Crack The Sky

  • Progressive rock band formed in 1975 from Weirton West Virginia. The founding members of the band were John Palumbo (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, songwriting), Rick Witkowski (guitar, ukulele, drums, vocals), Jim Griffiths (guitars), Joe Macre (bass guitar, vocals) and Joe D’Amico (drums, vocals). Palumbo, Witkowski and D’Amico continue with the band today, along with Bobby Hird (guitars, mandolin, banjo, vocals), Glenn Workman (keyboards, vocals) and Dave DeMarco (bass guitar, vocals).
  • In the early 70s, Palumbo and Witkowski were members of a band named Uncle Louie, while Macre and Griffiths were members of a band called Sugar. The bands performed in venues in Western Pennsylvania. Hoping for a break in the music business, Palumbo and Witkowski auditioned for a record producer. The producer saw that they had potential, so they were signed to a development deal, and they began to recruit members for a new group. Originally called Words, and later ArcAngel, the group started with ten members, but soon it was reduced to five core members. By 1975, they were signed to a recording contract, and they changed their name to Crack the Sky.
  • Their debut album, the self-titled Crack the Sky, was released in 1975. It was a unique progressive rock album, a quirky blend of hard rock, art pop and fusion funk. The New York Times gave a favorable review, and Rolling Stone named it “the debut album of the year,” but the record company had production and distribution problems, so very few people were able to purchase the album. Several radio stations played some of the album’s cult classics like Ice, Hold On/Surf City, and She’s A Dancer, but the only city where the band caught on was Baltimore, where by chance a surplus of records was available in the local record stores. Subsequently, the band moved to Baltimore, where they were adopted as a city-favorite. In 2015, Rolling Stone included the album in their list of the Greatest Progressive Rock Albums of All Time, ranking it at #47.
  • The following year, they released their second album, Animal Notes. Originally it was conceived as a rock opera about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but ultimately only one song from this vision made the album – Rangers At Midnight. Alas, the songs were not radio friendly, and the band resisted recording music that sounded too commercial, so the album failed to sell – though it did reach #142 on the Billboard 200 album chart. They toured the country, opening for acts like Styx, Rush, Yes, ZZ Top, Foreigner, Boston and other major rock acts. Even with this exposure, they failed to find a national fan base.
  • While recording their third album, Palumbo chose to leave, citing creative differences with the record label. When their Safety In Numbers album was released in 1978, it included only three songs written by Palumbo, with the other five tracks written by the other band members. Palumbo was replaced by Gary Lee Chappell on vocals and Rob Stevens on keyboard – Stevens also produced the album. It peaked at #126 on the album chart. A live album titled Live Sky also was released that year – that album included Vince DePaul on keyboards. After a tour to support the albums, Crack the Sky folded.
  • Palumbo released a solo album in 1978, and by 1980 he reformed Crack the Sky with Witkowski and DePaul. The trio released an album titled White Music, utilizing session musicians, including a horn section that was called the Crack Pack Horns. They included several songs that were thought to be more commercial than their earlier work, but the songs had little airplay on radio, except for some success in Pittsburgh. Between 1981 and 1986, four more albums were released with various lineups, with Palumbo the only common thread. The group’s 1986 album Raw had Palumbo singing and performing all instruments on the album except lead guitar.
  • Later in 1986, encouraged by the fan base in Baltimore, Palumbo played several live shows in the city, with Witkowski, D’Amico, DePaul and Carey Ziegler joining him. By 1989, they were back in the studio, and From the Greenhouse was released, with Palumbo, Witkowski, D’Amico and DePaul credited as band members. It was a concept album about the environment, and critics compared it to Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and the Beatles. But as usual…no one bought the record.
  • From the 90s to the 20s, the band continued to release music and occasionally tour. They released 18 studio, live and compilation albums during that time. A new album, From The Wood, is due for release in June 2023, and they continue to perform, primarily in the Baltimore area.
  • I normally wouldn’t write about obscure bands like Crack the Sky – but it’s my brother’s favorite band, and he was a big early influence on me, so I’ll dedicate this five minute read to Nathan. The band had a few fans – their YouTube channel has over 650 subscribers (that’s ONLY 650, not 650 thousand). Here’s a live performance from 1980 of Surf City – yes, Nathan, I have a favorite Crack the Sky song!

1 thought on “Crack The Sky”

  1. OK fans, now that my brother has FINALLY done me right after 6 YEARS, here is my Crack the Sky story.
    First heard CTS while commuting to Maryland’s eastern shore for work and listening to Baltimore’s 98Rock, who was (still is) a big promoter of CTS. Never heard them on DC (only 40 minutes away) stations. I bought a “best of” album and listened for a while, then life went on. Never would have known them if it wasn’t for Baltimore radio. Fast forward around 30 YEARS, I’m in a musical rut and searching for new stuff on Pandora while at work. Don’t know how I came upon CTS during that search but listened to another “best of” album called “Best of the Rest, and Then Some”. I was hooked. What I heard was different from what knew, although the sound was definitely CTS. I started searching other albums (which weren’t that easy to find), youtube, and various Facebook sites. Wow, hooked even more.
    The thing about CTS is their unique sound, continuity, evolution over time, and fan loyalty (although limited). Their story is sad in many ways; they really SHOULD have made it but bad management and unlucky breaks kept them back. For example, they were slated to do a big concert one night, but couldn’t find the entrance to the stage. There is a scene in the movie “Spinal Tap” where the band couldn’t find the stage that is said to have originated from CTS. Also, their tendency to include “time signature” variations (think Bohemian Rhapsody) into their songs, is not something often seen in hit songs. I love their “epic” (think long and complicated) rock tunes with dual guitar solos featuring the different sounds produced by Fender vs. Gibson-style lead guitars. But they always have produced many softer ballads that tell stories. Their music from the 80’s is what I have a hard time believing didn’t resonate with the public (although this could be a distribution issue; again, bad management). Their most “pop” oriented phase; they even looked like a “big hair” band at the time. Every time I hear “Rock Me Tonite” by Billy Squire, I think about CTS. They even had a Pink Floydish stage. Listen to “From the Greenhouse”. If that isn’t The Floyd, not sure what would be.
    Their 2010 album “Machine” is IMO, one of their best works, rivalling their debut album in 1975. As Mark indicated, they are still producing albums with new sounds (banjo?) and have another slated this year. Again, you know it is CTS, but every album is a little different. In two years, they celebrate 50 years, mostly with the same lineup they started with, or who joined the band fairly early on. Amazing longevity.
    John Palumbo is the heart of CTS. Left briefly during production of the third album, but reformed the band in 1979. He writes and sings nearly all the songs, has a few solo albums under different names, and has collaborated many. He is a big Beatles fan and had worked with Yoko, and they play a bunch of Beatles tunes in concert. Lead guitarist Rick Witkowski is my hero; he had made a few lists of top 100 guitarists.
    Their following is almost exclusively mid-Atlantic region; they did come to a small venue in Colorado in 2019 for their western US fans and I finally got to see them. There is a recording of the concert posted somewhere on the Fan Club Facebook page; that’s me standing in front on the left side of the stage. Palumbo’s voice in concert is not very good anymore (although the new albums are ok), but the music is still top notch. Their fans are absolutely rabid; many follow them around to EVERY concert (think Deadheads). Best to check out Crack the Sky Official Fan Club Facebook page to see what I mean. Also, pics and clips.
    I could go on forever. Thanks for posting

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