featured vocals by an un-credited, pre-fame Phil Ochs, soon to become a major folk music presence.)
Additionally, there were new subsidiary labels, most notably Wyncote, launched in 1964. Remarkably, more than 300 budget-priced albums were released on this imprint in approximately three years, most bearing generic titles such as Folk Favorites and All The Hits With The Stars.
And those hits just kept on comin’. The Dovells made one final trip to the Top 5 in 1963 with “You Can’t Sit Down,” a remake of a Phil Upchurch instrumental with lyrics added by Kal. Chubby Checker proved there was life after the Twist by recording a popular folk music album and sending the non-dance singles “Loddy Lo,” “Hooka Tooka” and “Hey, Bobba Needle” into the upper quarter of the Hot 100. Bobby Rydell demonstrated his staying power with “Forget Him,” a number three record in late ‘63. A relative newcomer, Patti LaBelle and her Blue-Belles, put in a brief stint at Parkway, placing two songs, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Danny Boy,” on the pop chart before going on to greater things.
Considering all of the hustle and bustle, one would never have guessed that Cameo–Parkway Records was about to crash.
Three key reasons can be checked off in assessing why Cameo–Parkway fell beneath the radar in 1964 and ‘65. The first is that Dick Clark moved American Bandstand to Los Angeles, depriving C–P of its surefire promotional outlet. Says Jerry Blavat, a legendary Philadelphia disc jockey, “The importance of Cameo–Parkway was the importance of Bandstand. It was the label that created all the dances. You look at Cameo–Parkway’s success and look at Bandstand and there it is.”
The second cause was the arrival of the Beatles – no one could have predicted the devastating impact that the resultant British Invasion would have on the careers of most American pop acts.
Cameo–Parkway made a half-hearted attempt at latching onto the British trend, and keen-eyed historians note that the first U.S. release by the Kinks in America, a cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” was on Cameo, licensed from their British label, Pye, which distributed Cameo–Parkway in the U.K. Pete Best, the Beatles’ pre-Ringo drummer, had one Cameo release, “Boys,” and the Ivy League’s fine “Tossing & Turning” made the U.S. charts. But the closest C–P came to cashing in on the British phenomenon was the 1965 Top 10 instrumental “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Sounds Orchestral, originally a hit by Vince Guaraldi.
For the most part, it was business as usual, but Cameo–Parkway was undeniably falling behind. Even Rydell’s last hit for Cameo, 1964’s “A World Without Love,” was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney – a sign of the times for sure.
Most notable of the ‘64 hits, in retrospect, was yet another new dance tune, this one bearing the unlikely title “The 81,” by New Yorkers Candy and the Kisses – notable not so much because it was a landmark as because the A-side (which borrowed Martha and the Vandellas’ “In My Lonely Room” for its melody) was co-written by a young Kenny Gamble and the B-side by Leon Huff. The two writers-producers would later partner in Philadelphia International Records and revolutionize black music in the ‘70s.
But the third and most crucial reason that Cameo–Parkway sank was simply because Bernie Lowe had lost his will. Lowe had never intended – and was ill-equipped – to pilot a large business, and it had turned him into a wreck. “He was a musician and all this was dumped on him, this big company and making money,” says Rosalyn, his widow. “I think he just sat back and let it happen. He wasn’t a businessman.” Indeed, sales had dwindled considerably since the Twist craze had faded, and Bernie didn’t have the strength to try to dig Cameo–Parkway out of the hole it was in.
“Bernie was very insecure,” says Jimmy Wisner. “He was afraid that he would be poor again – a lot of rich people who have been poor have that feeling.” Bernie’s daughter Lynne concurs with that estimation. “He would wake up in the morning and wait for somebody to say it’s gone,” she says. “He was very shy and scared of everything; he lived in terrible fear all the time. He used to keep a pile of money stacked up. He was literally terrified that he was going to lose what he had.”
Compounding Lowe’s fear was, of all things, the success of another company: Bernie, explains Lynne, felt envious of Berry Gordy and his Motown operation, another mom-and-pop record label that had built itself into a cultural force, albeit one whose influence admittedly far outstripped that of Cameo–Parkway. “Berry Gordy in Detroit, and Bernie Lowe in Philadelphia, could take any kid off the street, fix their teeth and write them a good song,” says Lynne. “Except that Motown had Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross.”
