Emerging in the early ‘70s with the talent and promise of impending commercial success, progressive rock band “Crack The Sky” never attained the heights of notoriety that the group had hoped for.
Praised by Rolling Stone magazine for their first self-titled record as “Debut Album of the Year” in 1975, Crack The Sky was often compared to Steely Dan. Their first three album releases, “Crack The Sky” (1975), “Animal Notes” (1976) and “Safety in Numbers” (1978) made the Billboard Top 200. Yet despite the band’s early success, a hit single eluded them and they were confined to regional success in pockets of the Northeast.
“I left college in the early ‘70s and I met Ricky Witkowski,” recalls founding member John Palumbo (vocals, guitars and keyboards) from his home in Moorestown, New Jersey. “I was writing songs and he asked if we could do some of my stuff with his band. It was a local cover band. We formed a three-piece band doing covers just to make a living. Ricky and I went to New York City and tried to get a record deal with our songs and we ended up getting a record deal. So, we just started playing and making records.”
“After we signed a record deal way back then,” adds Palumbo. “We got really great reviews and we started getting a cult following ‘cause the record company wasn’t big enough to get us all the way across the board. So, we got different pockets in Pennsylvania, Baltimore and few other places. Wherever the independent promotion guys were strong, we opened up a good following.”
In spite of their critical acclaim, disappointing record sales and a modest loyal following confined them to the ranks of a sought after opener rather than a headliner for a slew of name artists that included Styx, Rush, ELO, YES, ZZ Top, Supertramp, Frank Zappa and Boston.
“We opened up and shared the stage with just about everybody,” recalls Palumbo. “It’s probably easier to name the people we didn’t play with (laughs). We became the go to opener for a lot of people. So many wonderful bands, it was great. Most of them treated us kindly. A lot of people knocked us off the tour because we were actually better than them.”
Palumbo left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career. Lack of record label support, floundering record sales and distribution and contractual difficulties resulted in the disbanding of Crack The Sky’s remaining line-up by the end of the decade.
Reforming in the early ‘80s with a variety of original band members and new musicians, Crack The Sky was unable to secure any noteworthy success. In the decades to follow, the group released a variety of studio and live albums earning critical praise but little interest from the record buying public. Their success remained intact by a loyal cult following.
“I think the creativity defines what we do. We’re not really like anybody else,” says Palumbo. “We get tagged as being a prog band. We would have loved to have had a hit record and we’re still not giving up on that (laughs). I don’t know if that’s being an artist or just stupid. We still have the drive to keep growing with music. Luckily enough, we have fans that stick with us.”
As a follow-up, up to their last album release “The Beauty of Nothing” (2015), Crack The Sky is currently in the writing and recording phase of their untitled follow-up release.
We’re working on a brand-new album,” says Palumbo. “Pretty much all of us have a studio, everybody is in a different place. I’ll write a song and send it to Ricky in his studio and he’ll put his parts on it and the other guys will do the same and eventually we get a finished album. We’re talking to a couple record companies. It will probably be finished in about two months and hopefully released in the summer or fall.”
“I try not to live in the past. I try to just keep going forward,” adds Palumbo. “It’s difficult now. I wouldn’t wish a music career on anybody. With streaming and everything else, you don’t get paid. To make a living at it, I don’t think I would be able to make a living at it now. We were lucky enough to do it at a time where you could actually earn a living.”
Continuing to play sporadic concert dates in pockets of the U.S., Crack The Sky featuring, John Palumbo lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, Rick Witkowski - guitars, vocals, Joey D’Amico - drums, vocals, Bobby Hird - guitars, vocals, Glenn Workman - keyboards, vocals and Dave DeMarco - bass, vocals, thrives on the opportunities they are given to perform in front of their endearing fans.
“The fact that we aren’t on a record label that pressures us and we can do things on our own terms makes this more enjoyable than ever,” says Palumbo. “Since we don’t play that often it’s really a treat when we get out there and do it. We’ve talked about doing more dates. I think if we end up signing with a label they’re going to want us to go out more live so we would probably have to get on a tour with somebody. We’d be fine with that.”
“We want people to be entertained and nothing else,” says Palumbo. “If they are happy and they saw a good show and they walk away realizing it’s a terrific band, that’s good. I would like to say thank you to our fans. They’ve stuck with us for a long time. I’m satisfied with life. I am enjoying what we do more. When you’re younger you take a lot of stuff for granted. Now you look back on it and you say, ‘Boy, you really had a nice run.’ To be able to still do this, we’re very lucky indeed!”