Label owner/producer/arranger/songwriter/pianist/band leader Bernie Lowe was a Julliard-trained pianist playing, arranging and conducting the orchestra on “The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club” in the early fifties when he met Dick Clark, the announcer for the show’s live Tootsie Roll commercials. The two became friends and, later, business associates.
At the end of 1956, Lowe founded Cameo Records, with an old friend, Kal Mann (real name Kalman Cohen) and set up offices in the basement of his house in Wyncote, PA. Lowe and Mann got into the record business as songwriters for Hill & Range Songs in New York. Together they wrote “Teddy Bear” for Elvis Presley, which he recorded in January 1957. Lowe was looking for his own Elvis. He found Charlie Gracie, one of the first white artists who had recorded rock ‘n’ roll. Lowe tamed Gracie into a polite rocker and supplied him with the songs “Butterfly” and “Ninety-Nine Ways,” both Mann-Lowe compositions (though the writing credit on “Butterfly” went to “Anthony September,” their joint pseudonym). When “Butterfly” went to number one in April 1957, Lowe was convinced that rock ‘n’ roll – or at least an approximation of it – was the way to go.
Lowe and Mann wrote more songs for Charlie Gracie (“Just Lookin’,” “Fabulous,” “Wanderin’ Eyes”) and Lowe also played piano on all of Gracie’s Cameo recordings. Lowe and Mann launched Cameo’s sister label, Parkway, in 1959. By this time, most of the A&R work was done by Dave Appell, who also led an instrumental group, The Applejacks. Lowe co-wrote the early hits of Bobby Rydell (“Kissin’ Time,” “We Got Love,” “Wild One,” “Good Time Baby”), but after that he left most of the songwriting to Mann and Appell. Apart from Rydell, Cameo-Parkway had success with Chubby Checker, the Dovells, Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons.
Cameo-Parkway suffered its greatest loss when patron Dick Clark defected from Philly to Los Angeles in March 1964. By then Kal Mann had already retired and Dave Appell had moved on to other projects. Lowe sold the company to a couple of Texas businessmen a year or two later. In July 1967, Allen Klein, the manager of the Rolling Stones, bought controlling interest in Cameo-Parkway. However, Kal Mann chose to retain the master tapes and after years of litigation, Klein and Mann (who died in November 2001) became bogged down in a legal stalemate, with the consequence that Klein still cannot release CDs of Cameo-Parkway material.