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Before bassist/singer/songwriter/producer Aaron Mills hit his teenage years, his father (a jazz saxophonist who once played with Lionel Hampton) was managing an eight-piece family band, The
Antiques, which played sold out shows and became the premier backing band whenever they came to his home town, Asheville, supporting touring soul acts like Sam & Dave and Joe Tex. Aaron and the group performed regionally, often for a whole weekend. Mills attended Asheville High School, where he played trumpet. Mills first professional tour was with Chuck Jackson, an R&B singer signed to Motown and Scepter Records. Aaron also recorded some songs with Willie Hobbs, a southern soul man he’d previously backed with The Antiques, which piqued his interest in session work. Mills refers to these opportunities as his “launching pad” to continue his work in the music business.
He came to Durham N.C. to attend North Carolina Central University where he met trumpeter Donald Byrd, who was starting a jazz program at the university. Byrd assembled a septet dubbed New Central Connection Unlimited (N.C.C.U.), a funky jazz ensemble with commercial aspirations. The group toured for a year behind its Super Trick album and single, both released by United Artists Records in 1977. N.C.C.U shared bills with Cameo, and Mills’ performance impressed founder Larry Blackmon, who invited him to join Cameo as its bassist. Blackmon flew Mills to New York the next day. Mills rehearsed with the band for four hours on a Tuesday, and he played his first Cameo gig in Cleveland 24 hours later. Cameo’s rhythm section-Mills on bass and Blackmon on drums-became one of its trademarks. Mills’ energetic nature helped fuel Cameo’s High energy shows. After five years in Cameo, Mills left in 1983 to form MCB with Cameo keyboardist Thomas “TC” Campbell and trombonist Jeryl Bright. Their sole release had limited success in the U.S. but did better internationally.
After MCB, Mills recorded a few singles for Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill label and eventually rejoined Cameo in 1985. This arrival coincided with the recording of Word Up, which shot Cameo into superstar status. The title track became a hit, peaking at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and follow up single “Candy” topped the R&B charts in 1987. The album reached platinum status and opened doors for collaborations with Miles Davis and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Though Cameo slowed from its one album per year pace of the ‘80s, they released a few albums over the last two decades and continued to tour. The band had just returned from Japan in 2000 when Aaron and Cameo’s sound engineer , Shy Boy ended up in the studio of Atlanta Hip-Hop duo OutKast to record a bassline for “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean,”.
Mills played bass for eight other tracks on “Stankonia” and “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” including Grammy-winning singles “The Whole World” and “Hey Ya!” Mills briefly toured with the group and gave Andre 3000 bass lessons. His connections through Organized Noize producer Rico wade led to sessions on Cee-Lo Green, Bubba Sparxxx and Gwen Stefani recordings. In 2006 Mills produced bluesman Bobby Hinton’s “Liquor House Roots” album and continued to record in the studio himself. In 2016 Mills had a residency at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas for over a year. Mills Continue to play in Church for two services 8 and 11 am at Durham’s MJT Ministries, whenever he’s off the road. Mills released his single “Independent” and the best is yet to come.