South Philly’s Rick and The Masters live again on a Cameo Parkway retrospective

Come On, Sway Me…
By David McGee

Collectors’ Choice Music

Respect has been late in coming for Philadelphia’s Cameo Parkway label (originally two distinct labels from 1956—when Cameo was founded, two years prior to Parkway’s launch—until 1962, when the parent Cameo company was renamed Cameo-Parkway), but recent years have been kind to its legacy, thanks to reissues from the late Allen Klein’s ABCKO organization, which is also behind this collection on Collectors’ Choice. For too long CP was denigrated as the home of vapid teen idols—Bobby Rydell and Fabian—sprung on an unsuspecting public after Elvis went into the Army, and has been held responsible for inflicting Chubby Checker on the culture, hardly warrantless charges and the label best plead out on those.

Dee Dee Sharp, ‘Ride,’ an incendiary single, #5 pop, from 1963, one of five consecutive Top 10 single Sharp charted in 1962-63.

Aside from that, Cameo Parkway was home to a lot of good, and some great, pop and rock ‘n’ roll—such as Charlie Gracie’s hipster-cool “Butterfly,” Cameo’s first hit, a chart-topper, in 1957, the same year the Rays emblazoned their name in group harmony history with “Silhouettes”; such as a clutch of timeless singles in 1961 and 1962, by the Dovells  (the immortal “Bristol Stomp”); the wonderful mixed-gender R&B quartet the Orlons (“The Wah-Watusi” and “Don’t Hang Up,” with “South Street” hitbound in 1963); and the exuberant Dee Dee Sharp, a background singer turned million selling solo artist on the strength of an incredible run of infectious, irresistible dance hits in 1962-63, viz. “Mashed Potato Time” (#1 R&B, #2 pop), “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” the blazing “Ride!” (#5 pop) and “Do the Bird.” In 1963 the Tymes carved out a permanent place in a generation’s collective romantic memory with its ethereal, spare, soul ballad, “So Much In Love,” a deserving #1 single if ever there was one.

Come the British Invasion and Cameo Parkway wobbled (despite having, briefly, the Kinks and Bob Seger under contract), unable to coax anything memorable out the likes of Clint Eastwood and Merv Griffin, or from respected jazz artists Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry. Its last, unforgettable stand came in 1966, when ? and the Mysterians’ proto-garage band classic, “96 Tears,” went to #1. If you’re going down, go down in style. By 1967 the company was, first, an MGM subsidiary, and later sold to Allen Klein, whose ABCKO company kept the catalogue under wraps until beginning an ambitious reissue program in 2005 (with an awesome four-CD box set overview, Cameo Parkway 1957-1967) and continuing it with this title and five other two-fer collections of individual artists’ work.

The Tymes, ‘So Much in Love,’ 1963, #1, deservedly so, as one of the all-time great summer love songs

One of the unexplored chapters in Cameo Parkway history is the subject of this new retrospective from Collectors’ Choice. Clearly, vocal groups were no strangers to Cameo Parkway, but by and large only the label's hard-core followers knew much, if anything, about its forays into the doo-wop/group harmony market. No substantial hits came from this pursuit, and, as this disc shows, the groups it signed were either too much like other, more gifted outfits on other labels, or were simply a shadow of their former selves, such as the Skyliners, truly monumental when Jimmy Beaumont was singing lead and propelling them to Olympian heights on “Since I Don’t Have You,” “This I Swear” and “Pennies From Heaven” in ’59 and ’60. By the time the Skyliners were signed to Cameo Parkway, Beaumont had left for a solo career, and his replacement, smooth voiced Jack Gardner, was pleasant but not captivating or transportive in a Beaumont way. Label founders Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe penned an appropriately anguished teen misery ballad for the group, “Everyone But You,” doused it in strings and soaring background voices—and nothing happened. Gardner’s Elvis Presley affectations become more noticeable as the song goes on, and eventually the song’s debt to “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” become more obvious and nagging.

