DEAR JERRY: I grew up in Chester Heights, Pa., but the Top 40 station we listened to was WAMS 1380, from Wilmington, Del.
One instrumental on their early '60s playlist was referred to as “Let's Go Down the River Nile.”
I am trying to put together a collection of tunes from those days, but this “Nile” one has me stumped.
Can you help?
Mike Scarpini, Philadelphia
DEAR MIKE: You have the right river, but the title has neither invitation nor navigational details. It is simply “River Nile,” by LEROY and His Rockin' Fellers (Cameo 194).
This fine instrumental, “River Nile,” definitely got some spins in the tri-state area where you lived, though it did not make the national charts.
Still, it didn't go completely unnoticed by Billboard. They awarded it three stars, out of a possible four, in their New Singles Reviews for the week October 9, 1961, adding it had “moderate sales potential.”
Surprising to collectors is how rare this recording is, in any configuration, and that no one has seen a commercial Cameo (red and black label) copy, despite being a regional hit in a populous area. Only black-and-white (promotional) copies are known.
Curious about the story behind this, I wanted to locate either LeRoy or one of his Rockin' Fellers.
Thanks to some fortuitous events, plus valuable assistance from David Tourison, we eventually heard from LeRoy (Lee Schappell).
Not only does Lee answer my long-standing Cameo label question, but he reminisces fondly about the ups and downs typical of a teenage band pursuing their passion:
DEAR JERRY: Wyoming cowpoke Dave Tourison informs me you been looking for information about our band.
LEROY and His Rockin' Fellers recorded both sides of Cameo 194 in the Spring of 1961: “River Nile” and “The Unfinished Fifth.”
I played lead guitar; George Biddle played rhythm guitar; Bill Dougherty was our drummer, and Ken Hipple played alto sax.
Our manager, Jimmy Myers (a.k.a. Jimmy DeKnight), previously managed Bill Haley and His Comets, but we unfortunately entered the picture a few years too late to be a part of that scene.
As for the record, Cameo only pressed them with black-and-white labels, ones customarily made for dee jays and promotional purposes. Ours were indeed used as promos, but because they were not marked as “For Promotional Use Only” Cameo also distributed them to retail stores.
We never knew how many they pressed, but none had Cameo's normal black-and-red commercial label. We soon learned why.
“River Nile” got decent exposure in eastern Pennsylvania, south Jersey, and Delaware. We did a lot of radio station events and record hops to promote our record.
Regrettably, we never got a cent from Cameo-Parkway. When royalties were due, they said “no records were sold.”
Here's the catch: black-and-white issues never earned royalties because they were supposed to be used only for promotion, and since Cameo didn't make any with red-and-black labels, they claimed no sales for them and no royalties for us.
We were just 17, and excited beyond description. We trusted far too much and in the end got squat. In that regard, we were neither the first band nor the last.
“River Nile” did make the charts on a few radio stations in the area, including WMLP (Milton-Lewisburg, Pa.); WRAW (Reading, Pa.); and WAMS (Wilmington, Del.). Seems it was a dee jay favorite when they needed music to fill in until “news at the top of the hour.” They preferred instrumentals for this purpose because, unlike vocals, they can be faded-out when necessary.
We also appeared live on a Bandstand-type show on WNEP-TV in northeastern Pa.
Overall, it was a real blast for four kids fresh from 11 years in a boys' home. Suddenly we were on the road for that whole summer, playing rock and roll. We were living the “American Graffiti” life. What wonderful innocence!
Lee Schappell, Reading, Pa.
IZ ZAT SO? So where are His Rockin' Fellers now? LeRoy knows:
“I believe Bill is still in North Philly, probably retired by now; George builds and repairs boats in Marina Del Rey, Calif.; Ken is probably somewhere in Florida; and I'm still here in Reading. Now I'm with the New Earth Band, making rough-cut, organic country gospel music.
“Oh yes, Cameo's studio bassist laid down the bottom on our sessions because our bassist, Ted Wolff, headed west. I have not seen Dr. Wolff in 45 years, but I know he is a college professor.”