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Cameo

blackmon pop band hit

Cameo, one of the most adventurous funk bands of the 1980s, formed in 1974, in N.Y. MEMBERSHIP: Larry Blackmon, drm. (b. N.Y.C., May 24, 1956); Greg Johnson, kybd.; Nathan Leftenant, horns, voc; Tomi Jenkins, voc.

Taking a cue from the Ohio Players, Larry Blackmon originally called his band the New York City Players. While maintaining his day job as a tailor, he attended classes at the Julliard School of Music. The group’s membership ranged from six to twelve players, earning a good reputation that eventually got them signed to Casablanca Records’ Chocolate City subsidiary (home of Parliament). They changed their name to the less–derivative Cameo after the African silhouette jewelry popular at the time. Their debut, Cardiac Arrest, produced the modest R&B hit “Rigor Mortis” The day Blackmon heard it on the radio while waiting on a customer at work, he put down his chalk, walked out, and never came back.

Between 1979–82, the band had a series of Top Ten R&B singles, and the albums Secret Omen, Cameosis, (#25 pop), Feel Me, Knights of the Sound Table, and Alligator Woman (#23 pop) all went gold, despite a lack of crossover success. Dissatisfied with this situation, as well as with conditions in the North—and recognizing Atlanta as a major hub for their touring schedule—Blackmon stripped the band down to himself, Leftenant, and Jenkins and moved there in 1980. There, he started his own Atlanta Artists label.

With the retooled business and band came a retooled sound. No longer horn– oriented, the band instead played a slinky synthesizer funk that Blackmon pre–sciently referred to as black rock. The title track to the gold Single Life was a #1 hit in England. The title track to the gold follow–up, She’s Strange, topped the R&B charts and hit #47 pop.

The next album, 1986’s Word Up, finally crossed the band over to the pop charts. The title track topped the R&B charts and was a #6 pop hit. “Candy” also topped the R&B charts, hitting #21 pop. “Back and Forth” got as high as #50 pop, #3 R&B. The album peaked at #8. Suddenly, Blackmon was doing Coke commercials. He also became an in–demand producer, working on Bobby Brown’s debut and even working with Miles Davis.

Yet the band’s popularity was short–lived. Cameo’s 1988 release Machismo was the band’s last gold record. In the early 1990s, Blackmon spent several years working in the Warner Bros. A&R department. The 1996 album Nasty was released without major label distribution. By 1998, Blackmon was hosting a radio show on Saturday nights out of Miami.

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