Dave Appell, Songwriter for Chubby Checker, Dies at 92

Courtesy of Everett Collection
Appell (right) and The Applejacks performed in ‘Don’t Knock the Rock’ (1956).

He co-wrote 'Let’s Twist Again' and 'Limbo Rock' and produced for Tony Orlando and Dawn

Dave Appell, the Philadelphia songwriter-producer behind such 1960s rock ’n’ roll hits as “Let’s Twist Again” and “Limbo Rock” from Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time,” has died. He was 92.

Appell, who later produced the Tony Orlando and Dawn hits “Knock Three Times” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” died Tuesday, his family announced. He lived and had a studio — where he was still working into his 90s — in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Starting in the late 1950s, Appell was a mainstay for a decade at the Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway label, working with lyricist Kal Mann and songwriter-producer Bernie Lowe.

He and Mann wrote “Let’s Twist Again” — Checker’s gyrating follow-up to his wildly popular 1960 cover of “The Twist” — which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard charts in July 1961, then partnered for “Limbo Rock,” which made it to No. 2 the following September.

They also co-wrote the 1962 hits “Mashed Potato Time” and “Gravy for My Mashed Potatos” for Sharp, the Philadelphia-born R&B singer.

Appell co-wrote “Don’t Hang Up,” “South Street” and “The Wah Watusi” for The Orlons, “Wild One” and “Swinging School” for Bobby Rydell and “The Bristol Stomp” and “(Do The New) Continental” for The Dovells. He also arranged songs and played in the house band that backed up the label’s artists.

Appell produced “Knock Three Times” and the homecoming anthem “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” with Hank Medress at Bell Records. The songs were No. 1 sensations in 1971 and 1973, respectively.

“This guy was a musical genius,” producer and former Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat told the Philadelphia Daily News. “He was a beautiful human being. I was like a gofer for Cameo/Parkway, and I watched and studied Dave Appell.

“He had a very special sound. You can hear it in the music he wrote and produced at Cameo. But he was so humble. With all he accomplished, he was the humblest man I ever knew.”

Raised in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, Appell was the leader of the group The Applejacks, who recorded such Top 40 songs as “Mexican Hat Rock” and “Rocka-Conga” in the late 1950s.

He appeared with The Applejacks in Don’t Knock the Rock (1956), which also featured Bill Haley and the Comets, Alan Freed and Little Richard, and on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show and served as the musical director for television’s The Ernie Kovacs Show, broadcast from the City of Brotherly Love.

Survivors include his daughters Roz and Lynda and granddaughter Sara.

Contributions may be made to the American Heart Association or MusiCares.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4 

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