In many instances, you can hear the producers in full thrall of the lush, string-enhanced and lightly Latinized Drifters sound in cases such as that of the Tymes’s previously unreleased 1964 cut, “Did You Ever Get My Letter?” and a revamped Turbans lineup (featuring only Al Banks from the original lineup) syncopating the group’s 1955 R&B smash, “When You Dance,” and fashioning a vocal blend equal parts Clyde McPhatter falsetto cries and the muscular close harmony of Ben E. King-era Drifters, complete with strings zinging all through the mix as if in homage to Drifters producers Leiber and Stoller.

The Rays, ‘Triangle,’ written and produced by Bob Crewe and Frank Slay, who do their best to slay the memory of a 1950s group harmony benchmark in this shameless 1958 rewrite of the Rays’ blockbuster 1957 single, 'Silhouettes.' Contains the lyric, ‘For to bust him in the nose.’

In “Silhouettes,” their 1957 smash (#3 pop), The Rays sang of a fellow strolling by his girl’s house “late one night,” and being startled by the sight of her in the arms of another man, her form and his outlined in silhouette on the shade. Rushing to the door, he “lost control” and rang the bell, only to find out he’s on the wrong block. Everyone lives happily ever after. A year later, the group finds itself in another fix on “Triangle,” a shameless “Silhouettes” rewrite fashioned by none other than Bob Crewe (well ahead of his brilliance in guiding the Four Seasons’ studio recordings) and his co-producer Frank Slay, who do their best to slay, shall we say, the memory of a 1950s group harmony benchmark, a bonafide first-generation rock ‘n’ roll classic. All due credit to lead singer Hal Miller, who does his level best in his plaintive tenor to sell the scenario of his girlfriend’s brother telling him she was out with another man, but it’s not enough to pass the laugh test when he has to warble lyrics such as: 

Help the blood rush to my brain
(rush to my brain)
Didn’t wait to ask his name
(didn’t ask his name)
He’ll be sorry Heaven knows
When I find that so-and-so
For to bust him in the no-oh-ose
Triangle, whoa-oh-a-oh

Well, it’s not as bad as America’s woeful “’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain,” but it’s a sad state of lyrical affairs nonetheless. (Think those fellows in America got hold of a copy of “Triangle” and were inspired by it?)

After tracking down the couple, Miller describes the scales falling from his eyes as he realizes he’s been duped by little brother:

‘Cause the nightmare I had had
And the guy I called a cad
Was no other than your dad.

Check please! In a gross understatement, the liner copy notes dryly, “radio ignored ‘Triangle.’” Though Miller did cut some sides with the 4 Seasons before anyone knew who they were, his career was over, ignominiously so, with the debacle of “Triangle.”

Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels, ‘Turn Out the Lights,’ a country-tinged tune produced by Lloyd Price and leased by Price’s Neptune label to Cameo Parkway in 1961.

If the Rays and the Skyliners were doing little but treading water during their Cameo tenures, two other legendary group harmony figures produced exemplary work for the brief time they were in the fold. Pookie Hudson, one of the legends of group harmony, and the Spaniels were seven years past their first monstrous hit, “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite,” when they went into the studio in 1961 with Lloyd “Personality” Price as their producer and cut a tender, country-tinged ballad, “Turn Out the Lights,” complete with Floyd Cramer-like slip-note piano flourishes. Instead of releasing it on his own Neptune label, Price leased the recording to Cameo Parkway, but it bombed, and the Spaniels disbanded. Lee Andrews and the Hearts had also kicked off their recording career in 1954, and scored successive single hits in 1957 with “Long Lonely Nights” (which the 4 Seasons later covered, and wonderfully so, in 1964, as the B side of their “Alone” single) and “Tear Drops,” but disbanded after being unable to gain any traction in the business. The sweet-voiced Andrews soldiered on with various configurations of Hearts until he landed at Parkway in 1962. He cut one unsuccessful single, “I’m Sorry, Pillow” b/w “Gee, But I’m Lonesome.” Written by soon-to-be-Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, “Gee,” included here, is an aching ballad of loneliness and longing, and Andrews inhabits it fully with a subdued, heartfelt reading made all the more affecting by the restrained ache in his tender voice. A gripping performance, beautifully produced, and it went nowhere.

