Crack the Sky is a critically acclaimed progressive rock band that has been recording and performing since 1975. Known for their clever lyrics, skillful precision playing, and complex song structures they have built a cult following as a “smarter than average hard rock band”. Their lyrics, music, and energetic live performances have received high praise from the music writers of the New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, the Village Voice, People Magazine, the Miami News and other publications. Rolling Stone Magazine declared their first album the "debut album of the year in 1976 and compared the band to Steely Dan in the 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide. Like Steely Dan their song lyrics take on cultural issues painting richly imaged surreal situations with biting clever humor.
Over their 37 year career they have released 28 albums for their loyal fans. Six of their releases reached the Billboard Top 200. They have performed with Frank Zappa, Journey, Blue Oyster Cult, Styx, Supertramp, Rush, Foreigner, The Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, ZZ Top, Heart, Kansas, Edgar Winter, Pat Travers, Boston and other artists at venues across the U.S. and Canada.
Their music is not your grandfather's four chord 4-4 time same old rock and roll. Their songs are a fusion of progressive art rock and high speed funk taken on a wild ride of signature and tempo changes with rich harmonies and skillful tight instrumental playing. Within their compositions one hears the influences of Pink Floyd, Yes, the Beatles, King Crimson, James Brown, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Styx, Led Zepplin, and the Mahavushnu Orchestra. One song that illustrates their surreal lyrics, musical creativity, and fusion of sounds and rhythms is "Nuclear Apathy" from their 1978 album "Safety in Numbers". Their intense high speed funk chops are heard on the song "Is All We Know". The music of Crack the Sky is a treat for progressive rock connoisseurs.
Click here to enjoy a playlist of the music of Crack the Sky
‘A progressive rock quintet that attracted a good deal of favorable deserved attention. Like Kansas Crack the Sky "akes music akin to the British progressive rock band 10CC, Steely Dan and Sparks. The group’s ear for effective instrumental color is fresh and to the point. Crack the Sky's music holds up to its progressive competition - on either site of the ocean -very well indeed.” John Rockwell New York Times
“Existential Art Rock” – The Village Voice
“Definitely one of the finest new bands in years” – John Marlow Miami News Nov 24, 1976
“Crack The Sky’s Debut is Fresh and Satisfying…..Mr. Palumbo's lyrics, in which he imagines such things as a surfer's paradise overrun by sharks, echo the biting humor of Steely Dan”. - Stephen Holder the New York Times
“The band's sound, to this day, remains unique and original in its aesthetic, inhabiting uncharted territory by way of a grandness that at times is operatic in scope. Most called it prog-rock, but that seems too shallow, too limiting, for a band that falls somewhere between Pink Floyd and King Crimson.” – Rege Behe Pittsburgh Tribune Review
First Light of the Crack in the Sky
Crack The Sky formed in Weirton, West Virginia in 1973. The founding members of the quintet were songwriter and lead singer John Palumbo of Pittsburgh, guitarist Rick Witkowski of Weirton, guitarist Jim Griffiths, and Steubenville natives bassist Joey Macre and drummer Joey D’Amico.
John Palumbo after studying psychology for three years at Marshall University returned to Pittsburgh to pursue a music career. He took up the guitar and wrote his own songs. Hanging out in a music store one day he met guitarist Rick Witkowski. Witkowski, a veteran of several Pittsburgh area bands had released a local single and recorded a track with the Coasters. Palumbo showed Witkowski his notebooks full of original songs. Witkowksi team up with Palumbo to become co-writers and bandmates. Together in the early 1970s they formed the band called “Uncle Louie” that played tunes by David Bowie, T. Rex, and Mott The Hoople. They played cover tunes in Pittsburgh area clubs but worked on original material in their off hours.
Getting the Deal
Palumbo and Witkowski traveled to New York City in 1973 in hopes of being signed by a major label. One of Palumbo’s college roommates put them in touch with the new production company CashWest. Terry Cashman and Tommy West who had produced the hit records of Jim Croce used their profits to found CashWest Productions. Looking for new acts to produce Terry Minogue of CashWest auditioned the 22 year old Palumbo and the 20 year Witkowski who performed their original songs. Minogue, who said “They played some of the most beautiful music I ever heard in my life” urged Terry Cashman to sign them. Terry Cashman gave them a development deal and an advance to put a band together to record demos.
Palumbo and Witkoswki returned to Pittsburgh area to put together a new band that they christen “Arc Angel”. They recruited bassist Joe Macre, who in the late 1960s had played in the Steubenville based band “The Universal Joint” with Rob Parissi of future Wild Cherry / “Play that Funky Music” fame. They also brought in drummer Joey D’Amico who had played in the band Sugar with Joe Macre. Jim Griffiths was brought on board to be the second lead guitar. Together Witkowsk and Griffiths became a dynamite new guitar duo. In addition to his lead vocals Palumbo laid down the rhythm guitar sounds. The band made demo tapes and shopped them around. When several labels showed strong interest Cashman signed them to a record contract.
First Album Earns High Praise
Cashman and West decided to start the new record label Lifesong Records. They choose Palumbo and Witkowski’s band for the label’s premiere album release. The album was recorded in New York City. Lifesong brought in David Sanborn and the Brecker brothers to play horns on several of the album’s tracts. During the sessions the band brought a new rhythmic syncopation to progressive rock as heard on the recordings of "She's a Dancer”, “Ice” and the humorous “Surf City (Here Come The Sharks)". Traveling back to Weirton in an old van after a New York recording session, the band saw a flashing bolt of lightning crack the night sky and were inspired to take the name “Crack The Sky”. The album entitled “Crack the Sky” was released on Lifesong in 1975.
