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Aurra | Joe Bataan | Rafael Cameron | Loleatta Holloway | Instant Funk | Salsoul Bio

Skyy (1979)

"The work of Skyy is easy to recognize, impossible to ignore"

(the Tallahassee Democrat, in a review of Skyy's "Skyyline" LP and their 1981 American tour)


Like the majority on Salsoul's roster, Skyy (or New York Skyy as they were called in the U.K.) were celebrated on the Dance scene, but unlike some less fortunate stable-mates, Skyy were able to attain a much wider audience with their happy-sounding mix of Disco, Soul and Funk, as well. To prove it, one only needs to take a look at Billboard's R&B Singles charts, where Skyy scored no less than fourteen times between 1979 and 1984. This formidable eight-piece group consisted of the honey-voiced Dunning Sisters (Bonnie, Delores and Denise), bassist Gerald LeBon, keyboardist Larry Greenberg, lead guitarist Anibal Anthony "Boochie"Sierra, drummer Tommy McConnell and was led by singer and rhythm guitarist Solomon "Sol" Roberts, Jr., who also wrote and produced an overwhelming majority of Skyy's material with Brass Construction's Randy Muller. What makes Skyy special -aside from making some truly memorable music- is that the group's line-up stayed practically the same throughout the years (and the close connection with Randy Muller was maintained too) and Skyy was one of the few Salsoul groups that continued to have hits after the demise of the label.

Solomon Roberts Jr. (1984)The story of Skyy has humble beginnings. It all started in a basement in Brooklyn, New York, sometime in the late sixties. The basement in question belonged to Solomon Roberts' parents and was the place where "Sol" and his friends from Thomas Jefferson High School met after school and on weekends to practice their instruments. "We all lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same junior and high school", Solomon Roberts told Salsoul's publicist in 1982. "If anyone got a particular job, he would call the rest of us. The meeting place happened to be my basement because it was the largest in the area where we could store equipment and because my parents were the most understanding".

When Solomon invested in a four-track recorder, he aptly decided to call the frequently visited basement "Hole In The Ground Studios" and among his first customers were school mate Randy Muller and his band Dynamic Soul, with who "Sol" also sang backgrounds. In 1973, after having changed the group's name to Brass Construction, the group played at the Miss Black America Pageant, where they shared the bill with Bonnie, Delores and Denise Dunning. These sisters were students at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High school and had been singing together for fun since their childhood. They had won numerous talent shows and made such an impression on Randy Muller that he invited them to join his band.

Randy Muller (1980)Brass Construction became increasingly popular as they gigged around the Brooklyn area and it wasn't before long that Jeff Lane, a local entrepreneur who owned a management and production company called Dock, approached Randy Muller and offered to manage the group. Lane was working with B.T. Express, another group that had jammed in Solomon Robert's basement, and hired Muller to do the string arrangements for B.T. (and various others). In addition, Brass Construction became the company's in-house band. In 1974, B.T. Express struck Gold with their "Do It 'Til Your Satisfied" single, followed by the equally successful "Express" and two years later, Brass Construction was signed to United Artists and scored their first hits with the Lane-produced "Movin'" and "Changin'". Not long after, Solomon Roberts formed his own group, Fuel. ""I learned a lot from being able to watch Brass Construction get their whole thing together" Solomon explained in the 1982 Salsoul press bio. Fuel's line-up was Gerald LeBon on bass (who had played with The Moments and Sylvia Robinson), guitarist Anibal Anthony "Butch" Sierra (who had worked with Odyssey and Richie Havens), drummer Tommy McConnell (who had toured with fellow Brooklynites Crown Heights Affair) and keyboardist Larry Greenberg. Fuel became Skyy when Bonnie, Delores and Denise Dunning joined the group. (Brass Construction had been forced to let the sisters go, as a band with 12 members was considered a bit too hefty, even in those days).

Charles Earland 'Perceptions' (LP, 1978)By the late seventies, Randy Muller was not only leading Brass Construction, but produced, arranged and wrote for artists outside the Brass and Jeff Lane camp. In 1978, he worked with well-known Jazz saxophonist and keyboard player Charles Earland. Earland's "Perceptions" LP spawned the "Let The Music Play" single, which set the British club goers and Jazz-Funk fans on fire. (It even made it to a Top 50 position of the U.K charts). The record featured the vocals of Bonnie, Delores and Denise Dunning, plus musical input from Solomon Roberts and "Butch" Sierra. A year later, Randy Muller and Solomon Roberts formed Alligator Bit Him Productions (which Roberts said was "a nickname for the sharp, snappy guitar sound we like") and Skyy were signed to Salsoul Records. Another newly signed Salsoul act was Muller's old friend Rafael Cameron, who Skyy provided the musical backing for on his debut album.

