Monday, November 15, 2010

The Applejacks - "Rocka-Conga" - Cameo, 1959

Sometimes a record grabs me for the sheer silliness of it.  This is one of those records. I guess I'd call it a "novelty dance" number. While researching it, I came to know the story of Dave Appell.
Are those groupies back there?
The Applejacks, not to be confused with the Beat group of the same name from across the pond, was basically a studio band under the direction of Dave Appell. Appell (pronounced "apple") has a long history in the music business and is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.  After getting his start arranging for several United States Navy big bands during WWII, he arranged for a few other dance orchestras and recorded several tunes for Decca as the "Dave Appell Four".
Somewhere in the mid-late 50's, Appell moved back to his hometown of Philadelphia and got involved with Cameo Records doing background vocals, session work as a guitarist, engineering, arranging, and producing. From Wikipedia:
"In the summer of 1958, Appell got an idea for a song from the Philadelphia String Band of a marching-type song with a dance beat. He wrote an instrumental song called "The Mexican Hat Rock," a jumped-up version of the old "Mexican Hat Dance," that he had his studio band record. The song was released under their own name on Cameo that fall and became a big dance hit on American Bandstand, reaching # 16 on the charts. The Applejacks also charted with "Rocka-Conga" (# 38) later in the year.

Appell went on to become the leader of Cameo-Parkway's house band, backing such artists as Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, The Dovells, Dee Dee Sharp, and The Orlons. Their records Appell also arranged and, in many cases, produced, and even co-wrote with Kal Mann, like "The Twist," "Let's Twist Again," "Bristol Stomp," "Mashed Potato Time," and "South Street." These were the years of the twist and other dance crazes, in the launching of which Appell played a vital role. Appell left Cameo in 1964."
Mr. Appell is 87 and still doing his thing - you can check out his website here:
Cameo Records was based out of Philadelphia and was a subsidiary of Cameo-Parkway Records.  Founded in December 1956 by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann, the label had many hits with previously mentioned artists. Judging by what I find while digging, The Orlons were particularly popular (at least round these parts). The British Invasion of the mid-sixties put a hurt on the label, and one of their last big hits was "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians.  By 1967, the label winding down and being sold off in pieces.
And, the clip:

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