Cameo's Good Omen
By David Nathan
After years of working on the road, keeping a good ear to what people want, Cameo have well and truly arrived with their "Secret Omen" album
After three albums, a number of hit singles and a considerable amount of time touring across the USA in the last three years, it's pretty safe to assume that with the immediate action that their latest album "Secret Omen" has encountered, Cameo have well and truly arrived! Group mentor and leader Larry Blackmon (producer of the group, whose hits have included "Rigor Mortis", "Funk, Funk" and "It's Serious") is not surprised: "The only thing that surprises me with "Secret Omen" is that so many people are only just waking up to the potential of what we can do. It's great because finally we're getting some recognition from the media but we've been busy working at getting the right kind of following with audiences since we started working on the road a few years ago."
Certainly, the success of Cameo's product is largely the result of the time they've spent pleasing audiences across the country on tour with folk like Parliament-Funkadelic, Mother's Finest and others. Although their first two albums yielded hits for the group, the third set, "Ugly Ego" didn't make quite the same impression. "It's hard to say exactly why the album didn't do as well," comments Larry, "but maybe it had something to do with the way we recorded it — out in L.A. And then we were listening to people tell us to gear it one way, gear it another. We knew we didn't want to sell the group cheap by doing pure disco — and we didn't, although it was released at a time when we seemed to be caught in the middle of a change in musical tastes. But, you know, it worked out OK because I felt filled with the same sense of frustration I had when we did our first album and it didn't take off right away. It was like a challenge all over again and the group were just determined that this album, "Secret Omen" would be the one!
"We knew it had to be super, it had to be dynamite and we knew what formula was needed musically to make that happen. The key we felt was variety and it seems to have worked." Judging from the public's acceptance of the album, that's exactly what has happened with tracks like "Energy" and "I Just Wanna Be" getting strong airplay as well as "Find My Way" which was featured in the movie, "Thank God It's Friday". Explains Larry, "The song was actually on the first Cameo album,", "and we did it for the movie. I decided that since people seemed to respond to it so well we should just re-cut it all over again, with strings, the whole thing." Although Cameo has enjoyed success with a couple of ballads (notably "It's Serious" during 1978), there's only one on "Secret Omen" "although we actually cut two, this one fitted in with the music we were doing on the album more — so we saved the other one."
Strange as it seems, Cameo have been regarded as a funk group almost since their inception. "That's so weird because that's not really what we are!" smile Larry. "People think because we played on the tour with P-Funk that that's where we're coming from — but it isn't. And then the record "Funk Funk" probably didn't help that either. We don't say we're not funky, but we won't say we're just a funk band. We don't want a particular label because if we have one and decide to do something a little different, everyone's going to say we're changing up on them!"
Larry feels that through their many excursions on the road, the group have built a strong and loyal following and he's grateful for that. "We've spent about nine months out of every year on the road but maybe next year, we'll be able to cut down a little. We're just getting ready to go out again with The O'Jays and The Jones Girls and we'll also be doing a few dates with The Bar-Kays and we expect to be on the road until December."
Larry predicts that a major New York date is probable soon since the group haven't played the Big Apple since they began! "We just didn't have that one record that New York radio would play although "Rigor Mortis" did real well. So we've waited until the right situation came up and we're positive that we will be playing somewhere in the Big Apple soon." Likewise, Cameo are aware of the importance of playing overseas. "We plan to really get everything off the ground here first and then we'll definitely be paying serious attention to overseas markets because we want to be a truly international group." Larry feels that the group's current acceptance has a whole lot to do with the philosophy of "giving people what they want. You have to keep giving people good music so that they have the confidence to go out and buy your records when they come out. We get a chance to rap with DJs and people across the country when we're on the road and that helps us to keep tuned in to what the public is looking for. Plus we put a lot of emphasis on visuals in our live show."
Larry says that he still enjoys performing "although I'm sure I'll be spending more time in the studio next year. We start work on a new album after Christmas and later in the year, next year, we'll probably get involved in some other production work with other acts. Naturally, I'm looking forward to the day when we won't have to work on tour quite as much because it is exhausting, even though it's enjoyable."
Larry has an additional reason for wanting to spend more time at home now since his wife just gave birth to a son, Nile ("because the river's long and mysterious!") Lawrence and Larry claims that "he definitely looks like he's gonna be involved in something creative!" Although Larry has lived for the last few years in New Jersey, Nile was actually born in Atlanta which is where he based himself for the summer. "It was real nice being there, a change of pace, different surroundings and so on — a really interesting place," he comments. The future holds quite a few exciting things for Cameo. "We now feel we're no longer considered the 'underdogs'! The record company is really behind us and we feel that "Secret Omen" has definitely opened doors. For instance we're doing national television for the first time — "Soul Train" and so on. We expect to make it to headline status within the next year and we're determined now that we've gotten some serious action to keep up the momentum."
Larry says that the group "won't be predictable — following the same old patterns all the time. We'll keep our perspective on what people want and hopefully, they'll see just what we can do." He feels that in time "people will go back and hear some of our work to date and see that for instance on the "Ugly Ego" album, we were doing different kinds of things."
Meanwhile, "Secret Omen" continues to move up ("we came up with all kinds of names for the album but that seemed to match what was happening and it's been just that") putting Cameo where they belong — on top!