Cameo Records was founded in 1956 in Philadelphia by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann. Dave Appell
joined the label early as A&R director. Parkway, a subsidiary label, was formed in 1958. The early
of Cameo-Parkway was 1405 Locust Street in Philadelphia.
Both Cameo and Parkway existed during the latter days of 78-rpm singles, but the majority of 78s found today with the Cameo label (far left, above) are from a New York company that predated the Philadelphia company by several decades, and to our knowledge, had no connection.
Philadelphia's Cameo Label:
The first few singles on Cameo were not particularly memorable. They featured Arlene DeMarco ("Old Enough to Know"/"Don't Rush Me," Cameo 100), the Quakertown Singers (Cameo 101), Don Gardner (Cameo 102), Billy Scott (Cameo 103), and the Tommy Ferguson Trio (Cameo 104). But Cameo 105, "Butterfly" by Charlie Gracie, rocketed to #1 nationally in early 1957 and established Cameo as a hit label. Gracie had been a regular on Philadelphia's American Bandstand since 1952. His followup, "Fabulous" [Cameo 107], also made top-20. This pointed Lowe, Mann, and Appell in the direction of success: teen records. From that point, almost all the Cameo-Parkway singles were aimed at the teen market.
Albums were a different story. The first Cameo album (LP-1000) was a jazzy piano album by "Dizzy Dan." The album jacket gives no information about who Dizzy Dan may have been, so it is probably a pseudonym for someone who perhaps was under contract elsewhere (perhaps Bernie Leighton?). The record packaging was interesting, as it had a jacket by famous jazz cover designer Burt Goldblatt (who was responsible for over 3000 jazz album covers during the 1950s and 1960s), and it was pressed on red vinyl. The label credits "Dizzy Dan with rhythm accompaniment." It features a small combo with piano, standup bass, drums, and tambourine, with a sound not unlike that of B. Bumble and the Stingers a few years later. The second album (LP-1001) was by television star Dave Garroway.
LP-1002 was Banned in Boston by Denise Darcel, a beautiful french actress who also did a slightly off-color night club act, hence the album title. This was followed by three more jazz albums more for adults than for teens: Operation Dixie [LP-1003], a dixieland album by the Infirmary Five, Alone Together [LP-1004], a soft jazz album by Dave Appell's combo, and Dizzy Fingers [LP-1005], an album by Bernie Leighton. On the singles side, Cameo was scoring teen hits by the Rays, the Applejacks, John Zacherle, Timmie Rodgers, the Carroll Brothers, the Playboys, the Storey Sisters, and even the Bernie Lowe Orchestra. By the end of 1958, the singles output and the album output by the company may as well have been on two different labels, and there was almost no overlap. That would soon change.
In early 1959, Cameo put out a single by Bobby Rydell called "Makin' Time"/"Please Don't Be Mad" [Cameo 160]. It went nowhere. Neither did the followup single, "All I Want Is You"/"For You For You" [Cameo 164]. But the third one, "Kissin' Time" [Cameo 167], made #11 nationally and gave Rydell the exposure he needed to become a "teen idol." Far from being an overnight sensation, the seventeen-year- old had already spent at least a half-dozen years in Philadelphia bands like Rocco and the Saints (featuring trumpet player Frankie Avalon), and went on to prove he had at least a modicum of acting ability, staring in several movies, including Bye Bye Byrdie. The next single, "We Got Love" [Cameo 169], made #6 and also pulled the flipside, "I Dig Girls" onto the top-50. Cameo hustled out an album by Rydell, We Got Love [Cameo LP-1006], its first rock and roll album. Bobby Rydell proved to be the #1 star of the Cameo label, ringing up 28 sides on the top-100 before he signed with Capitol in 1964. His biggest seller was "Wild One" [Cameo 171], which made #2 in 1960. For teenage girls who thought Elvis was a bit too dangerous, clean-cut Bobby Rydell was "da man."
Rydell essentially carried the label in 1960 and 1961. It wasn't until 1962 that Cameo began developing some new stars. Hot on the heels of the 1961 dance craze, Cameo introduced the Orlons near the end of 1961. The quartet from Philadelphia consisted of lead singer Rosetta Hightower and her backing trio of Marlena Davis, Steve Caldwell, and Shirley Brickley. Their first single, "Heart Darling Angel"/"I'll Be True" [Cameo 198, 1961], failed to chart, as did their second, "Mr. 21"/"Please Let It Be Me" [Cameo 211, 1962]. Like Bobby Rydell, it was their third single that finally put them on the map: "The Wah-Watusi" [Cameo 218], which reached #2 in the summer of 1962. Four more top-20 singles followed ("Don't Hang Up," #4; "South Street," #3; "Not Me." #12; and "Cross Fire!," #19), and then four more mid-charters, before they finally slipped off the charts for good in 1964.
Dee Dee Sharpe didn't need three singles to hit it big. She had been a studio backing singer at Cameo- Parkway for some time before she got her chance to make a solo record. She had done a duet with Chubby Checker on "Slow Twistin' [Parkway 835] which was released at about the same time as her first solo single, "Mashed Potato Time" [Cameo 212], which jumped to #2 in the spring of 1962 as one of the many dance songs gracing the charts. If her followup, "Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)" [Cameo 219], was a transparent attempt to cash in on a hit, the buying public didn't care, as it made #9 anyway. Switching to another dance, the pony, Sharpe came back with a high-energy rocker called "Ride!" [Cameo 230] that brought her back to the top-5. By the end of 1962, including "Slow Twistin'," Sharpe had scored 4 top-10 records, three of which made the top 5. She was hot, and when her first 1963 offering, "The Bird" [Cameo 244], made #10, it looked like she would be around for a long time. Then just like that, the dance craze was over, and so was Dee Dee Sharp. Although she placed five more records on the charts before 1966, none reached higher than #33.
