Cameo Records, and its subsidiary Parkway label, were Philadelphia powerhouses from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. They scored with rockabilly, doo-wop and a string of vocal hits by Bobby Rydell. They had chart-topping success with Chubby Checker, alongside hits by other Philly acts that included the Dovells, Orlons and Dee Dee Sharp. By the mid-60s the labels were reaching further outside their neighborhood, releasing early singles by Michigan-based artists Bob Seger (including 1967’s “Heavy Music”), ? and the Mysterians (including the hit “96 Tears”), and a pair of albums on the Lucky 13 label by Terry Knight and the Pack. The latter group would subsequently seed Grand Funk Railroad (with Knight moved from the lead singer slot to management and production), turning the Pack’s albums into collector items.
Cameo-Parkway was shuttered in 1967 and the catalog sold to Allen Klein, who reissued very little of the vault material. The Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 box set and a series of artist Best Ofs broke the digial embargo in 2005, and six more releases this year (including original album two-fers by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell and the Orlons) further detail the labels’ riches. Terry Knight and the Pack’s self-titled debut was released in 1966 (reproduced here in mono) and highlighted by fuzz-guitar and organ that favored the garage-rock and neo-psych sounds of the time. They faithfully covered the Yardbirds’ “You’re a Better Man Than I,” turned Sonny Bono’s “Where Do You Go” into a dramatic P.F. Sloan-styled folk-rocker, and had a minor chart hit with Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing).”
Knight’s background as a DJ gave him an encyclopedic feel for sounds of the times, writing originals that borrow from Dylan (“Numbers”), electric jugbands (“What’s On Your Mind”), folk-rock (“Lovin’ Kind”), chamber pop (“That Shut-In”), blues rock (“Got Love”) and psych (“Sleep Talkin’” and the terrific, Love-styled “I’ve Been Told”). His vocals fair better on the bluesier garage numbers than the ballads (a cover of “Lady Jane” barely echoes the mood of the original), but his band, featuring Don Brewer on drums and Bobby Caldwell on organ (and later Mark Farner on guitar) is stellar throughout. 1967’s sophomore outing, Reflections (mastered here in stereo), sports a bit more muscle and a bit less garage whine. As on the debut, Knight fares better with the bluesier tunes, such as the original “Love, Love, Love, Love, Love,” a song recorded by the Music Explosion with the same backing track!
A cover of “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show” shows Knight had neither the style of Joe Tex nor the speed rapping grooves of Peter Wolf, borrowing instead Eric Burdon’s approach from the Animals’ version without really adding anything new. His cover of Sloan and Barri’s “This Precious Time” similarly reuses the folk-rock template the Los Angeles songwriters had laid out for the Grass Roots. The album’s ballads are generally forgettable and the lite-psych breaks taken amid the country twang “Got to Find My Baby” no longer seem like such a good idea. Side two opens with the Brill Building styled yearning of “The Train,” but devolves into Dylan parody, faux psych and sing-song novelty.
The closing cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” suggests the heaviness that Grand Funk would bring, but it can’t salvage the Pack’s second album. Both albums are distinguished more as rarities, this CD being their first ever reissue in the digital age, than as mid-60s essentials. The band is powerful and tight, making the most of Knight’s originals and giving him some solid riffs to work with on the up-tempo numbers, but in the end, Knight is not a particularly memorable stylist. Collectors’ Choice reproduces the original 24 tracks (72 minutes!), both front and back album covers, and new liner notes by Jeff Tamarkin. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]