This brief history was copied and taken in part and by permission from the 40th Anniversary Edition CD insert written by Ed Salamon.
It is obvious that lead singer, Jimmy Beaumont, long ago achieved the hope that he once expressed for The Skyliners to be remembered as one of the best harmony groups of all time. The Skyliners created a new style of music by combining the streetwise harmonies of rhythm and blues groups like the The Moonglows and The Flamingos with the most sophisticated modern harmony style of The Four Freshman and The Hi Los. Just as important a factor in their longevity was the business partnership between lead vocalist Jimmy Beaumont and aptly named manager, Joe Rock, that kept the act commercially viable for over four decades. Except for Elvis manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and The Beatles Manager, Brian Epstein, there is perhaps no other manager whose name is more associated with a group.
In 1958, Jimmy, Wally Lester and Jack Taylor-who had been singing with Joe Rock’s group, The Cresents – combined with Joe Versharen and Janet Vogel from The ElRios, another vocal group from Pittsburgh’s South Hills. Joe Rock, then named them for jazz orchestra leader Charlie Barnett’s theme song “Skyliner”.
The Skyliners could have no better advocate than Joe Rock, an ambitious youth not much older than themselves, who was an industry insider with contacts gained from working as a promotion man for a local record distributor.
The song that would inspire their success was inspired when a secretary at a radio station that Joe was promoting, said that she didn’t want to date him anymore. While driving a few nights later, Joe conceived the words to the song and later Jimmy Beaumont provided the melody. Today, “Since I Don’t Have You” is regarded as the quintessential fifties ballad from standard pop.
The recording itself was a radical departure from teenage Rock and Roll. True to the groups vision of combining two different musical styles, The Skyliners’ blue eyed soul delivery is balanced by the lush string filled arrangement by Pittsburgher Lenny Martin. The same concept of introducing full orchestra arrangement to Rock and Roll would later prove successful for the Drifters(“There Goes My Baby”), The Duprees (“My Own True Love”) and Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” productions.
Legend has it that Janet ad libbed the song’s memorable ending in high C (after repeating thirteen “you’s”) as a joke during rehersals. The group liked it so much they made it a permanent part of their arrangement. More than a dozen labels rejected the song before it was released by a local Pittsburgh label, Calico Records.
Credit for “breaking” “Since I Don’t Have You” goes to deejay “Art Pallan of Pittsburgh’s leading pop station KDKA, but the other Pittsburgh stations were not far behind. Dick Clark was an early believer in the group and featured them on American Bandstand on Friday, February 13, 1959. By March of 1959, “Since I Don’t Have You” had spread from Pittsburgh to the national pop charts. The soulful delivery was appreciated even more by R&B radio resulting in greater success in the rhythm and blues Cashbox Magazine. It was the first single by a Caucasian group to hit #1 on the Cashbox R&B charts.
Alan Freed invited The Skyliners to New York to appear on his 1959 Easter stage show with Jackie Wilson, Fats Domino, and Bobby Darin. They also made 8 appearances at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Dick Clark took them on the road with his “Caravan of Stars” tour and featured them on Bandstand and his Saturday night television show numerous times.
In 1960, Calico released its first album, “The Skyliners”, containing twelve songs, including both sides of the group’s first two self-penned singles, ‘Since I Don’t Have You”, B/W “One Night, One Night”, and “This I Swear, B/W “Tomorrow” as well as another original, “Tired of Me”. The rest of the album was comprised of standards including “Zing Went The Strings of My Heart”, “If I Loved You”, and two songs led by Janet, “When I Fall In Love” and “I Can Dream Can’t I”. Two other standards from the album, “Pennies From Heaven”(inspired by The Clovers version) B/W “I’ll be Seeing You” would be chosen for the group’s fifth single. It was the Rock and Roll LP to break into the Top 50 Album chart.
In the interim, “Lonely Way” B/W “It Happened Today” and “How Much” B/W “Lorraine From Spain” were released. Their sixth and final Calico single was “Believe Me” B/W “Happy Time”. The remaining three Calico masters, “Stardust”, “Footsteps”, and “Blossoms To The Snow” were released years later on a compilation album.
Joe Rock remembered that the group was so well prepared for their recording sessions that there wasn’t much variation to their studio performances. The five outtakes preserved in their “40th Anniversary Edition CD” from their Calico sessions provide fans with a unique insight into the creative process.
Since their original release, most of the Calico masters have been kept available through Art Laboe and Paul Politi of Original Sound Records in Hollywood. Through their efforts this music has appeared in many motion pictures including “Leathl Weapon II”, “LaBamba”, “American Graffiti”, and more than a dozen others. These recordings also continually appear in TV shows and commercials.
