This I Swear : The Skyliners©2006JCMarion

It was during the late nineteen fifties in the city of Pittsburgh that two of that city’s top personalities in the development of the local music scene – Porky Chedwick and Joe Rock – were part of the process that produced the group that became The Skyliners. It had been a combination of two vocal acts known as The Crescents and The El Rios that gave the new group the lineup of lead singer Jimmy Beaumont, Wally Lester, Joe Versharen, Janet Vogel, and Jack Taylor. Rock came up with their new name taken from a forties big band hit by the Charlie Barnett Orchestra called “Skyliner” and so the new group was born.

For an initial song for the new vocalists Rock and Beaumont had worked out the lyrics (Rock) and the melody (Beaumont) for the tune “Since I Don’t Have You”. The group’s performance of the song was shopped around to many different labels but rejection after rejection followed until Porky Chedwick put Joe Rock in touch with Lou Caposi and Bill Lawrence, the heads of a local area label called Calico Records who agreed to take a chance on the untested singers. The idea was to record the song with full orchestra with a string section. Calico Records had a talented arranger and conductor named Lenny Martin who set up the recording session for the Skyliners. “Since I Don’t Have You” / “One Night One Night” was recorded in December of 1958 and released on Calico # 103 right after Christmas.

The record was an immediate hit, first in the local Pittsburgh area thanks to Chedwick on WAMO and the big voice of the area KDKA. Soon Dick Clark and American Bandstand came calling and their appearance and performance of the song made the tune a national hit before long. While interviewing the group on television, Clark was amazed that the song “Since I Don’t Have You” was not an American standard but a newly written tune by Beaumont and Rock. The melancholy lyrics and beautiful melody line with its minor chords put the song in a class by itself. The almost perfect ending combines Beaumont’s pleas with Vogel’s near operatic overlay. Despite some recording industry doubts about a song with a negative subject matter, the record took off like a shot all across the country. The Skyliners now had one of the top records in the country on the rock, pop, and R & B charts. In the spring as the record continued to sell the group made a second appearance with Dick Clark and also appeared on TV on the Buddy Deane Show in Baltimore.

In May “This I Swear” / “Tomorrow” was released on Calico # 106 and initial sales were promising. By mid June the record is a top seller in Los Angeles as well as on the East Coast. In July The Skyliners appear with Jim Loundsberry at the Michigan City Summer Festival on the lake in Indiana. In August the group signs on with the Dick Clark Caravan that will do a series of one nighters across the country. Also on the bill will be Paul Anka, Lloyd Price, The Coasters, and many other top acts. In October Calico released “Lonely Way” and “It Happened Today” on # 109. This time there was not much success for the group. Late in 1959 Calico Records announces plans to release a LP album by The Skyliners which resulted in good advance sales. The next single was released early in 1960 with the songs “How Much” and “Lorraine From Spain” on # 114. Later in the year “Pennies From Heaven” and “I’ll Be Seeing You”, two standards were released on # 117. The medium tempo version of “Pennies” was a decent seller and became a big part of the group’s vocal performances from then on. The last Calico single was “Happy Time” / “Believe Me” on # 120 which did not sell. Two songs from the LP became favorites, both pop standards with Janet Vogel on lead. “I Can Dream Can’t I?” and especially “When I Fall In Love” which had been a pop hit for Jerri Southern in the early fifties.
As the group moved into the sixties they did not revisit the best seller charts again, but continued to record for a number of labels such as Colpix, Atco, Jubilee, Capitol, and local label Viscount. By the seventies most of the original members reformed again for a few appearances with Richard Nader’s Rock Revival shows. Surprisingly enough, in 1975 The Skyliners had a near hit with “Where Have They Gone?” (“I Could Have Loved You So Well” on the flip side) on Capitol # 3979 which was a big hit in Pittsburgh but barely dented the top one hundred nationally.

Jimmy Beaumont continued to perform with various members of The Skyliners and does so to this day. Janet Vogel passed away in 1980, and the surviving original members other than Beaumont seldom perform.
Available CDs by the group really come down to one selection. That is the “40th Anniversary CD” for Collectables, a 2 CD set with 40 tracks that cover all the hits, near misses, and unreleased songs from their career. There is also “Greatest Hits” a fifteen year old release from Original Sound which is all the tracks from the original 1960 LP plus eight additional tracks from the Calico-Colpix years. A third and of more recent vintage Skyliners is the CD “One More Mountain” for Collectables in 2005 with ten songs from the latest version of The Skyliners.

After all is said and done, The Skyliners remain one of the more unique vocal groups of the era. Great lead singing by Beaumont (and on occasion Vogel), tight harmonies, and lush orchestration all combine to make the group responsible for one of Pittsburgh’s greatest moments in music history.

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