“Bernie was a sharp-witted guy, but so unhappy,” adds Joe Tarsia. “I was in an elevator with him once, and he said to me, ‘Six years. I guess it’s not a fluke.’ But he was never comfortable.”
Bernie was physically ill and emotionally drained. “He was suffering from depression,” admits Rosalyn. So when he received an offer from a consortium of Texas businessmen to sell Cameo–Parkway, he barely gave it a second thought, told no one at the company, and took their offer. Bernie Lowe left the record business behind, just like that.
Cameo–Parkway had outgrown its Locust Street headquarters by the time of the sale and had since relocated to a larger facility – with a more sophisticated recording studio – at 309 S. Broad Street. That building would later become the headquarters for the Gamble and Huff operation.
But Cameo–Parkway essentially stopped being about Philadelphia once Bernie unloaded it. He resigned as president and director in June 1965, along with the other officers in the company. In their place, two of the Texans, William H. Bowen and J.R. Griffith, were named director/chairman of the board and president, respectively.
Throughout 1965, the new management proved unable to place any music remotely near the top of the charts. Then, finally, in 1966, after more comings and goings in the executive wing, Cameo–Parkway was resurrected. A new team, based primarily in New York City, hunted down potential hits, mainly outside of the East Coast. Largely responsible for the revival was Neil Bogart, hired by new Cameo president Al Rosenthal in 1965 as its 23 year-old whiz-kid marketing director, following stints at Cash Box and MGM Records. He soon moved up the ranks to general manager and vice president.
Although a New Yorker, Bogart’s area of concentration was the Midwest, particularly Michigan, where punky garage-rock and deep soul were bubbling under, pointing the way toward new sounds unimaginable during Lowe and Mann’s heyday. Under Bogart’s watch Cameo signed a rock band from Ann Arbor called the Rationals, who placed a tough (pre-Aretha) cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” on the pop chart in late 1966. Cameo signed a future superstar named Bob Seger, and his band the Last Heard, who were tearing up the Detroit area. They picked up the distribution of a label called Lucky Eleven and its hottest band, Flint’s Terry Knight and the Pack, which would later morph into Grand Funk Railroad. They also distributed the Chicago-based Windy C label, owned by Curtis Mayfield, who produced a group of family members called the Five Stairsteps and sent their soul ballad “World Of Fantasy” into the Top 50.
In all, the post-Lowe Cameo Records placed more than 20 singles onto the Billboard Hot 100. But only one had a seismic impact: “96 Tears,” by the Saginaw quintet ? and the Mysterians. The last Cameo record to find its way to number one, it remains one of the all-time landmarks of ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll.
?, the lead singer, cloaked himself in secrecy, hence the mystifying moniker. He never removed his shades, claimed to be from Mars, and even his band members swore they didn’t know that Rudy Martinez was his original name. Formed in 1964, they’d recorded ?’s composition (originally titled “Too Many Teardrops”) for the small Pa-Go-Go label. After it began generating steam around Michigan, Bogart cut a distribution deal and re-released it on Cameo. A garage-band classic was born.
Several of the more memorable releases of this period were in the black music arena. Eddie Holman, a singer from Virginia, notched two R&B Top 20 records on Parkway in 1966, “This Can’t Be True” and “Am I A Loser.” Bunny Sigler, who would become a staple of the Gamble and Huff empire, registered his first hit on Parkway when “Let The Good Times Roll & Feel So Good” cracked the R&B Top 20. Frankie Beverly, later of Maze fame, and Lonnie Youngblood, known for his work alongside the pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix, both cut sides for Fairmount, another C–P subsidiary.
One of the most talked about hits of the later Cameo–Parkway period was a novelty record in the purest sense, a remake of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” spoken-sung in the mock voice of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Credited to “Senator Bobby,” it was actually the work of three comedians and radio personalities: Bill Minkin, Dennis Wholey and Steve Baron. Together they called themselves the Hardly Worthit Players, and they released two albums, one of which, Boston Soul (the cover was a goof on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul), also featured mockups of President Lyndon Johnson and a clever “White Christmas” by “Bobby the Poet,” one of the funnier Bob Dylan imitations on record. One ardent fan of the new “Wild Thing” was RFK himself, although, says Minkin, “When we met him he told me it sounded more like Teddy [Kennedy].”
