To many people, Cameo and Swan were the same company. Indeed, the labels shared office space in the same Locust Street building in the late 1950s and Swan’s first LP release — Treasure Chest of Hits — included just five songs that were Swan singles while including six Cameo releases and Teenage Prayer by Gloria Mann, an oldie originally released on Bernie Lowe’s Sound label.
Further muddling the issue were the labels’ relationships to songwriters and producers Frank Slay and Bob Crewe. The duo were working as independent operators when they wrote and recorded Silhouettes by the Rays on Slay’s XYZ Records. They later placed the song with Cameo, where it became a big national hit.
An ad for Cameo, Swan and XYZ records in Billboard on January 20, 1958, boasted “All the Big Hits Under One Roof” while adding that all three labels were distributed nationally by Bernie Lowe.
Slay and Crewe went on to record a New York duo they had crafted after the early pop group Mickey and Sylvia. The new pairing — veteran journeyman trumpet player Billy Ford and teen-age singer Lillie Bryant — was a musical odd couple, but Slay and Crewe had concocted a catchy little tune for their debut release.
Lowe was less than impressed, though, allowing Bernie Binnick to snatch up the recording for Swan. Thus, La Dee Dah became one of the label’s earliest hits and Slay and Crewe began what would be a long and fruitful relationship with Swan.
Although Dick Clark had no official business connection to Cameo, he and Cameo founder Lowe were business partners in Chips Distributing and Mallard Pressing Corporation, a South Philadelphia record manufacturing facility they incorporated in May 1958 after obtaining it from Morris Ballen of Gotham Records.
Clark’s connection to Swan was more direct. He owned half of the label, with Tony Mammarella and Bernie Binnick owning the rest. Since the label debuted in late 1957, it had already had national hits with La Dee Dah and Click Clack by Dicky Doo and the Don’ts. While both songs received extensive air play on American Bandstand, Clark’s connection to Click Clack was even more extensive.
One of the song’s co-writers, Gerry Granahan, was a disc jockey in Pittston, Mass., who failed to click under the name of Jerry Grant as an Elvis clone for Atlantic Records before he was inspired during a New York subway ride to write Click Clack. Granahan, who sometimes appeared on the Philadelphia-only portion of Bandstand, took the song to Clark.
Clark liked the tune and suggested Granahan record it as Swan’s first single. Since Granahan was under contract to another label, Tony Mammarella suggested he record it under the name Dicky Doo, Clark’s pet name for his young son. Thus, Dicky Doo and the Don’ts was born.
Excerpted from Bandstandland © 2014 Larry Lehmer