Tag Archives: Cameo-Parkway

The Tymes: So Much in Love

Smooth and soulful mid-60s Philly vocal sounds

The Tymes were a Philadelphia vocal group originally incorporated as the Latineers. By the time they signed with the powerhouse Cameo-Parkway label, they’d honed their vocal arrangements into a sophisticated sound that was as much supper club soul as street corner doo-wop. Their first recording and first single for Cameo, “So Much in Love,” was also their biggest hit, topping the chart in 1963. They’d land two more singles in the top-twenty, including the terrific cover of “Wonderful! Wonderful!” heard on this 1963 LP. The album was filled out with compelling takes on standards (“That Old Black Magic” and “Autumn Leaves”), ‘50s hits (“Goodnight My Love” and “My Summer Love”), and ensemble-sung originals from the team of Straigis, Jackson and Williams. The wonder-struck spoken introductions that adorn the tracks grow gimmicky by album’s end, which make the single edits of “So Much in Love” and “Wonderful! Wonderful!” terrific bonuses alongside the Coasters-styled “Roscoe James McClain” and a spirited 1963 take on Jan & Dean’s “Surf City.” Twelve of these eighteen tracks (the eighteenth being an unlisted Italian-language version of “So Much in Love”) do not appear on The Best of the Tymes 1963-1964, making this a wonderful complement to the earlier anthology. All tracks are remastered in their original AM-ready mono, and the set includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes by Gene Sculatti and full-panel reproductions of the album’s two different covers. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits

Holiday odds and sods from the legendary Cameo Parkway vault

With the departure of Gordon Anderson from Collectors’ Choice, and the apparent sidelining of the label’s activities, their reissue program for the Cameo-Parkway catalog has moved with Anderson to his new label, Real Gone. This eighteen-track set of holiday-themed material combines tunes from two of the label’s stars, Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker and two of the label’s fine doo-wop groups, the Cameos and Jaynells. The track-list features a number of fun one-offs, including Bob Seger’s rock ‘n’ soul “Sock it to Me Santa,” Toni Sante’s Spanish-language girl group “Donde Esta Santa Clause?,” and a funny Bob Dylan lampoon, Bobby the Poet singing “White Christmas,” as introduced by a Bobby Kennedy impressionist. There are also two versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” one in ragtime style by Beethoven Ben (in actuality, label co-founder Bernie Lowe), and one as bluegrass by The Lonesome Travelers, featuring the legendary Norman Blake on mandolin!

Less interesting are seven cuts split between the big band instrumentals of the Rudolph Statler Orchestra and the orchestral sounds of the International Pop Orchestra. Neither unit has anything to do with the Cameo Parkway house band sound (though, to be fair, neither do the Lonesome Travelers), and the arrangements are generic. This set was previously issued by ABKCO as Holiday Hits from Cameo Parkway, and it’s reissued here with the addition of the B-side “Jingle Bell Imitations,” in which Rydell and Checker run through the styles of Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, Frank Fontaine and the Chipmunks. It’s a shame Cameo Parkway never gathered Checker, Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons, Tymes and others to record a proper holiday album. Still, if you factor out the instrumentals, there are many fine rarities here to add to your holiday playlist. Nicely mastered mono on 1, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, and stereo elsewhere. The booklet includes terrific liner notes by Gene Sculatti and discographical details. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Clint Eastwood: Cowboy Favorites

Clint Eastwood sings western songs on pleasant television tie-in

With so much incredible material in the Cameo-Parkway vault, most of which hasn’t seen  reissue in fifty years, one has to wonder why Collectors’ Choice decided to make this 1963 television tie-in one of the first C-P original album reissues. When originally issued, Eastwood had been starring in Rawhide since 1959, and though he’d become one of the most famous actors and directors of his generation, his singing career (which also included the 1969 film version of Paint Your Wagon and hit duets with Merle Haggard and T.G. Sheppard) remained mostly a sidelight. This album was the joint product of Eastwood’s background as a pianist and the early-60s penchant for cashing in on television popularity. Unlike the pop and rock records of Ricky Nelson, Shelley Fabares and others of the era, the 33-year-old Eastwood and his producers put together a set of western songs that played well to the actor’s voice. It was a good fit for the times, with Bonanza climbing to its mid-60s peak, and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” having dented the pop charts. Eastwood proves himself a passable crooner (rather than simply a television actor stepping out), and the unnamed New York band (which seems unlikely to have been the hard-charging Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway house combo) is sharp but bland – even Eastwood’s jazz background can’t move the band to swing Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose.” Collectors’ Choice’s CD reissue includes the album’s original dozen tracks, with Eastwood backed by an all-male chorus, and both sides of his pre-LP single, “Rowdy” and “Cowboy Wedding Song.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Terry Knight and the Pack: Terry Knight and the Pack / Reflections