There were other hits during 1966-67, and many non-hits worth a listen, but the label’s output was nothing compared to what it had been earlier in the decade. Evie Sands’ 1967 “Angel Of The Morning” preceded the Merrilee Rush hit version of the following year, and future bubblegum faves the Ohio Express stopped first at Cameo – their “Beg, Borrow And Steal” was the company’s last single to reach the Top 30.
Although a handful of records still trickled out afterwards, Cameo–Parkway effectively ceased being an active label when Allen Klein, an accountant and business manager of recording artists, acquired a controlling interest in the company in the summer of 1967. William Bowen resigned, Klein was named director and chairman and, although the price of the company’s stock rose considerably, the label coasted, no longer signing artists or recording new music. “It was devastating,” says Bunny Sigler, whose record had just scraped the R&B Top 20, “to have a record go that big and then everything just closed.”
Bogart soon left the company, taking with him his top promotion men, Marty Thau and Cecil Holmes (Bogart later went to Buddah Records and then helmed Casablanca Records, which made stars out of Kiss and Donna Summer). Rosenthal left soon after. “Nobody was paying any attention to the label anymore,” says Thau. “They didn’t have a staff when we left.”
In 1968, with the company having shown a significant loss of revenue during the previous three years, the stock was de-listed. In early 1969, Cameo–Parkway Records
became ABKCO Industries. Klein got sidetracked concentrating on two of his other high-profile clients, namely the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and other than a handful of sporadic reissues in the 1970s, the Cameo–Parkway catalog remained dormant for decades.
Until now, that is. Interest in Cameo–Parkway Records never flagged. Year after year, collectors have clamored for the re-release of these historical and still vital recordings, writing letters to ABKCO, to music magazines and on Internet message boards.
It took a while, but at long last you can once again do the Twist to the original hit recording. And the Fly, and the Pony, and the Wah Watusi, the Limbo, the Cha Cha Cha, the Mashed Potato, the Popeye, the Hully Gully, the 81, the Bristol Stomp, the New Continental, the Bird...
Yes, all of the big ones were on Cameo–Parkway, alright. So you can stop crying 96 tears because now, finally, they are back!
Special thanks to the following, who graciously gave interviews for these liner notes (in alphabetical order):
Dave Appell, Bobby Balderrama, Ceasar Berry, Jerry Blavat, Steve Caldwell, Dick Clark, Esther Cohen, Jon Cohen, Sarah Dash, Charlie Gracie, Jerry Gross, Cecil Holmes, Billy Jackson, Lynne Lowe Jacobus, Rosalyn Lowe, Bill Minkin, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, Bunny Sigler, Roy Straigis, Joe Tarsia, Marty Thau, Jimmy Wisner, Joe Wissert, Lonnie Youngblood and John Zacherle.
Thanks also to: Charlie Gracie, Jr., Miriam Linna, Mike McCann and MJI/Premiere Radio Networks, Steven Ramm, Randy Russi, William Witherspoon.