Rolling Stone Magazine gave the “Crack the Sky” album rave reviews writing pages about John Palumbo’s lyrics and declared it the debut album of the year for 1975. Two writers from the New York Times and the Village Voice praised the band. The songs Ice, Hold On/Surf City and She's A Dancer became cult hits heard on radio stations in Seattle, New Orleans, Buffalo, Rochester, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Richmond and Milwaukee. Larry Allen the music director at the free form Pittsburgh radio station WYDD-FM placed album in heavy rotation. But Lifesong Records being a new enterprise struggled to promote and distribute the Crack the Sky album inhibiting widespread national success. Records were not shipped to the regional markets where the album received significant airplay. Instead it was shipped to markets where the band was not being played. People who wanted to buy the album could not find it. Thus it never received sales that would increase its airplay. With its limited record distribution the album peaked at number 161 on the Billboard Top 200 in 1976.
Super Stardom in Baltimore
By accident a surplus of Crack the Sky albums was shipped to the Baltimore area where station WKTK was playing the album in heavy rotation. Sales boomed in Baltimore. Making their first appearance at the Four Corners club in Baltimore the fans welcomed them to the stage with a standing ovation and sang along with their songs. They became rock superstars on the Eastern Shore considered in the same light as Led Zeppelin. Baltimore became the home base for Crack the Sky. The Baltimore radio station, WIYY (98 Rock) continues to play their classic hits from the band and sponsers their show at Hammerjacks and other Eastern shore venues.
Hitting the charts again the Animal Notes
Crack the Sky released its second album “Animal Notes” in 1976 again earning favorable reviews. With dark bleak lyrics it did not have any radio ready singles limiting its airplay and sales. But it improved the band’s chart standing with a climb to 142 on the Billboard charts. Topping the charts in 1976 were Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” at number 3 and “Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” at no 6. What was working on radio at the time for harder rocking bands where simpler songs with a strong melody.
Lifesong and the other Crack the Sky members urged John Palumbo to write radio ready rock singles for the band’s third release. But Palumbo refused wanting to write complex art rock songs. He said he was not going to write nonsense lyrics like “Everybody clap your hands." After writing two songs, “Nuclear Apathy” and “Long Night” for their third album John abruptly quit the band and returned to Pittsburgh in 1978. Rick Witkowski, Joe Macre, and Jim Griffiths wrote 6 more songs including the more radio friendly cuts “Give Myself to You” and “A Night on the Town (With Snow White)” and “Ligthen Up McGraw”. They replaced Palumbo with vocalist Gary Lee Chappell and added guitarist Barry Siegfried and Pittsburgh keyboardist Vince DePaul to the roster. The album titled “Safety in Numbers” outdid the first two releases reaching 126 on the Billboard charts. To promote the album they opened for Heart's 1978 Dog and Butterfly tour.
Crack the Sky followed up with an album of live concert performances titled “Live Sky”. Rick Foss of All Music wrote “This album is a must-have for any fan of aggressive, prog rock, if only for the guitar solo of the William Tell Overture that finishes Surf City."
Crack’s the Sky’s deal with Lifesong was up for renewal at the end of 1978. The original deal paid the band members almost nothing in royalties and publishing. The label said the band owed them a ton of money on their advances. The label refused to increase their royalty rates. As they were making no money from Lifesong and Palumbo had left, the group disbanded. Lifesong issued “Classic Crack”, a greatest hits compilation in 1980.
Palumbo returned to school, earned a doctorate in psychology and started a private practice in Morristown, NJ. In 1979 Witkowski, Macre & D'Amico returned to Pittsburgh to form the B.E. Taylor Group with singer/songwriter Bill Taylor. They signed with Sweet City Records / MCA and released the album and “Innermission" in 1982 and "Love Won The Fight" in 1983. The single of "Vitamin L", written by Witkowski reached the Billboard's Top 100 chart. They release “Our World on Epic/CBS Records in 1986.
Come Back Deja Vu Redux
Crack the Sky made the first of a series of many reunions in 1980. Over the years 18 different musicians have recorded or performed in the various configurations of Crack the Sky. Palumbo, Witkowski and keyboardist Vince DePaul reformed the band in 1980 and released the album “White Music” on Lifesong. Palumbo gave in to write several radio ready singles including "All American Boy", "Skin Deep", "Techni Generation", and "Hot Razors in My Heart". Palumbo recorded again with VinceDePaul, Carey Ziegler, Michael Taylor and John Tracey, to release Photoflamingo on Lifesong in 1981. The group disbanded a second time in 1983.
Crack the Sky returned again in 1986 with Witkowski, DePaul, Ziegler, and D'Amico for a several live shows at Hammerjack's in Baltimore. They made other occasional reunion appearances in the Baltimore area in the late 1980s. In 1988 Crack the Sky comprised of Palumbo, Witkowski, DePaul and D'Amico released the album “From the Greenhouse” that reached 186 on the Billboard charts.
Crack the Sky released Dog City in 1990 which hit 196 on the Billboard Charts. They took a nine year break returning in 1996. Since 1996 they have released 15 albums that include new studio albums, live performances, and compilations.
In 2012 Crack the Sky is releasing the CD Osterich which is a collection of smirky satirical up tempo danceable pop/rock songs. They continue to perform live shows in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and other cities. With 28 albums they are a band high on the "Crack" of music who light up the sky for their long time loyal fans.