By the time Jo Ann Campbell signed with Cameo in 1962, the 24-year-old from Florida was already a music industry veteran. She had recorded for the El Dorado label in 1957, End in 1958, and ABC- Paramount in 1960, where she had a minor hit with "Kookie Little Paradise" [ABC-Paramount 10134, #61]. Her first Cameo release was an answer song to Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain," called "I'm the Girl from Wolverton Mountain" [Cameo 223], which edged into the top-40. The followup didn't chart, but in early 1963, when an aspirin commercial made the phrase "Mother, please! I'd rather do it myself!" one of the catch-phrases of the era (everybody remembers the phrase, but how many remember the commercial, or what it was for?), Jo Ann Campbell managed to reach #88 with "Mother Please," based loosely on the idea of the commercial. But that was all for Jo Ann and Cameo.
In 1963, Cameo was running out of stars, so they turned to television once again and signed up Clint Eastwood, the star of television's hit series Rawhide, for an album and a single, and also signed Merv Griffin. Neither did well in sales, and the Cameo brass started going back to their old love, jazz, for several albums by Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, and others. From the start of 1963 to the end of the label's output in 1968, Cameo put out a lot of records with not many hits. Some say the British Invasion killed the label that was primarily known for dance tunes, but the decline started well before the Beatles hit these shores in January, 1964. It wasn't really for lack of talent, either. All of the following artists had records on Cameo during this period, and none were very successful on Cameo (although they were sometimes spectacularly successful earlier or later): Don Covay, Johnny Maestro, Mark Dinning, Len Barry, the Kinks, George Kirby, Screaming Lord Sutch, Lonnie Youngblood, Mike Clifford, Bobby Sherman, Bobby Marchan, Evie Sands, Johnny Restivo, Billy & Lillie, the Rationals, the Third Rail, Tony Orlando, the Village Stompers, and Bob Seger! The only Cameo groups moderately successful during this period were the Ivy League, Terry Knight and the Pack, the Ohio Express, and Question Mark and the Mysterians. They also had executive Neil Bogart, who would go on to success with Buddah Records, then found the successful Casablanca label. But with all this, and even though "96 Tears" [Cameo 428] was a million-seller, by 1967 Cameo was in free-fall.
The Parkway Label:
Parkway Records was started in 1958 as a subsidiary to Cameo. As with the parent label, the first few singles didn't register on the musical Richter Scale at all. Their first success was Chubby Checker's "The Class" [Parkway 804], a novelty that squeaked into the top-40 in early summer, 1959. In the record, Checker (Ernest Evans) is supposedly a teacher with a class of unruly students made up of Fats Domino, the Coasters, Elvis Presley, Cozy Cole, and the Chipmunks, with Checker doing imitations of the singers. Very funny, but it got Checker labeled as a novelty artist and his next singles didn't chart. More than a year later, he remade a Hank Ballard tune, "The Twist" [Parkway 811], and rode it to immortality, starting the whole twist craze while he was registering #1 nationally. From there, it was the same formula, more-or- less, for several years, but the public loved it. By 1966, he had logged 32 sides on the top 100, including "It's Pony Time," "Let's Twist Again," "The Hucklebuck," "The Fly," "Slow Twistin'," "Dance the Mess Around," "Limbo Rock," "Jingle Bell Rock" [with Bobby Rydell], "Dancin' Party," "Popeye The Hitchhiker," "Twenty Miles," "Let's Limbo Some More," "Birdland," "Twist It Up," "Loddy Lo," "Hooka Tooka," "Hey Bobba Needle," "Lazy Elsie Mollie," and "Let's Do The Freddie," all of which made the top-40. Checker's popularity was such that he even re-charted "The Twist" with the Fat Boys in 1988, making #16.
The Parkway label had very few stars at any given time. During the dance years, a Philadelphia group called the Dovells (fronted by Len Barry) had several hits including "Bristol Stomp," "You Can't Sit Down," (both top-5), along with top-40 hits "Hully Gully Baby," "Bristol Twistin' Annie," and "Do the New Continental," along with three other lower charters. The Tymes, a smooth R&B vocal group, had several hits including "So Much in Love" [Parkway 871, #1], a remake of Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful Wonderful" [Parkway 884, #7] and show tune "Somewhere" [Parkway 891], but by 1964 they, too, had slipped off the charts, only to have moderate success later on Columbia and RCA. In 1965, the British orchestra Sounds Orchestral scored a top-10 hit with a remake of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" [Parkway 942], and the 1967 remake novelty "Wild Thing" [Parkway 127] by Senator Bobby made #20. The last chart artist for Parkway was Bunny Sigler, who scored with yet another remake, this time of Shirley & Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll & Feel So Good."
By late 1964, Cameo-Parkway was losing money. By late 1967, their net worth had plummeted so badly that the New York Stock Exchange booted them out as a traded stock. The company was bought by Allan B. Klein, who changed their name to Abkco, but that's a story for another page.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Cameo Records, which is currently owned by Abkco, Inc. of New York. Should you want to contact Abkco, or should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 1997, 1999, 2003 by Mike Callahan; all rights reserved.