If there is a family tree of funk, Cameo is entwined in its roots, their angular synthesizers and smooth-snapping bass flowing upward into the branches. Formed in 1974 by Larry Blackmon—a former Julliard music student turned codpiece-wearing frontman—this wild, party-starting, dance floor-filling New York City funk band has a legacy of R&B and pop hits, including “Candy,” “Rigor Mortis” and “Word Up!”
And we’ve got them. All through this summer, Cameo is doing a residency at the Westgate, and fans are packing the house—including a few famous devotees such as Craig Robinson and Hannibal Buress. Recently, Vegas Seven spoke to Blackmon about singing, being sampled and a lifetime of making music.
How do you like the residency? How does it compare to touring?
Actually, we prefer this, because we know where we’re working tomorrow and there’s a lot less travel involved. We’ve been welcomed so warmly. I mean, you don’t have a crystal ball, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but we negotiated for over a year on this and it may be one of the best things we’ve ever done.
When did you first fall in love with music?
From the time I was 5. My aunt took me to the Apollo Theater a great deal. She would take me to see Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and all these guys I never knew would be such icons in the industry—I’m 5 years old. But over the years, it became a habit. Getting bitten by the music bug was natural. Then, going into high school, I got involved in the drum and bugle corps; I took music classes and orchestra, and it just evolved from there. I put my first group together when I was about 14, in junior high.
Along with being a musician and songwriter, you’ve performed other roles in the music industry—producer, A&R. Has that experience helped you survive in the business?
There’s always a part to play in those different categories—A&R, production, this and that—and it only expands your realm of possibilities. You really have to be dedicated in this industry, no question about it. And when it becomes a profession, you’ll be looking to improve what you’re doing, or to bring different aspects to the situation to keep you excited and motivated. But I enjoy it—I don’t smell the roses that often, but that’s only out of habit. When you’re actually doing it, you’re not thinking about smelling roses; you’re thinking about accomplishing what you’re trying to accomplish.
You have a very distinctive vocal style. Did you develop it naturally, or was it a conscious choice?
With songs, you look at them more or less as a script and you decide what voice would work for this particular character in the song. So we became song stylists. Some people are born with gifted voices, but for those of us who aren’t Mariah Carey … [laughs]. We wrote songs that fit our genre of music, and the attitude we wanted to convey. So we were looking for different ways, different techniques, and that (vocal style) seemed to fit in with what we wanted to accomplish.
You’ve been sampled by artists from Boyz II Men to the Beastie Boys, from Tupac to Girl Talk. Are you OK with it?
As long as they pay, it’s fine. But I have a lot of opinions about certain aspects of music. For instance, if it’s a rap artist who’s sampling and including the compositions of others in his music, and he gets paid the same royalty rate as people who create original compositions, then I don’t think that’s fair.
I had a conversation with Bonnie Raitt—I was changing flights in Cincinnati on my way someplace and we ran into each other. She felt the same way. The industry has its position, but we thought that was wrong because if you create completely original compositions, why should that royalty rate be the same for someone who includes anyone else’s material in what they are deeming as an original composition?
So, if Cameo gets everyone out on the dance floor, who gets you out on the dance floor?
[Laughs.] The last place I’m thinking of going is on the dance floor. Not that I have any problem with the music. I enjoy the music—anyone, any place, anything. But if someone asks, “Do you go to the club?” … You don’t understand: I grew up in clubs, playing music in clubs for others. My motivation wasn’t the club; it was the music, and making others feel good while playing and performing. I enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves, by all means, but don’t expect to see me out there.
7 p.m. Thu-Sun at the Westgate Cabaret, $69-$129, 702-732-5111, WestgateResorts.com.