Garage, pop, folk and blues-rock seeds of Grand Funk Railroad

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]

Various Artists: Remember Me Baby- Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1

Terrific vocal group tracks from the Cameo Parkway vaults

Cameo Records, and its subsidiary Parkway label, were Philadelphia powerhouses from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. Parkway is best remembered for unleashing Chubby Checker and the Twist dance craze, first in 1960 and again in 1962, making “The Twist” the only recording to gain the #1 spot on the Billboard chart twice! The labels hit with other memorable Philly-area artists in the early ‘60s, including the Dovells, Orlons, Bobby Rydell and Dee Dee Sharp, and it’s on these formerly out-of-print hits (finally reissued in box set, best-of, and original album form over the past five years) that Cameo-Parkway’s considerable reputation rests. But there’s more to the Cameo story, both before and after novelty dance hits brought the labels’ releases to worldwide acclaim.

Alongside four artist-centric two-fer reissues by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, the Orlons, and Terry Knight and the Pack, Collectors’ Choice and ABKCO (the latter of whom  purchased the Cameo catalog in the late ‘60s) have put together this collection of doo-wop styled vocal group singles. There are some well known names here, including the Skyliners, Dovells, Tymes, Turbans, Rays, and Lee Andrews, but – winningly – the tracks collected here are generally obscure. Rather than including the groups’ hits (a few of which were waxed for or reissued nationally on Cameo, many of which were recorded before or after the groups’ time with Cameo), this anthology digs deeply into the vaults, unearthing little known gems that haven’t been available in legitimate issue for many decades.

By the time many of these singles were recorded, the sun was setting on doo-wop styled vocal groups. But you can bet American Graffitti’s John Milner would’ve dug these sides, and with good reason, as many of them match up in every way to the brilliance of doo-wop’s earlier years. Highlights include the calypso flavor, falsetto vocal reaches and energetic strings of the Turbans’ “When You Dance,” the Tymes’ superb, Drifters-styled “Did You Ever Get My Letter?,” and the impeccably soulful and inconsolable vocal of The Anglos’ “Raining Teardrops.” Inexplicably, the latter never made it past a test-pressing, making this track one of this set’s most exciting discoveries for all but the doo-wop fanatic.

Other highlights are Rick and the Masters’ hand-clapping “I Don’t Want Your Love,” the duet lead of the Gleems’ ballad “Sandra Baby,” the Buddy Holly vocal flourishes of The Impacs’ “Tears in My Heart,” and The Dovells’ mixture of “Shortin’ Bread” and “You Can’t Sit Down” on their 1963 side “Short on Bread.” Ed Osborne’s liner notes document the itinerant nature of these groups, showing how many alighted at Cameo for only one or two releases. Still, when they did stop in, they often had plenty of gas left in their tanks. All sides mono, with recording and production details for most listed in the liner notes. All that remains is to ask: where’s volume two? [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Bobby Rydell: Salutes the Great Ones / Rydell at the Copa

A young pop crooner struts his stuff in 1960-61

Along with Fabian and Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell was one of the “Boys of Bandstand,” a trio of Philadelphia-based pop singers whose appearances on the original American Bandstand rocketed each to teen idoldom in the lull between Elvis and the Beatles. It’s no accident that the students in Grease attend Rydell High. Like Fabian and Avalon, Rydell was a pop singer whose hits crossed over to mingle with rock ‘n’ roll tunes on Billboard’s Top 100. His biggest hit, “Wild One,” feints towards the pop-rock with which Bobby Darin began his hit-making, and Rydell’s second big hit, “Volare,” was a finger-snapping nightclub gem in league with Darin’s “Mack the Knife. Rydell and Darin’s paths often crossed in the middle of the Great American Songbook, which both vocalists covered extensively.