In 1961, The Skyliners moved to the larger Colpix label, the recording division of Columbia Pictures, and continued their practice of recording standard established songs like, “Close Your Eyes”, “The Door Is Still Open” (Both written by “The King Of The Stroll”, Chuck Willis). These two songs were backed with original material written by Joe Rock and Jimmy Beaumont for Janet.
The Skyliners recorded “Comes Love”(written by Pittsburgh singer/songwriter Johnny Jack a close friend of the group) for the local Viscount Label. It was backed by “Tell Me”, a song that Jimmy liked so much he also released it as a solo artist on Bang Records. Both sides received a lot of airplay in the Pittsburgh area and “Comes Love” became a collector’s favorite. “Tell Me”, which Rock/Beaumont also wrote, was Jimmy’s mother’s favorite Skyliner record. By 1963 the group had signed with Atco Records which released their version of the standard “Since I Fell For You”. Although Lenny Welch was to have the national hit with his version that year, the flip side of The Skyliners record, “I’d Die”, was re-discovered in the mid-70′s by 13-Q Radio deejay, Don Bombard (Now known as Bob Shannon on WCBS ÐFM in New York) and has become one of their most requested releases.
By the early sixties, the group was growing tired of the road and decided to take a hiatus from the business. Jimmy Beaumont continued to record and perform as a single act. Joe Rock continued to write songs, notably with Otis Redding(“Dreams To Remember”) and managed other artists including, the Jaggerz(“The Rapper”).
In 1965, Jack Taylor, with Joe Rock’s permission, fronted a Skyliner group which recorded “The Loser” on Jubilee Records. This soulful ballad, written by Taylor and Rock, became a much played slow dance at Pittsburgh area record hops and charted Top 40 nationally both Pop and R&B.
In the late sixties, interest in the roots of Rock and Roll began to become evident. Promoter Richard Nader was selling out Madison Square Garden with his Rock and Roll Revival Shows. “Grease” became a hit Broadway show, and the first oldies radio stations were established. (Ironically, in the ’90′s, “Since I Don’t Have You” was added to the hit Broadway revival of “Grease” as the big ballad)
Jimmy, Janet(a housewife), Wally(a Clairol Corp executive) and Joe(an insurance salesman) still managed by Joe Rock, re-formed The Skyliners, but refused to be an oldies act. Although they performed their original hits, they continued to explore new material in The Skyliner style.
In 1974 their Capitol recording of “Where Have They Gone” became a Number 1 hit on the Pittsburgh Top 10 radio. Unbelievably, it only reached the lower strata of the national charts. Legendary Doc Pomus co-wrote that tune, which was backed by a song written by the equally impressive team of Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin.
“Where The Action Is” veteran, Steve Alaimo, produced the the group’s 1976 release “The Day The Clown Cried”, a great example of how The Skyliners continued to adapt their style to current music.
On January 1, 1976, Wally Lester and Joe Verscharen retired permanently from The Skyliners. On February 21st, 1980, tragedy struck the group. Janet was found in her car, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. Jimmy and Joe kept the group going over the years with a current lineup of Nick Pociask, Bass, Baritone and 2nd Tenor, Rick Morris, First Tenor and the incredibly talented and beautiful Donna Groom and of course, Jimmy Beaumont.
In recent years, The Skyliners accomplished a practically impossible feat by creating not one, but two Christmas standards. The groups version of the Beaumont/Rock compositions “You’re My Christmas Present” and “Another Lonely New Year’s Eve” are not only heard across America each holiday season, but have been included on a number of holiday compact disc collections.
I’ve been fortunate to be a part of those forty years. As a pre-teen Rock and Roll fan from the South Hills of Pittsburgh I considered the The Skyliners “local heroes”. In 1961 , at the age of thirteen, I snuck backstage during KQV appreciation day at Westview Park to meet Jimmy Beaumont and he treated me as an equal. Later when I had my own group, I met Joe Rock who made sure we made a safe exit from a particularly rough dance appearance. When I produced my first radio special “The Pittsburgh People” for KDKA in 1970, I got to know the rest of The Skyliners, Wally, Joe and Janet. In 1993, of was quite an honor to join The Skyliners in Nashville as they received an ASCAP Award for five million plays of “Since I Don’t Have You”.
And now, I join with their thousands of fans to congratulate Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners and Joe Rock on 40 years of still creating music that make history.
President/Programming, Westwood One