Cameo is a funk-influenced R&B group that was formed in the early 1970s. Cameo was initially a 13-member group known as the New York City Players; this name was later changed to Cameo to avoid a lawsuit from The Ohio Players, a more successful group of that era. Since then, Cameo has recorded several hits records. As of 2009, some of the original members continue to perform together, while two others were hired by the hip hop group Outkast.
In 1974, Cameo started out with 23 members created by former Juilliard student and New York-area clubgoer Larry Blackmon (late of Black Ivory), called the New York City Players. Signed by Casablanca Records to their Chocolate City imprint in 1976, the group soon changed its name to Cameo after concerns that "New York City Players" might cause confusion between them and the funk band Ohio Players. Prior to this, Blackmon, keyboardist Gregory Johnson, and the late Gwen Guthrie formed the band East Coast, together with James Wheeler (alto saxophone), Melvin Whay (bass), Michael Harris (percussion), and Pat Grant (trombone). They released one self-titled album in 1973 on the independent label Encounter.
Cameo started with a deep, funky sound, but it was obvious from the start their sights were set on the dance floor. Their first albums Cardiac Arrest, Ugly Ego, We All Know Who We Are, and Secret Omen contained dance floor songs such as "Rigor Mortis", "I Just Want To Be" and "Find My Way," the latter which was a major disco smash and was included on the soundtrack to Thank God It's Friday.
By the time Cameosis came out in 1980, Cameo had gained considerable momentum through singles such as "Shake Your Pants". Albums such as 1981's Knights of the Sound Table and 1982's Alligator Woman saw the band playing up their eclectic style.
However, by the mid-1980s, Blackmon and crew were ready to move on. With Alligator Woman in 1982, Cameo stripped down to "five main members", still keeping a full band for shows. Then Gregory Johnson quit, making it a quartet: Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant, and Charles Singleton; keyboardist Kevin Kendricks would later be brought more into the creative fold. Blackmon also moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia and started his own label Atlanta Artists, which was distributed by Polygram. Inspired by the edgy synthesizer arrangements being pushed forward by the new wave groups of the time, he moved the band in an electronic funk" direction. It utilized heavily sequenced drum machines (e.g Simmons), bass and occasional horn arrangements. He put his trademark "Ooow!" into the forefront of Cameo's mixes and markedly changed their sound. Cameo's 1983 release Style was one of the first to come from this new label and was the first disc to capitalize on Cameo's new sound. She's Strange came out in 1984 and its "12-inch mix" was a major smash in the R&B clubs. The title track and its follow-up, "Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck", were minor successes on the pop charts. 1985's Single Life was also an R&B hit that saw some crossover success. With this album, Singleton left the group, but continued to work with Cameo from time to time as a friend of the band.
The song "Word Up!" hit the radio airwaves in mid-1986. Critically acclaimed with large amounts of club and radio airtime, the resulting album Word Up! turned Cameo into superstars. The follow-up tracks, "Candy" and "Back and Forth", were also huge hits for the funk trio.
Two years later, Cameo would release Machismo to lukewarm pop response, but favorable critical reviews and R&B success. Kendricks left the band at this point. Next, 1990's Real Men... Wear Black and 1992's Emotional Violence failed to reach the same commercial success of Word Up!. By this time, after their departure from Polygram on to their new label, Reprise, Blackmon represented himself (besides his band-activities and side-productions) as A&R-agent for this label, a division of Warner Bros. Records. It also saw the absence of Nathan Leftenant, but the return of guitarist Charlie Singleton as one of "main" members. Leftenant returned again for the next album, which they released on a new label (Way 2 Funky/Raging Bull), and recorded at their next headed location, Miami, Florida. 1994 saw the release of In the Face of Funk that got some club play, a single release, and at least one track that received critical acclaim (for "You Are My Love"). But for the most part, Cameo's reign was over.
