Producer, arranger, musician, songwriter and studio owner Tony Camillo died on Aug. 28, at the age of 90. A GoFundMe campaign is raising money for a memorial service, tentatively planned for Oct. 27; visit gofundme.com/tony-camillo-memorial-fund.
The Somerville native’s biggest claim to fame was co-producing Gladys Knight & the Pips’ 1973 No. 1 hit, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” whose music was recorded at his Venture Sound Studios in Hillsborough (vocals were added later, in Detroit). Camillo played keyboards and percussion on the track.
Other musicians he worked with included Dionne Warwick, Eric Carmen, The Stylistics, Dazz Band, Millie Jackson, Chambers Brothers, Peaches & Herb, Sha Na Na, Grand Funk Railroad, Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Martha Reeves, The Supremes, Parliament and Tommy James.
He also co-owned a record label, Venture, that had a Top 40 hit in 1982 with “Murphy’s Law,” by the duo, Cheri. And in 1975, he put together a group, Bazuka, that had a Top 10 novelty hit with “Dynomite” (see below), which he wrote and produced; it was inspired by the catchphrase of Jimmie Walker’s character, J.J., on the sitcom “Good Times.”.
Camillo “was one of the kindest, most talented and caring people I’ve ever met,” wrote Joe Stuby on Facebook. “He could give you a lifetime of knowledge in one short sentence, and he helped me tremendously at a time when I needed it the most.”
Camillo worked in Detroit and New York before building his own studio in Hillsborough (Somerset County).
“I was born to music,” Camillo told The Star-Ledger in 2004. “My family all told me that by the time I was 1 year old I could sing a song all the way through. When I was a little kid, I had a soprano voice, and I still remember my teacher, Mrs. Francis. She used to take me all over the state. She’d put me on a pedestal to sing. I used to make people cry. My mother would take me to the butcher shop, and the butcher always wanted me to sing for him. He’d put me up on a block and he’d say, ‘If you sing for me, I give your mama free meat.'”
He studied composition under Leonard Bernstein and also played trumpet in big bands and taught music before turning to his attention to pop and R&B.
“I went out and bought the Top 10 records at the time and listened to them all,” he said in the same Star-Ledger interview. “I thought, ‘This is stupid. I know I can do this as well or better.’ Then I started doing some arranging jobs.”
A message on the GoFundMe page reads: “He profoundly touched many of us in this life, and we would like to honor that life … in celebration and song. He was brilliant and generous and had a huge persona, but he was not good at finances! In order to honor him in the way he deserves, we will need help from his friends. Please contribute, and please come.”