Cameo–Parkway Studio, Philadelphia – Dave Appell, Joe Tarsia, Joel Fein, Kenny Present, Joe Wissert
Reco-Art Sound Recording, Philadelphia – Emil Korsen
Harold B. Robinson’s Broad Street Studio, Philadelphia – Fred Downs
Virtue Recording Studio, Philadelphia – Frank Virtue
A & R Recording, New York City – Roy Cicala, Phil Ramone
Allegro Sound Studios, New York City – Bruce Staple
Bell Sound Studios, New York City – Eddie Smith
Dick Charles Recording Service, New York City – Ron Johnson
Mira Sound Studios, New York City – Brooks Arthur
Regent Sound Studios, New York City – Bill Szymczyk
Talent Masters, New York City – Bob Gallo
Audio Recording Studio, Cleveland – Don White
Columbia Recording Studios, Nashville – Glenn Snoddy
Paul Jameson’s Studio, Tyler, Texas – Paul Jameson
Pye Recording Studios, London – Ray Prickett
RGM Sound, London – Joe Meek
United Sound Studios, Detroit – Les Cooley
Universal Recording, Chicago – Bob Kidder
Western Recorders, Hollywood – Wally Heider
Dave Appell – guitar
Ronnie Baker – bass
Steve Baron – guitar
Thom Bell – piano, harpsichord
Vinnie Bell – guitar
Fred Bender – piano, organ
Roy Buchanan – guitar
Artie Butler – piano
Pete Carroll – guitar
Karl Chambers – drums
Roland Chambers – guitar
Jimmy Cicchini – drums
Pete Cozzi – drums
Dan Dailey (Fred Nuzzullio) – baritone & tenor saxophone, percussion
Nick D’Amico – vibes, percussion
Bob DiNardo – guitar
Ronny DiStefano – drums
Kenny Dorn – saxophone
Ugene Dozier – piano
Bobby Durham – drums
Bobby Eli – guitar
Ed Etkins – tenor saxophone
Jack Faith – saxophone
Ron Feuer – organ
Larry Fogel – trombone
Steve Gaines – guitar
Kenny Gamble – guitar
Walter Gates – piano
Richard Genovese – trombone
Leroy Glover – piano
Al Gorgoni – guitar
Bobby Gregg – drums
Norman Harris – guitar
Bob Hartzell – trumpet
Eddie Hinton – guitar
Leon Huff – piano, organ
Billy Jackson – percussion
Artie Kaplan – baritone saxophone
Rick Kellis – piano
Jerry Kilgore – drums
Billy LaPatta – ukulele
Dave Levin – drums, percussion
Leroy Lovett, Jr. – piano
Bernie Lowe – piano
Buddy Lucas – tenor saxophone
Joe Macho (aka Joe Mack) – bass
Bobby Martin – piano, vibes
Trade Martin – guitar
Bobby McGraw – bass
Vince Montana – vibes, orchestra bells
Bip Muscemeci – bass
Mike Natale – trumpet
Dick Noble – sax
Frank Owens – piano
Harry Polk – guitar
Luther Randolph – piano, organ
Joe Renzetti – guitar
Al Rogers – drums
Richard Rome – piano
Dick Romoff – bass
Buddy Savitt – tenor saxophone
Bob Schwartz – saxophone
Joe Sgro – guitar
Joe Sher – drums
Bill Shimmin – piano
Chester Slim – drums
Dave Stephens – piano, charts
Roy Straigis – piano, organ, celeste
Chip Taylor – guitar
Clark Terry – trumpet
Ellis Tollin – drums
Clarence Watson – bass trombone
Winnie Wilford – bass
Wilmer Wise – trumpet
Jimmy Wisner – piano, organ, celeste
Joe Wissert – percussion
Earl Young – drums
Georgie Young – tenor saxophone
And The Don Renaldo Strings
Sam Casale – copyist
Dan Dailey (Fred Nuzzullio)
Jo Ann King
Joe Macho (aka Joe Mack)
Dee Dee Sharp
Cliff Dunn, Ray Dunn, Morris Gardner, Cleveland Hammock, Tommy Ricks
Weldon McDougal III, Vivian McDougal, Jackie Marshall, Calvin Nichols, Earl Oxendine
Audrey Brickley (1965-67), Shirley Brickley, Stephen Caldwell (1961-64), Marlena Davis, Rosetta Hightower
Vera Carey, Lucille Dunbar, Helen Hutchinson
Dinell Cook, Delphine Cook, Charlotte Butler, Delores “Honey” Wylie
Jean Grant, Catherine Nichols, Rosa Waters
Donald Banks, Al “Ceasar” Berry, Norman Burnett, George Hilliard
3 Seas Music Corp.: Disc 4: Track 15.
ABKCO Music, Inc.: Disc 2: Track 17, 18. Disc 3: Track 1, 5, 19, 25, 28. Disc 4: Track 6, 9, 11, 16, 17.
Alley Music Corp.: Disc 3: Track 20.
Anne-Rachel Music Corp: Disc 2: Track 30.
Arc Music Corp.: Disc 1: Track 18.
Assorted Music: Disc 3: Track 4.
Atlantic Music Corp.: Disc 4: Track 22.
C and B West Publishing Co.: Disc 4: Track 24.
Casa David: Disc 3: Track 11. Disc 4: Track 2.