The Exceptions, ‘Down By The Ocean’

These are the familiar names on the roster here. Others were ships passing in the night, little known in their time, forgotten in ours. But they live again for an incandescent moment here and there in this collection: the Roommates, from Queens, NY, with a rich, slightly eerie ballad, “A Lovely Way To Spend an Evening”; South Philadelphia’s Rick And The Masters, represented by the bopping, Dion-like delight, “I Don’t Want Your Love,” and the Dion-like ballad, “Flame of Love”; the Expressions, with a multi-layered, Spectorish take on heartbreak, “To Cry”; and North Philadelphia’s wonderful Exceptions, serving up the wonder of “Down By the Ocean, with its bass man burbling away like some crazed conflation of the Big Bopper on “Running Bear” and the Marcels’ bass man on “Blue Moon” while someone in the studio creates a tropic feel by banging on a bongo-like instrument with mallets, and the singer celebrates the joy of being in love by proclaiming a heightened sense of exultation at the prospect of seeing his beloved again soon. The band keeps driving, the mallets keep pinging, the bass man says “yeeeaaaahhhhh,” and the other voices swirl around the lead in delirious celebration.

Remember me, baby? Thanks for the memories.

Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1 is available at


The Orlons, ‘South Street’—the group’s finest recording peaked at #3 pop in 1963

The obscurity of the vocal groups volume’s recordings and artist lineup make it the most compelling of the latest reissues. Though the other releases mostly promote Cameo Parkway’s big guns and/or best-known artists (save for barely one-hit wonders Terry Knight and The Pack), the full albums provide a broader portrait of the artists beyond what we know of them from their big hits. Only Terry Knight and The Pack recorded at a time when the album had become a statement; nevertheless, some of the artists in this retrospective used the long-form format for something approaching a conceptual whole in the singles-oriented, pre-Beatles early ‘60s.