Both ex-Cameo musicians Aaron Mills (bass) and Kevin Kendricks have been hired by the hiphop group OutKast for live and studio sessions. Aaron's story is that he had just arrived back home in the middle of the night from touring or recording when he got a call from either Andre 3000 or Big Boi, and was asked if he had time to record a bassline for them, which was for "Ms. Jackson", OutKast's successful hit. Ex-Cameo vocalist John Kellogg became an entertainment lawyer representing such hit artists as the O'Jays, the late Gerald Levert and LSG. He also pursued a career in music industry higher education, becoming Assistant Chair of the Music Business/Management department at the world's leading institution of contemporary music, Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.
In 2000, Cameo released their last-recorded album Sexy Sweet Thing, the album's title track, also had a single and video release. Around this time, they frequently performed in the US and at various dates in Europe.
Larry Blackmon has a son, of the same name, in the NY political scene who has worked with Clinton, Bloomberg, and the NY Jets. Another of his sons, listed as N. Larry Blackmon, is successfully building a rock/hip hop empire of his own, and will soon be featured in a reality show featuring other music sons as well.
A few members of Cameo, such as Tomi Jenkins, Charlie Singleton, Anthony Lockett and Gregory Johnson are currently active at online-facilities like MySpace or their own site. Tomi Jenkins released his new album The Way and is working on a movie about a fictional 70's funkband called Icemosis. Charlie Singleton released a new album called Phantom Of The Hip-Hopera. Gregory Johnson has a new and jazz-oriented album. In 2009, John Kellogg was elected the first African-American President of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA).
Reuse of songs
"Word Up!" was covered by Nu metal band Ko?n on their Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Scottish rock band Gun, German "Country Trash Punk Rock"-Band The BossHoss, Melanie B, Electronic pop group These Stains Is Us and Romanian rock band Voltaj under the name "Hai sus!" (Get up!)
"Candy" was sampled by Tupac Shakur on his song "All Bout U", Will Smith on his song "Candy", by Mariah Carey on her song "Loverboy", by Eightball and MJG on "Just like Candy", and by Black Eyed Peas on their songs "Like That" and "Ba Bump" from their album "Monkey Business".
"Two of Us" was sampled by Beyonce Knowles on "What's It Gonna Be", and by Tupac Shakur on his song "I Wonder If Heavens Got a Ghetto".
"Rigor Mortis" was sampled by DJ Quik on his song "Get At Me", Brand Nubian on their song "Brand Nubian".
"She's Strange" was sampled by Tupac Shakur on his song "Young Niggaz", Nate Dogg on his song "She's Strange" and Suga Free on his song "So Fly" featuring Snoop Dogg and also the song "U Know My Name" with a sample of "Back and Forth". The production has also been interpolated on the Jermaine Dupri track titled 'Party Continues' featuring Usher and Da Brat on his album 'Life in 1472'.
"Back and Forth" was sampled by Wu-Tang Clan on their song "Gravel Pit".
The ballad "Hangin' Downtown" was sampled by Oran Juice Jones on his song "Make Love to Your Mind" and more famously by DJ Premier for Group Home's "Supa Star".
Speech sampled "I've Got Your Image" in one of his recent productions.
"Why Have I Lost You " was sampled by JUvenile on his song "Rodeo".
Use in multimedia
In October 2004 Candy appeared in popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, playing on Funk radio station Bounce FM, also on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, was Brand Nubian's "Brand Nubian", which samples "Rigor Mortis".
In the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy (Steve Carell) is shown performing "Word Up!" on a karaoke machine in his apartment. Jackpot, a film which follows a karaoke singer hoping to get his big break, features an androgynous man giving a scene-stealing performance of "Candy". Larry Blackmon and T-Man were also supposed to be featured as celebrity cameos (not as the band, Cameo) in the 2007 release of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres". Although they did not appear in the film itself, they are featured in the extras on the DVD. This footage shows them doing motion capture/CGI in order to be animated, as well as studio recording of the song written for the film.
The song "Candy" was also played during the wedding scene in the movie The Best Man.
The song "Word Up" is played in The Simpsons, season 20 episode 6 (titled "Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words") when Lisa Simpson is performing in a crossword competition.