Since I Don't Have You

Across the Keystone State some 300 miles from Philadelphia where doo woppers crowded street corners, a smaller legion of competing young harmony acts came out of the Pittsburgh area. The Four Coins established themselves around 1954, though they possessed a mature sound beyond their years. The Dell-Vikings exploded in 1957 coaxing listeners to "Come Go With Me" and in the 1960s The Marcels, The Vogues and several other euphonically well-matched Western Pennsylvania groups grabbed the spotlight. But in the final days of 1958, Steel City teen dreamers The Skyliners appeared with a vocal group ballad containing lyrics so sorrowful, yet so beautifully effective, as to instantly secure a place among the best records of the era: 'I don't have love to share...and I don't have one who cares...I don't have anything....since I don't have you.'

Joe Rock, who worked for a local record distributor, was 22 when he brought together five teenaged singers, all students at Carrick High in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh, from three separate vocal groups. Wally Lester had sung in an outfit called The Crescents (a name common to at least a couple of groups in other cities around the country). Jimmie Beaumont (who found inspiration in the harmonies of R&B groups like The Cadillacs and The Moonglows and the jazz-influenced Four Freshmen) was in The Montereys and Rock, who caught a performance of the group, felt he had a dynamic stage presence ideal for the role of lead singer. Jimmie joined the Crescents and brought along his friend Jack (Jackie) Taylor to play guitar, though he ended up singing bass. Janet Vogel and Joe Verscharen were in the shakiest of the three groups, The El Rios, and didn't hesitate to accept an offer from Jimmie to fill out the fivesome.

In a story that has become rock folklore, Joe was driving around one night, despondent over his girlfriend breaking up with him. A rather depressing song took shape as he jotted down the lyrics at various stoplights; the next day he shared what he'd written with Jimmie (or Jimmy, as the spelling of his name has varied through the years), who composed a melody. The Crescents recorded a demo of "Since I Don't Have You" and Rock shopped the song around to about a dozen record companies, all for naught. He found takers closer to home at Calico Records, a label that had just been started by pianist-bandleader Lenny Martin and Lou Guarino, a public utilities inspector for the city of Pittsburgh (later they founded two other labels, Robbee and World Artists). Certain of the song's hit potential, they booked time at Capitol Records' New York studio in December 1958. A full string arrangement was written by Martin and the recording came off better than anticipated, thanks in part to Janet's dramatic, ad-libbed high soprano 'You-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo!' ending.

Everyone agreed to change the group's name. Rock mentioned the title of one of his favorite songs, "Skyliner" (an instrumental hit for saxophonist Charlie Barnet in 1945) and presto! The Crescents had become The Skyliners. "Since I Don't Have You" was immediately added to local radio station playlists (KDKA, WEEP and KQV); by the end of January '59 it was number one in Pittsburgh. In February the quintet appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and the record broke nationally, going top 40 in March and falling just shy of the top ten on Billboard's Hot 100 in April while spending five weeks in the Cash Box top ten lasting into May (it did reach the top ten on Billboard's rhythm and blues chart).

"This I Swear," a ballad in the same vein as the first single, went top 40 that summer and was followed by the uptempo "It Happened Today." Song creation was often a collaborative effort and these first hits were credited to the Skyliners and Joe Rock, all six sharing royalties. The Skyliners toured extensively in 1959; they appeared on the bill of one of Alan Freed's spectacular New York rock and roll shows and made several appearances at the Apollo Theater as a result of the song's R&B success; a full autumn schedule with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars passed in a blur. Their first album appeared at year's end, its eye-cathing cover showing group members predictably posing in front of a TWA jet airliner. Two more singles charted, ballad "How Much" and a sprightly big-band-style remake of the 1936 Arthur Johnston-Johnny Burke standard "Pennies From Heaven," which became the group's third top 40 hit in the summer of 1960.

The Skyliners

The Skyliners left Calico in 1961 for greener pastures and, though success was much more elusive from that point on, the group established a longevity few acts have known. Signing with Colpix Records, they had three releases (one as Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners) and briefly landed on the national charts with a remake of "Close Your Eyes" (written by Chuck Willis, it had been an R&B hit for The Five Keys in 1955). Jimmie Beaumont had four solo 45s on the May label starting in late '61 with "Ev'rybody's Cryin," a novelty track naming several of the year's top hits. Another Skyliners 45 appeared on Cameo in '62, then "Comes Love," on the small Viscount label, made a little noise along the east coast in '63. Their version of Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell For You" (dyslexically confusing some with its similarity to the title of their biggest hit) wound up competing with, and losing to, Lenny Welch's stunning hit rendition. Janet Vogel left the group around this time and attempted a solo career, with Rock's help, on the Gateway label as Janet Deane. "Another Night Alone," featuring backup by an unnamed male session group, was her only release.

Janet married, opting to leave the music business in favor of starting a family. Jimmie resumed his solo career, recording for the Gallant label in '64 and Bert Berns' Bang Records two years later. Jack Taylor assembled a new group of singers and, with Rock still managing the act, reached the charts in the summer of 1965 with "The Loser," one of three singles for Jubilee, none of which particularly resembled the sound the Skyliners were known for. In 1968 the original members, minus Taylor (who had by then embarked on a career in the Army), reformed the group; Janet Vogel even came on board in spite of her husband's disapproval. Working together for nearly a decade, mainly as a touring act, the group had record releases on Capitol ("Where Have They Gone," credited to Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, hit the charts in '75), in addition to the Drive and Tortoise International labels (Edwin Starr's "Oh How Happy," introduced by Shades of Blue in 1966, received the Skyliner treatment in '78). Meanwhile, Joe Rock had branched out, cowriting one of Otis Redding's hits ("I've Got Dreams to Remember") with Otis and his wife Zelma Redding; he also managed Pittsburgh group The Jaggerz, hot in 1970 with "The Rapper."

The reunited group enjoyed this second coming, finally going their separate ways in the late 1970s. But Janet Vogel had been dealing with bouts with depression that became more severe over the years, a condition her bandmates didn't realize until it was too late. On February 21, 1980, at the age of 37, she was found dead in her car of an appararent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning; her young son, Gavin Rapp, revealed that she had suffered with this condition most of her life. The Skyliners were nonexistent for several years but came alive again in 1990 when Jimmie Beaumont put together a new lineup; Nick Pociask, Donna Groom and Beaumont continue to anchor the group, giving modern audiences a chance to experience their classic Pittsburgh vocal group sound.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Since I Don't Have You