Dave Appell worked as an arranger, producer, and musician in Philadelphia, in the 50s. The name Dave Appell will probably be associated first of all with the Cameo-Parkway label, in the history of which he played a substantial part. He started working as an arranger for several US Navy big bands in the mid-40s during his service in World War II, including Jimmie Lunceford’s black orchestra. He later arranged for dance orchestras, including Benny Carter and Earl “Fatha” Hines. He recorded for a while on Decca Records as the Dave Appell Four, until Paul Cohen of Decca suggested he change the group name to the Applejacks. Appell also became a publisher, joining ASCAP in 1955, collaborating with Max Freedman.
He appearing prominently in the 1956 Alan Freed film Don’t Knock the Rock and worked for a while as the studio band and music director on the Ernie Kovacs TV and radio shows in Philly. Next Appell and the Applejacks were playing in Las Vegas, but they soon began to pine for their hometown and returned to Philly, where they started working for Cameo Records, a label founded by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe. Appell became a jack-of-all-trades at Cameo, doing background vocals, session work as a guitarist, engineering, arranging, and producing. One of the first things he and his group did for Cameo was backing John Zacherle on his Top 10 hit “Dinner With Drac.”
In the summer of 1958, Appell got an idea for a song from the Philadelphia String Band of a marching-type song with a dance beat. He wrote an instrumental song called “The Mexican Hat Rock,” a jumped-up version of the old “Mexican Hat Dance,” that he had his studio band record. The song was released under their own name on Cameo that fall and became a big dance hit on “American Bandstand”, reaching # 16 on the charts. The Applejacks also charted with “Rocka-Conga” (# 38) later in the year.
Appell went on to become the leader of Cameo-Parkway’s house band, backing such artists as Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, the Dovells, Dee Dee Sharp, and the Orlons, whose records he also arranged and in many cases produced and co-wrote with Kal Mann, like “The Twist,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “The Bristol Stomp,” “Mashed Potato Time,” and “South Street.” These were the years of the twist and other dance crazes, in the launching of which Appell played a vital role. Appell left Cameo in 1964.
In the 70s he had great success with his productions for Tony Orlando and Dawn, including the # 1 hits Knock Three Times (1970) and Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree (1973), on Bell Records in New York. Appell’s co-producer was Hank Medress, who had been a founding member of the Tokens in 1956 and also sang in the reformed Tokens of The Lion Sleeps Tonight fame.