This pair of albums from 1961 (Rydell’s third and fourth original releases) fully indulges the vocalist’s love of (and talent for) singing classic American songs. Among the material are Tin Pan Alley and Broadway chestnuts by Arlen & Mercer, George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim, and the jazz standards “Frenesi,” “So Rare” and “The Birth of the Blues.” Rydell also found a strong attraction to material made famous by Al Jolson, including “Mammy,” “April Showers” and “There’s a Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.” The arrangements swing nicely and Rydell is an enticing singer. He hasn’t the gravitas of the previous generation (Sinatra, Bennett, et al.), but the drama in his Broadway style give these songs some real verve.

In the summer of 1960, at the tender age of 19, Rydell launched a two-week stand at the Copacabana, a New York City it-club that had hosted the legends of nightclub entertainment. Greeted on the stage by a powerful horn chart, Rydell launched into a zesty take on “A Lot of Living to Do,” the swinging mambo of “Sway,” and a bouncy rendition of “That Old Black Magic.” He sounds confident and comfortable, and though every note isn’t pitch perfect, he more than makes up for it in joie de vivre. A fifteen-minute, thirteen-song medley fills the middle of the set, showing off Rydell’s range (both “Wild One” and “Volare” are worked into the mix) and his preternatural maturity as a showman.

The set’s hidden gem is “Don’t Be Afraid (To Fall in Love),” a ballad written by Cameo co-founder Kal Mann, and orchestrated with a terrifically moody horn chart by Joe Zito. Collectors’ Choice reproduces the original track lineups in stereo, reprints both front and back album covers, and adds liner notes by James Ritz with fresh remembrances from Bobby Rydell. It may strike some as odd to begin the reissue of Rydell’s catalog with his third and fourth albums, but as noted earlier, these songs cut deep into the heart of his artistic direction. For a tighter view of his popular chart hits, check out 2005’s Best Of, but for the seeds that would bloom into his long-term career as an entertainer, this is a great place to start. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Bobby Rydell’s Home Page

The Orlons: The Wah-Watusi / South Street

Terrific early-60s Philadelphia vocal pop

The Orlons were a Philadelphia high school singing group who came to Cameo-Parkway Records on a recommendation from Len Barry of the Dovells. After a couple of flop singles they hit it big with the Kal Mann and Dave Appel’s dance tune, “The Wah-Watusi” in 1962. The single and debut album of the same name are highlighted by the terrific lead vocals of Rosetta Hightower, starting with the group’s excellent cover of “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Hightower doesn’t sing it with the power of the Shirelles’ Shirley Owen, but invests just as much heart and soul into the lyrics. Hightower also shines on the group’s cover of Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time,” and its reprise, “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” each of which the group had backed on the original hits.

The group’s lone male vocalist, Stephen Caldwell, steps up front for “Tonight,” taking the group closer to doo-wop, as does Hightower’s pleading cover of the Chantels’ “The Plea” and the crooning “I’ll Be True.” Caldwell adds some wonderful bass singing behind the female duet cover of Johnnie and Joe’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.” The backing harmonies are brought forward to introduce a heartbroken cover of the Chantels’ “He’s Gone,” and the Shirelles’ “I Met Him on a Sunday” is given a zesty, Latin twist by the drummer.  Like all of the Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway acts, the vocal group’s ace-in-the-hole was the house band, which provided incredible rhythm backing and fat-toned sax solos.

The group’s third long-player (their second All the Hits is still awaiting reissue), named for their third top-10 hit “South Street,” sounds more like a Coasters album, with honking sax and a slate full of novelties that includes the Rooftop Singers’ “Walk Right In,” John D. Loudermilk’s “Big Daddy,” Slim Gaillard’s “Cement Mixer” and the Coasters’ own “Charlie Brown.” Ironically, the latter is among the most soulful of the lot, with great harmonies and hypnotically rising piano figures. The album has a throwback feel amplified by covers of the band band-era “Between 18th and 19th on Chestnut Street” and Kid Ory’s jazz-age “Muskrat Ramble.” Stephen Caldwell is heard mostly in his low, growling “frog voice,” which feels tired by album end.