The best, and most hit-packed, of the remaining five titles is The Orlons’ two-fer combining the quartet’s South Street and The Wah-Watusi albums (1963 and 1962, respectively). Philadelphia natives Shirley Brickley, Rosetta Hightower, Marlena Davis and Steve Caldwell had been discovered while in high school, by their classmate Len Barry, lead singer of the Dovells, who brought them to Cameo Parkway where they became the Orlons. A couple of singles failed to cause a stir nationally, but were not without their virtues. One, “I’ll Be True To You,” is a slow, dreamy, Shirelles-style love ballad sung to a “soldier boy” (as if to make the Shirelles connection more explicit), whereas the other, “(Happy Birthday) Mr. Twenty-One,” is a gentle, sax-infused, coming-of-age treatise done with decidedly more reserve than the lyrics suggest. The anxiously awaited day celebrated in the lyrics corresponds to an unobstructed path to marriage, and the arrangement cops the hesitating opening sax riff from the Six Teens’ “A Casual Look” before settling into a sensuous groove behind the lead vocalist’s measured stance. The Orlons’ gals sang backup on Dee Dee Sharp’s breakout “Mashed Potato Time” single, and after Caldwell raised hell with the powers that be the Orlons were given a dance tune of their own, “The Wah-Watusi,” and voila! A #2 pop hit fueled by a slithery groove, the girls’ forceful lead vocals and, briefly, Caldwell’s gritty tenor. For good measure, The Wah-Watusi album included the group’s own version of “Mashed Potato Time.” Following the #4 pop followup, “Don’t Hang Up,” the Orlons came back in early ’63 with their rousing, New Orleans-inflected “South Street”—their finest recording—which peaked at #3 pop and was their final Top 10 single. (It also appears to be the first recording to mention “hippies,” as in the opening lyrical question, “Where do all the hippies meet? South Street! South Street!”, but the reference was to the sharp-dressed kids who gathered in the area of Philly immortalized in the song. The better-known hippies were still a few years from surfacing culturally.) As was typical for that pre-Beatles era, and for a group that didn’t write its own tunes, the Orlons’ albums wrapped covers of other artists’ hits around the hit singles. To the Orlons’ (and their producers’) credit, rote recreations of the originals was not the point; instead, the quartet tried to find a new way in, altering tempos, adding new instruments (they make effective use of saxophone throughout), changing up the vocal arrangements, and deploying Caldwell’s croaking frog vocals as a novelty atmospheric effect. No one is likely to cue up the Orlons’ version of the Shirelles’ “Dedicated to the One I Love” rather than the original classic, or their version of “Mashed Potato Time” over Dee Dee Sharp’s, but both of those hits are well served here; on the other hand, the Coasters (by way of Leiber and Stoller) "Charlie Brown" is stripped down to bring out its R&B underpinnings in a way the orginal doesn’t; and though none of the Orlons women are the equal of the Chantels’ great Arlene Smith, the anguished, self-lacerating lead vocal on “He’s Gone” will make you sit up and take notice—some good chops are at work here (as opposed to an atrocious recent cover of the song by yet another overrated Brooklyn band, the tuneless Vivian Girls). With the women taking the collective, joyous lead, Roy Hamilton’s wonderful 1958 hit, “Don’t Let Go,” gets a frisky makeover from the distaff side, and Caldwell jumps in with some croaking responses as well. The blend of feisty female voices and Caldwell’s croak works even better on a rollicking rendition of the venerable “Muskrat Ramble,” with its jumping rhythm and blaring sax solos. Taking on John D. Loudermilk’s “Big Daddy” (or, “Big Daddy’s Alabamy Bound”), the group saunters through a brisk country-flavored arranged complete with both Caldwell’s humorous croaking interludes and some Boots Randolph-style yakety sax flurries. On “Mr. Sandman,” the girls’ tight, youthful harmonies and the chiming arrangement evoke the Chordettes’ kitsch masterpiece while sounding utterly sincere. The Wah-Watusi album features wonderful examples of ‘50s group harmony stylings in a moody, captivating rendition of Johnny & Joe’s 1957 anticipatory classic, “Over The Mountain, Across The Sea,” as well as another laudatory cover of a Shirelles cut, the doo-wop inspired “I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde Ronde).” Whatever they were doing on record, let it be said the Orlons always sounded fully invested in the moment, and having a great time at it. On the love songs they push all the right emotional buttons; on the uptempo numbers, their energy is infectious and unflagging. There was more to the Orlons than a few hit singles, memorable as those are, and this delightful two-fer does justice to what the group was capable of at the height of its popularity.

