Born Kalman Cohen, 6 May 1917, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Songwriter (lyricist), producer, co-founder of Cameo-Parkway Records
Kal Mann began his show business career in the 1940s and '50s as a comedy writer for Danny Thomas, Red Buttons and Jimmy Durante. In 1956 his friend and songwriter Bernie Lowe (a schooled musician, unlike Mann) convinced him that if he could write comic parodies he could also write song lyrics. That year Mann and Lowe got into the record business as songwriters for Hill & Range, a New York publishing company that, until the arrival of Elvis Presley, was best known for its country music catalog. The results of their collaboration were, among others, "Teddy Bear" (a # 1 hit for Elvis Presley), "Remember You're Mine" (Pat Boone) and several of Charlie Gracie's classic recordings : "Butterfly" (also a million seller for Andy Williams), "Ninety-Nine Ways" (also a big hit for Tab Hunter), "Just Lookin'", "Fabulous", "Wanderin' Eyes" and "Crazy Girl". Gracie recorded for Cameo, a Philadelphia-based label that Mann and Lowe had founded together towards the end of 1956. The first five singles on Cameo "were almost as old-fashioned as a cameo stone", according to Jim Dawson, but the sixth one, "Butterfly" by Charlie Gracie, rocketed to # 1 nationally in March 1957 and this pointed Mann and Lowe in the direction of success : the teen market. Rock and roll of a sort, but without the rough edges.
Besides being a major stockholder in the label, Mann was the owner of Cameo's publishing arm, Kalmann Music. Lowe and Mann launched a sister label, Parkway, in 1958. Both men occasionally adopted pseudonyms for their compositions. "Butterfly" was credited to their joint pseudonym Anthony September. 'Jon Sheldon' was Kal Mann, whilst Bernie Lowe masqueraded as 'Harry Land'. This enabled them to be affiliated with both ASCAP and BMI.
An important addition to Cameo Records was Dave Appell (born 1922), a Philadelphia guitarist with a feel for jazz. With his band The Applejacks (which would become Cameo's studio band), he had appeared in the movie "Don't Knock The Rock" and scored a few instrumental R&R hits on Cameo, most notably "Mexican Hat Rock" (# 16 in 1958). It was with Appell that Kal Mann would co-write most of Cameo-Parkway's hits, especially in the early 1960s. Among them: "Kissin' Time" and "Wild One" (Bobby Rydell), "Let's Twist Again" (Chubby Checker), "Bristol Stomp" (The Dovells), "Mashed Potato Time" (Dee Dee Sharp), "The Wah Wahtusi" and "South Street" (The Orlons). These artists owed much of their success to the label's close links with Dick Clark's "American Bandstand,'' which gave them instant national TV exposure.
Inspired by the success of Bill Haley's 1956 films "Rock Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Rock", Mann and Lowe wrote songs for the movies "Twist Around the Clock"(1961) and "Don't Knock the Twist" (1962), both produced by the "king of quickies", Sam Katzman.
Mann also wrote lyrics for two songs that had been instrumental hits in 1961-62 : "Limbo Rock" (The Champs) and "You Can't Sit Down" (Philip Upchurch Combo). In vocal versions by respectively Chubby Checker and the Dovells, these both went Top 3, outselling the original versions. Jim Dawson writes about Mann's attitude toward rock and roll: "Cameo Parkway was a creatively corrupt operation. Kal Mann, Bernie Lowe, and even Dave Appell never fully concealed their contempt for rock and roll, the Twist, or the gullible youngsters who bought their records. They were products of an earlier, very different generation, musically and otherwise. Mann, who nominally produced the recordings, admitted that while writing some of Checker's songs he was thinking of vaudevillian Eddie Cantor, whom he considered to be the cat's meow, if not the bee's knees." (From Jim Dawson's book "The Twist", page 82).
After seven years of great commercial success, the lights went out for the Cameo-Parkway label in 1964, as Beatlemania washed away the music industry establishment. Even worse, patron Dick Clark defected from Philly to Los Angeles in March 1964. Mann accepted it as a twist of fate ('Nothing lasts forever'), and retired to the golf course, apart from compiling "Let's Dance Again" (1978), a musical based on his hits.
In late 1967, Cameo-Parkway was sold to Allen Klein, who renamed the label ABCKO Records. In the digital age, the Cameo-Parkway legacy was glaringly absent from the CD racks. Kal Mann had chosen to retain all of the master tapes and Klein could not release CD's without the tapes. After many years of litigation and a legal stalemate, Mann's estate finally came to an agreement with Allen's son Jody Klein, who had become president of ABCKO after his father's health had seriously deteriorated (Allen Klein died in 2009). This happened in 2005 and since then we have witnessed a steady flow of legal CD reissues of the Cameo-Parkway inventory on ABCKO. Four years earlier, in November 2001, Mann had died of complications resulting from Alzheimer's disease. He was 84.
More info :
CD anthology : Various artists, Cameo-Parkway 1957-1967 (box-set). 115 tracks on four CD's. Released in 2005. http://www.amazon.com/Cameo-Parkway-1957-1967-Various-Artists
Some Mann-penned Cameo hits on YouTube:
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