The group hits a gospel soul groove for Mann and Appell’s “Gather ‘Round” and introduces another dance with the R&B “Pokey Lou.” Those looking for an overview of the Orlons time at Cameo-Parkway are directed to the 2005 Best Of, which includes all eight of their charting singles (including their second Top 10 “Don’t Hang Up,” which is missing here) and a dozen more tracks. Fans who want to listen more deeply will truly enjoy this two-fer, particularly for the terrific material on the debut. Collectors’ Choice reproduces the original 24 tracks in radio-ready mono, both front and back album covers, and adds new liner notes by Gene Sculatti. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Chubby Checker: It’s Pony Time / Let’s Twist Again

The King of the Twist does the pony and twists again on his 3rd and 4th albums

One might imagine that the passing of Allen B. Klein in 2009 has something to do with the emergence of six Cameo-Parkway CD reissues, including this one and titles from Bobby Rydell, The Orlons, Terry Knight and the Pack, a vocal groups compilation, and a novelty outing from Clint Eastwood’s years on Rawhide. The legendary Philadelphia labels operated from 1956 through 1967, hitting a peak during American Bandstand’s years as a Philly institution, and becoming the root of Klein’s ABKCO Records in 1967. Klein reissued vault material on vinyl in the 1970s, but was very slow to adapt to CDs. Bootlegs and re-recordings proliferated for decades before the embargo was broken with the 2005 box set Cameo Parkway 1957-1967, and a series of best-of discs for the labels’ biggest stars. Five years later ABKCO is really starting to dig into the vault with this volley of original full-length album reissues.

Oddly, rather than starting the reissue program with Checker’s (and the Parkway label’s) first two albums (1960’s Twist with Chubby Checker and 1961’s For Twisters Only), the series jump-starts with the twister’s third and fourth albums. Checker ignited a worldwide dance craze with his chart-topping cover of Hank Ballard’s “The Twist,” and hit the Top 20 again with a cover of the 1940’s dance number, “The Hucklebuck.” With his third album, he once again topped the charts with a novelty dance number, “Pony Time.” The album also yielded the lower-charting “Dance This Mess Around.” Later that year, he dropped his third of four albums for 1961, and with it scored a Top 10 (and a Grammy award) with “Let’s Twist Again.” He’d continue to ride novelty dance songs onto the charts into the mid-60s, including a return trip to #1 with his original recording of “The Twist.”

Checker’s albums were literally filled with dance tunes, old and new, here including “The Watusi,” “The Hully Gully” (sung to the tune of “Peanut Butter,” which Checker covered on Let’s Twist Again) “The Stroll,” “The Mashed Potatoes” (which preceded his labelmate Dee Dee Sharp’s hit “Mashed Potato Time” by a year), “The Shimmy” (which would be recycled in 1962 as a hit duet with Sharp as “Slow Twistin’”), “The Jet,” “The Continental Walk,” “The Charleston” and “The Ray Charles-Ton.” Throw in a couple of R&B covers, like “I Almost Lost My Baby” and “Quarter to Three” and you have a standard-issue Chubby Checker album. Despite the many variations on a few themes, Checker throws himself into each song as if it’s brand new, and the Cameo-Parkway house band swings hard on everything it plays.

As James Ritz’s liner notes point out, these are great, non-stop party albums, driven in large part by the fat sax tone of Buddy Savitt, and a swinging rhythm section (Joe Macho on bass and either Bobby Gregg or Joe Sher on drums) that even manages to sneak in a second-line rhythm for house arranger Dave Appell’s take on Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Collectors’ Choice’s two-fer reissue includes the twenty-four tracks of the original albums and full-panel reproductions of both albums’ front and back covers. It’s a shame that detailed session credits at the time didn’t log who played on each track, as the house players were every bit the equal of their more name-familiar counterparts in the Wrecking Crew,  Motown and Stax house bands. Audio is radio-ready mono throughout, just the way these albums were originally issued. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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