Bobby Rydell, Cameo Parkway’s mealticket artist, and Chubby Checker, a one-note but million selling phenom, are the biggest of the label’s artists represented in this reissue collection. Rydell’s two-fer, combining the studio album Salutes The Great Ones with the live Rydell At the Copa, includes none of his hits (in their original form, that is; the version of the 1960 hit “Sway” on the Copa album, is taken at a quicker pace than the single, and is brassier besides; ditto his rendition of “That Old Black Magic,” a 1961 single that peaked at #21 pop and is featured on Salutes The Great Ones in its original pop-rock configuration), but does say something positive about the artist: though marketed as a teen idol since emerging in 1959 and topping the chart a year later with “Wild One,” these two 1961 long players find him already transitioning to appeal to an older audience with a sound reliant on orchestral, ambitious arrangements of pop standards of an earlier era, such as the bustling treatment given “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (yes, the Stephen Sondheim song from Gypsy) and the string-rich, ring-a-ding-ding zest informing Bing Crosby’s 1931 evergreen, “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams.” He opens the Copa set with what was then one of his signature songs, “I’ve Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do,” from the 1963 film version of the Broadway hit Bye-Bye Birdie in which Rydell starred (and which, ironically, was inspired by the rise of Elvis Presley and his being taken out of commission by the Army draft, thus opening the door to Rydell, Avalon, Fabian, et al., pretenders to the King’s throne). On the ballad front, the Copa album serves up a thoughtful reflection of home and heart on Frank Sinatra’s “Homesick That’s All,” from the Chairman’s early years on Columbia, and introduces a terrific moment of warmth and endearing heart in “Don’t Be Afraid (To Fall In Love)” a love song penned by Cameo’s co-founder Kal Mann that Rydell probes expertly for deeper feeling. Maybe it should be pointed out that Rydell was all of 19 when he was playing the Copa—he had every right to be pushing songs of teen misery still, but he was looking for something more enduring in the business than being a passing fad. Given the dubious talent of today’s teen idols, Bobby Rydell’s work is ripe for reconsideration. His “Sway,” “Forget Him” and “The Cha-Cha-Cha” hold up quite nicely as pure pop exercises aimed squarely at the teen market. No Sinatra he, but a talented enough interpreter and amiable enough entertainer to be able to keep at it for almost a half century now. Respect is in order.

Which brings us to Chubby Checker, and a two-fer of 1961 LPs, It’s Pony Time and Let’s Twist Again. Both albums trade on the success of the titular hit singles—those being by far the best records Chubby ever made, by dint of the band’s ferocious swing and Chubby getting it up for feverish performances—and, moreover, on the early ‘60s dance craze Chubby helped usher in and became the face of until the Beatles mercifully sent him packing. The deadly toll: “The Stroll,” “The Shimmy,” “The Watusi,” “The Ray Charles-Ton”—my God! “The Ray Charles-ton”! And that’s nothing compared to the horrific destruction he visits on the great Ivory Joe Hunter’s devastating blues ballad, “I Almost Lost My Mind” and his Dresden bombing, a total annihilation, of one of the ‘50s most lustrous show tunes, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” during which you can hear Lerner and Loewe howling from beyond the grave for it all to end, sorry they ever wrote My Fair Lady. Listening to these albums straight through is to be in need of bodily purification afterwards. After a bit—say, after the first song—the tunes merge into one monstrous entity, and you’re sure you’re hearing the exact same tracks, speeded up here, slowed down there, from one cut to the next. Absent texture or emotional conviction, Chubby’s monotonous warbling rains down ceaselessy on your senses, suffocating all critical faculties in the musical equivalent of waterboarding. You just want it to stop. You flee.

The fork in the road takes you to one Clint Eastwood, literally riding high in 1963 as the sex symbol Rowdy Yates on one of TV’s finest westerns, Rawhide. To capitalize on his burgeoning, youthful fan base, Cameo Parkway sent him into Fine Recording in New York in mid-May 1963 and thus did Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites emerge. Now—speaking of Lerner and Loewe—Clint was savaged for his vocal performances in the 1969 Joshua Logan-directed film version of L&L’s Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon. But screen the movie today, and lo and behold, Clint comes off sounding pretty fair, certainly not the disaster trumpeted by critics back then. On this, his debut recording, he acquits himself well, too. Like his labelmate Bobby Rydell, Eastwood was not going to be lionized for his brilliant interpretive artistry, or for the magnificence of his vocal gifts, but rather applauded for being able to sell a song, simply and without undue embroidery. Several of the tunes on Cowboy Favorites were first recorded by Bing Crosby (including Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In”), and the tunestack also includes the great Bob Nolan’s beautiful and timeless western poetry in “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and Bob Wills’s eternally heart tugging “San Antonio Rose.” Singing in a clear mid-range tenor reminiscent of Roy Rogers, Clint takes all the songs at about the same loping pace, accompanied by a male background chorus emulating the close, smooth harmonies of the Sons of the Pioneers, with a lonesome, shimmering harmonica following him from track to track. The one moment the ensemble breaks out of this mold is on the rambunctious “Rowdy,” a tune recorded some six months before the other album tracks and baldly designed to take advantage of his TV persona much as (as the liner notes point out), ABC did with Ed “Kookie” Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip fame, a non-singer who had enjoyed a novelty hit with “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.” Otherwise, this is all standard issue middle of the road crooning with an old west accent, songs to be sung around the campfire, laid back, welcoming and a touch romantic when our man feels some lovin’ comin’ on. It’s big sky music, with a hint of a concept in the way the narratives trace a journey both geographic and of the heart, and speak of a search for freedom, trust and enduring passion. Cowboy Favorites is hardly a masterpiece of its kind—see Marty Robbins for those—but it will darn sure sneak up on you and have you listening again.