Cheltenham Music: Disc 2: Track 19.
Conrad Music: Disc 2: Track 20.
Dandelion Music Co.: Disc 2: Track 22.
Dave Appell Music: Disc 1: Track 15, 20, 24, 27, 29, 30. Disc 2: Track 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 21, 23, 25.
David Guaraldi Music: Disc 3: Track 10.
Dia Guaraldi Music: Disc 3: Track 10.
EMI Blackwood Music, Inc.: Disc 2: Track 27, 29. Disc 3: Track 18. Disc 4: Track 1.
EMI Grove Park Music, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 26.
EMI Longitude Music: Disc 3: Track 13, 22. Disc 4: Track 19.
EMI Robbins Catalog, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 4. Disc 2: Track 10.
EMI-Screen Gems Music, Inc.: Disc 4: Track 13.
EMI Unart Catalog, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 2. Disc 2: Track 28. Disc 4: Track 22.
Entre Music Co.: Disc 1: Track 8.
Fort Knox Music, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 23. Disc 4: Track 8.
Graceful Samba Music: Disc 3: Track 10.
Harthon Enterprises: Disc 4: Track 6.
Hideout Records and Distributors, Inc.: Disc 4: Track 18, 23, 25.
Holman Music: Disc 4: Track 3.
Irving Berlin Music Company: Disc 3: Track 29.
Irving Music, Inc.: Disc 3: Track 21. Disc 4: Track 20.
Jerry Leiber Music: Disc 4: Track 14.
Jobete Music Co., Inc.: Disc 2: Track 2.
Kalmann Music, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 1, 5, 12, 15, 16, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30. Disc 2: Track 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 16, 21, 23, 25. Disc 3: Track 3.
Keith-Valerie Music: Disc 3: Track 2.
Legacy Music, Inc.: Disc 3: Track 4.
Linz Music: Disc 4: Track 19.
Little A Music: Disc 1: Track 11.
Lowe Music Publishing Corp: Disc 1: Track 1, 5, 17, 22, 24.
Mike Stoller Music: Disc 4: Track 14.
Moonlight Music, Inc.: Disc 2: Track 26.
Mother Bertha Music, Inc.: Disc 3: Track 23.
New Hidden Valley Music Co.: Disc 4: Track 2.
Painted Desert Music Corp.: Disc 2: Track 14.
Pecle Publishing and Production: Disc 3: Track 25.
Piccadilly Music Corp.: Disc 3: Track 14.
Pixley Music: Disc 4: Track 22.
Piedmont Music Company: Disc 3: Track 2.
Randsong Music: Disc 4: Track 19.
Regent Music Corp: Disc 1: Track 9, 10.
Remick Music Corp.: Disc 2: Track 11.
Rice Mill Publishing Co., Inc.: Disc 1: Track 11.
Rock Masters International Network, Inc.: Disc 2: Track 24.
Screaming Skull Production: Disc 3: Track 24, 26.
Security Publishing, Co.: Disc 1: Track 3.
Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc.: Disc 1: Track 25. Disc 3: Track 11.
Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music: Disc 2: Track 8. Disc 3: Track 6.
Sony/ATV Songs LLC: Disc 3: Track 12.
Sony/ATV Tree Publishing Co., Inc.: Disc 4: Track 8, 21.
Southern Music Publishing Co., Inc.: Disc 3: Track 15, 16.
Stone Agate Music: Disc 2: Track 2.
Super Bubble Music Corp.: Disc 3: Track 24, 26.
Tafodoli Enterprises: Disc 4: Track 3.
Tan-Win Publishing Co.: Disc 4: Track 9.
Tee Pee Music Co.: Disc 1: Track 6.
Tender Tunes, Inc.: Disc 4: Track 13.
Thorn Creatives International: Disc 1: Track 13.
TMIB Music: Disc 1: Track 14.
Toni R. Music Company: Disc 4: Track 15.
Trio Music Co., Inc.: Disc 1: Track 23. Disc 3: Track 20. Disc 4: Track 8.
Unichappell Music, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 11. Disc 2: Track 27, 29. Disc 3: Track 10, 23. Disc 4: Track 10, 24.
Universal MCA Music Publishing: Disc 1: Track 19. Disc 2: Track 15.
