Music Preview: Band from '70s takes another crack at fame
July 16, 2008 4:00 AM
"As I talked to different guys in the band, I realized everyone was of the same mindset. Everyone was saying, 'I wish I could just play.' So we said, 'Well, why not?' " John Palumbo, center, says of reuniting with his Crack the Sky bandmates.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
John Palumbo of Crack the Sky has just been asked if it was difficult back in the mid-'70s to garner so much critical acclaim and then not follow it with commercial success.
"Oh, it was easy to not follow with commercial success. That wasn't hard at all," he says with a laugh, then adds, "It was not so difficult as it was frustrating. A big part of that was I couldn't understand why people wanted to hear stuff that just sounded the same. When we were active, there were things like Foreigner and all the corporate rock stuff. The radio played like 20 songs and 19 of them sounded the same."
While a lot of those bands are still around, playing county fairs and rib fests, Crack the Sky is also back for another shot.
Crack the Sky
Where: New Hazlett Theater, North Side.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
More information: 412-323-1919.
The band, which performs at the New Hazlett Theater Saturday, formed in Weirton, W.Va., in 1975 and got off to a great start. Rolling Stone declared its first record "debut album of the year" and compared the band to Steely Dan. Unfortunately, Crack the Sky was the first experiment for Lifesong Records, and the distribution was so bad, it was hard to find a copy of it.
After a second record, Palumbo left for a solo career, and the rest of the band -- Rick Witkowski (famed producer and guitarist), Joey D'Amico, Joe Macre and Jim Griffiths -- carried on for a third album with a new singer before several of them went off to join the B.E. Taylor Group.
Throughout the '80s and '90s, there were various Crack the Sky reunions with various members and replacements and a handful of records added to the discography.
During that stretch, Palumbo, who's based in Morristown, N.J., found time to get his doctorate in psychology and start a private practice. "And it kind of sizzled me," he says. "I found I was really enjoying myself when I went down to the studio and did that stuff. I just said, 'This is silly to just not enjoy life at this point.' As I talked to different guys in the band, I realized everyone was of the same mindset. Everyone was saying, 'I wish I could just play.' So we said, 'Well, why not?' "
For this current reunion, everyone is on board except Griffiths, who is a pilot in California. The others are scattered around the country, making it tricky to rehearse. But, Palumbo says, "The band, with regard to the ability to play, has only gotten better. They're completely solid, because no one ever stopped playing. It wasn't, like, 'Hey, I need to break my drums out after 20 years.' "
With fresh energy for the band, last year Crack the Sky released "The Sale," a rock record with jazz and funk elements themed to the struggles of average people in post-9/11 America.
"I'm looking in anger at why things are so unfair," Palumbo says. "There are a handful of people that basically say here's what's going to happen, and no one even knows who those people are. The citizenry have pretty much nothing to say about it. We're just led around and told what they believe we should know."
Musically, Crack the Sky was once considered a "progressive rock band," but Palumbo doesn't think the term really applies given what that genre now entails.
"From the beginning, I've really just considered us a rock 'n' roll band that strived to be different. Our focus was, let's take every song and put music around it that points to the song. If that took jumping into some funk thing or a time signature change, then we would just do that -- which," he says laughing, "is probably why we never had a single."