Thanks to a couple of Forgotten Hits Readers, (Thank You Again, Rich and Mamie!!!), Frannie and I were invited to take a private tour of these facilities a couple of years ago. The musical history recorded inside those walls is unparalleled ... what Motown was to Detroit, Cameo / Parkway and then later Philadelphia International Records were to the city of Philadelphia ... they truly created "The Sound Of Philadelphia" that came out of ALL of our radios back in the '60's and '70's.
A fire Sunday (February 21) caused extensive damage to the Philadelphia studios used by Parkway Records to record Chubby Checker's "The Twist" as well as Cameo Records artists like Bobby Rydell and later the Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff-owned Philadelphia International artists, including "TSOP" by MFSB and "When Will I See You Again" by the Three Degrees. One man was rescued from the building with minor injuries and firemen said that even though they had to cut a hole in the roof to battle the blaze, every effort was made to spare the memorabilia-- including gold records-- inside. The building is not designated as a landmark and there has been speculation about building a high-rise on the site.
As you may have heard, a fire tore through the iconic Gamble & Huff-founded Philadelphia International Records studios and offices at Broad and Spruce — a place where such legends as Teddy Pendergrass, Chubby Checker, Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, and many others have recorded songs — early Sunday morning. The good news is that PIR’s thousands of master tapes are stored in a “secret underground vault” in a different location, PIR executive vice president Chuck Gamble (Kenny’s nephew) tells KYW1060, so the damage was certainly minimized.
The fire is considered suspicious in nature; one man who was found in the building at the time of the blaze is hospitalized and being questioned. Says Gamble: “It appears that someone has broken into the building. They couldn’t get through our fire escape. That was secure. The doors were secure. They would have to come through the roof, and somehow get from the roof into our building. Probably in the wee hours of the morning. Probably around, closer to 7 when the fire happened.”
The fire, which started just before 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, ignited on the third floor. An unknown man was treated for burns, but was released uncharged. Officials aren’t quite sure how the man had gotten into the building, and neither does co-owner Kenny Gamble, who said the man had no business with the company or any of the owners and went on to add that the venue is normally locked down like “Fort Knox”.
As for damage, several gold and platinum records had been destroyed, but the identity of those hadn’t yet been discerned. The owners assured that the company’s 10,000 masters are fine, however, as they are stored safely in a secondary facility. The studio had suffered some damage, but employees mentioned most of it was soot from smoke damage.
In the meantime, temporary offices have been set up elsewhere and has been fielding calls of support from across the globe. Fire officials have began an investigation and a ruling could be made as early as this week. While no cause has been named, Fire Commissioner Lloyd M. Ayers said the blaze was “suspicious.”
Here's Frannie and I inside the plush studio, sharing a microphone that recorded countless hit vocals over the year ... and me sitting in a chair in the very room where the #1 Billy Paul Hit "Me And Mrs. Jones" was written.
I'm hoping that some of the artists integral to this musical scene will share their memories with our readers in the days to come. Ironically, there's a Cameo / Parkway Reunion Tour going right now, featuring Charlie Gracie, The Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp and The Tymes. Charlie Gracie Jr. files this report:
HISTORIC CAMEO-PARKWAY SHOW NEARLY SOLD OUT -- THANK YOU!
CHARLIE GRACIE, DEE DEE SHARP, THE TYMES and THE ORLONS, drew nearly a strong house (300-plus) at CANNSTATTER'S CRYSTAL BALLROOM in Northeast Philadelphia (2/13) despite record-breaking snowfalls throughout a week which was not so ... "Wonderful, Wonderful!" Those who attended witnessed a dynamic and rare combination of Rock 'n' Roll, Doo Wop, Rhythm & Blues and Soul --- performed by four legendary acts known around the world ... and still the pride of the Philadelphia! If you missed this one ... look for another -- perhaps this spring! THANKS AGAIN!
I remember my father Hy telling me how he got a call from Bernie Lowe early in Cameo / Parkway's history, and that they were just about to record this new group called the 'Rays'
Hy was very popular and dominated AM radio in the 50's and 60's, so naturally. if you were involved in recording music and you got Hy Lit to play it, you probably had a hit on your hands. Needless to say when Hy was on the air it was a venerable circus of promotion men at the radio station, each trying to top one another with prods and perks to entice Hy to play their record first. There was always new music coming out and such was the dawn of Rock n Roll.
Keen-O-Sabe reached the top 20 nationally. The flip side of the 45 was called Broad Street. Marmaduke records was quickly bought by United Artists when Keem-O-Sabe charted.
We'll be sharing more of your comments in the days to come. Got a memory or two to share with our readers? Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.