Universal Polygram International Publishing, Inc.: Disc 1: Track 21.
Universal Songs of Polygram, Inc.: Disc 4: Track 22.
Van McCoy Music, Inc.: Disc 4: Track 12.
Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Co.: Disc 4: Track 4, 5, 7.
Wemar Music Corp.: Disc 3: Track 27.
Williamson Music Co.: Disc 3: Track 8.
Reissue Producers: Gregg Geller, Jody H. Klein & Teri Landi
Essay: Jeff Tamarkin
Art Directors: Iris Keitel & Alisa Coleman
Design: Bonfilio Design
Concept: Lenne Allik
Assistant Art Director: Janessa Gursky
Business Affairs: Peter J. Howard
Manufacturing: Kenneth Salinsky
Manufacturing Coordinators: Katel Ledu & Hillary Putnam
Sales: Joe Parker
Tape Research & Analog to Digital Transfers: Teri Landi
Sound Restoration & Archive Coordinator: Steve Rosenthal, The Magic Shop
Mastering: Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering & DVD
Production Director: Maria Papazahariou
Assistant Engineer: Stacin Gregson, Matt Boynton, Tom Psipsikas
Photo Research: Ilene Cherna Bellovin & Jim McDonnell
Session Research: Teri Landi & Maria Papazahariou
Research & Clearances: Seth Adkins
We would like to thank the following members of the Cameo Parkway Family, for their thoughts and remembrances: Dave Appell, Jerry Arnold, Bobby Balderrama, Thom Bell, Al “Ceasar” Berry, Jerry Blavat, Steve Caldwell, Chubby Checker, Dick Clark, Esther Cohen, Jon Cohen, Pete Cozzi, Bob Crewe, Sarah Dash, Kenn Dorn, Kenny Gamble, Al Gorgoni, Charlie Gracie, Sr., Jerry Gross, Burton Harris, Tony Hatch, Cecil Holmes, Billy Jackson, Buddy Killen, Rosalyn Lowe, Lynne Lowe Jacobus, John Madara, Lou Mauro, Elliot Mazer, Weldon McDougal III, Billy McGraw, Hal Miller, Bill Minkin, Mike Pedicin, Question Mark, Joe Renzetti, Richard Rome, Jerry Ross, Bobby Rydell, Evie Sands, John Schroeder, Dee Dee Sharp, Bunny Sigler, P.F. Sloan, Roy Straigis, Joe Tarsia, Chip Taylor, Marty Thau, Willa Ward, Dennis Wholey, Jimmy Wisner, Joe Wissert, Georgie Young, Lonnie Youngblood, John Zacherle.
Mike Bollea, Gabe Calemmo, Molly Cat, Andrew J. Cripps, Valerie Collins, Louisa Corbett, Tony Currie, Bill Dahl, Mike Davis, Dixie Dog, Chuck Gamble, Mike Gillespie, Luke Gochanour, Mick Gochanour, Stephanie Gonzales, Charlie Gracie, Jr., Alan Horowitz, Richard Jaskeran, Jeff Jones, Tracey Jordan, Kit Kat, Robin Klein, David Knoblock, Cub Koda, Bryan Koniarz, Taslim Ladha, Bill Levenson, Chris Libenson, Miriam Linna, Ken Lubin, Mike Mastrangelo, Mike McCann, Billy Miller, Sophie Nathan, Bob Noguera, Louis l.auger, Andrew Long Oldham, Laura Parker Walton, Jeffie Powell, Steve Ramm, Mick Rock, James Rosin, Randy Russi, Sigfredo Santana, Jackeline Santana, Rob Santos, Terry Schirok, Val Shively, Patricia Sheppard, Joel Silver, Dave Simons, Tom Steele, Vince Szydlowski, Michelle Tesoro, Scott Van Horn, Randy Vest, Cheri Wild, William Witherspoon.
Box & Wallet Photo Credits:
Abkco Music & Records, Cameo Parkway Archives, Carroll Brothers Archives, Charlie Gracie Archives, Evie Sands Archives, Frankie Beverly & The Butlers Archives, The Hardly Worthit Players Archives, John Madara Archives, Joe Renzetti Archives, MichaelOchsArchives.com, Norton Records Collection, Photofest Archives.