Clint Eastwood sings the Eddy Arnold classic, “Big Bouquet of Roses,” from his Cowboy Favorites album on Cameo Parkway, 1963

As Cameo Parkway struggled with insolvency in 1966, it made a stab at rock ‘n’ roll by distributing releases from a Flint, Michigan-based label called Lucky Eleven. Lucky Eleven’s star act was a burgeoning music business hustler named Terry Knight, who had never fancied himself a band frontman but became one with a local band that he renamed the Pack for their eponymous debut album. One of the Pack’s original members (when the group was called the Jazz Masters) was drummer Don Brewer; shortly after Knight anointed himself lead singer, the lead guitarist departed, to be replaced by one Mark Farner. By the time of the group’s second album, Reflections, a new bass player, Mel Schacher (late of ? and the Mysterians), had joined. Yes, that would be the Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher of Grand Funk Railroad. Terry Knight and The Pack did not write their names large in rock ‘n’ roll history, but did have a regional and minor national hit in mid-’66 with “I (Who Have Nothing),” a melodramatic rendering of Ben E. King’s 1963 Top 30 hit (penned in part by Leiber and Stoller, translating into English lyrics originally written for an Italian song, “Uno dei tanti”). If the group’s music was standard fare for the time, then it was also well played, adventurous in parts, and performed with verve—a forceful personality, to say the least, Knight’s unswerving sense of self put the charge into funky rockers such as his self-penned “Got Love,” the salaciousness into the churning blue-eyed soul treatment of the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” the Dylanesque attitude and drawl into his thick-textured screed (its foundation being a familiar sounding, steadily humming organ) lacerating a phony significant other in “Dimestore Debutante,” the earnest social conscious into the San Francisco-redolent “A Change On The Way,” and the Gene Clark-styled rootsy sensitivity into his country-flavored “Lovin’ Kind.” From this list alone you see how many hats the band was trying on, searching for a proper fit (this would include a couple of forays into psychedelia, too). Two years after Reflections, Terry Knight and the Pack were history, but Terry Knight, producer-manager-Svengali, was alive and bringing to the stage of the Atlanta International Pop Festival, playing for free a week a month before Woodstock (and, two weeks after Woodstock, kicking off each day of the Texas International Pop Festival with a free set as well), a power trio called Grand Funk Railroad. You know the rest, presumably, including the famous falling out and bitter litigation between band and manager, and the 61-year-old Knight’s bloody end in Temple, Texas, in 2004, from multiple stab wounds sustained in a fight with his daughter’s boyfriend. A true mid-‘60s artifact, the two-fer of Terry Knight and The Pack and Reflections is a sharp-focus portrait of its time, an aural Baedeker of almost all the styles and attitudes that had surfaced in rock music since the onset of the British Invasion. All in all, pretty cool stuff, well aged and aging well.

The Orlons’ South Street and The Wah-Watusi is available at

Bobby Rydell’s Salutes The Great Ones and Rydell At the Copa is available at

Chubby Checker’s It’s Pony Time and Let’s Twist Again is available at

Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites is available at

Terry Knight and The Pack’s Terry Knight and The Pack and Reflections is available at

Bobby Rydell, ‘The Cha Cha Cha,’ #10 pop single, 1962

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
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