By Kat Bein
By Shea Serrano
By S. Pajot
By Terrence McCoy
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After a change of name to the more manageable Cameo, the group landed a record deal with Clinton's Chocolate City imprint and had a modest hit on the R&B chart with their 1977 debut single "Rigor Mortis." A slew of singles and albums followed, all in the same wiggy-funk vein, but in 1982 Cameo relocated to Atlanta and re-emerged two years later as a three-piece with a new label (Polygram's Atlanta Artists affiliate) and a number-one hit on Billboard's R&B chart ("She's Strange," also the group's first Top 50 pop hit).
In 1986 Blackmon wrote the song that would become Cameo's signature -- "Word Up," a huge crossover success built around a drawling Blackmon vocal, relentless synth riffs, and a serpentine melody borrowed from Ennio Morricone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." The album of the same name yielded a second hit, "Candy," but burnout from a rigorous touring schedule set in, and as rap began to dominate the R&B charts, Cameo's driving pop-funk fusions became passe. Although the group continued to record, a three- year hiatus from the road gave Blackmon time to freelance as a producer for Miles Davis, Eddie Murphy, and Bobby Brown, and in 1992 he was recruited to work as an A&R rep for Warner Bros. He quit two years later and set up the Way 2 Funky label for Cameo's 1994 release In the Face of Funk, a solid but unsuccessful effort.
"The problem with having hit records is when you make a new one people always ask, 'Will it sound like what you did [in the past]?'" says Blackmon, who is juggling his duties at HOT 105 with studio work on a new Cameo album to be released this fall. "But if you look at Cameo's history, we have always had an eclectic nature and the songs were always different, from reggae to ballads to other things. I'm not trying to make a record for today's music market. I'm trying to make a record for tomorrow's music market, and that's how Cameo's always been -- progressive musically. Today's real big artists give in to the popular sound of today. It just sounds as if they're making records to fit in with what they think is going on today. There was a time when Michael [Jackson] would release a record that would take us somewhere else and you'd think: 'Wow, that's really nice and new.' And then everyone starts to cave. I am not going to cave."
Nor is he looking to return to his hectic schedule of the mid-Eighties. He's working at his own pace, looking for success on his own terms. "Things have slowed down a great deal, and that's good," Blackmon states. "You can see all the imperfections, even in your personal life, that you can attend to and you can have a little peace. If I were as successful as I'd like to be, I wouldn't be able to go much of anyplace or do anything. So I'm enjoying this time, preparing myself for where I want to be. And if I can make a living doing what I'm doing and having fun, everything else will take care of itself.