Skyy (LP, 1979)Skyy's first single "First Time Around" was an instant smash and reached R&B #20 in May 1979. The eponymous LP contained such outstanding Disco-Funk cuts as "This Groove Is Bad", "Disco Dancin'" and the funky follow-up single "Let's Turn It Out". Skyy instantly became synonymous with great Dance music, thanks to each individual member's brilliant musicianship, the clever production and song writing of Randy Muller and Solomon Roberts, and of course the distinct vocals from Roberts and the Dunning sisters (with Denise singing the trademark lead). 'Skyyway' (LP, 1979) Skyy's album jackets and their outfits were always something else too. "Skyy" (1979) depicted the members out in deep space, dressed in tight suits. On "Skyyway" (1980) they were running on a cloud. By "Skyyport" (1980) they had come back down to earth and were standing in front of an airplane. Following the release of "Skyyport", the group went out on a tour that took them to both Europe and Africa. Among other places, Skyy played in Lagos, Nigeria. "The culture fascinated us and we were interested in seeing how the people there responded to our music", Solomon Roberts said in 1982. "We found the people to be very warm and physical and they were totally uninhibited. They would come up and dance on stage with us. But the heat! We all nearly fainted on several occasions."

'Skyyline' (LP, 1981)Each of Skyy's three first LP's were magnificent and yielded the hit singles "High", "Skyyzoo", "Here's To You" and "Superlove", but the record that really broke Skyy was "Call Me", released in November, 1981. "Call Me" stayed at the number one spot on the R&B charts for two weeks and got to Pop #26. The subsequent "Skyyline", reached #18 on the American Top 40 album chart in February 1982. It sold half a million copies, earning Skyy a Gold Record. The next single from "Skyy Line, "Let's Celebrate", made it to R&B #16 and is incidentally Skyy's only U.K. chart entry. (The third single was "When You Touch Me"). Keyboardist Larry Greenberg was then replaced by Wayne Wilentz and Skyy embarked on a 60 dates American tour with Kool & The Gang, where much of the material for their "Skyyjammer" LP was written. "The whole idea of what we're doing is going from city to city really having a party, asking everyone to come on and join in. We're Skyy, we're Skyyjammers and we want to have as many people join the club as possible. We're hoping to bring Skyyjamms across the world".

"Movin' Violation", written by Solomon Roberts, introduced a rock influence, not previously heard in Skyy's music. The single peaked at R&B #26 in October, 1982. Not everyone liked "Movin' Violation", though, nor were pleased with the "Skyyjammer" LP. "...one of the worst records I've made. The first single, a thing called 'Movin' Violation' was a big mistake. The song 'Skyyjammer' (LP, 1982)'Show me The Way' saved it, though. The Pop department came in and said, 'we can break 'em Pop. Just give us some rock'n' roll'. I mean it was illogical. Skyy simply aren't a rock'n'roll band," Randy Muller told Blues and Soul writer Jeff Lorez in an 1992 interview. The third single from "Skyyjammer" was drummer Tommy McConnell's "Let Love Shine" (R&B #39, January '83) which marked a return to the Funk/Soul/Disco style Skyy's name was associated with. The bubbly "Bad Boy" and "Show Me The Way" were two excellent singles, which were taken from the following "Skyylight", an LP that also included the funky "Hey Girl" and "Call Me"-soundalike (and non-charting single) "Married Man". "Inner City", issued in 1984 was Skyy's final album on Salsoul and was in addition one of the (if not the) last records to be released before the company was sold to RCA and ceased releasing new material. "Dancin' To Be Dancin'" peaked at R&B #49 in the beginning of 1985.

That same year, Solomon Roberts, Anibal Sierra and the Skyy girls backed Brass Construction on their "Conquest" album. Skyy then signed with Capitol Records, which had been the home of Brass Construction since 1982. May 1986 saw the release of "Givin' It To You", Skyy's first Top ten hit since "Call Me". The follow-up "Non Stop", however, failed to chart. After the "From The Left Side" LP on Capitol, Skyy signed with Atlantic Records. For some reason it took nearly three years before they returned to the charts again. But what a return! "Start Of A Romance" became s a number one hit in February 1989. The follow-up, "Love All The Way" landed at a rather disappointing R&B #47, but Skyy scored a second number one hit with "Real Love" in 1990. The Top 20 hit "Up And Over (Stronger And Better)" and the less successful title track from Skyy's 1992 album "Nearer To You" were the group's last chart entries. According to A.Scott Galloway's liner notes to the 1996 "Best Of Skyy" compilation on Right Stuff, there has been talk of a reunion.


   
Suggested Skyy CD listening
  
Skyyline - - 20-1015-2 (U.S.)
"Best of Skyy" was released in the U.S. in 1996 on Capitol's budget label Right Stuff, a great CD which includes fifteen classic tracks.The catalogue number is 72438-52193-2 0. CNR's 2-CD set "Salsoul Classics Vol. 1" (CNR #530 01 07) contains "Call Me.", Vol. 2 "Let's Celebrate" (CNR 530 01 08). "Let's Celebrate" is also included on 12" Gold Master series Vol. 1 (CNR 530 01 09) and Vol. 3 contains "First Time Around" (CNR 530 01 11).
 
Skyy LP Discography
  
Skyy 1979 Salsoul SA 8517
Skyyway 1980 Salsoul SA 8532
Skyyport 1980 Salsoul SA 8537
Skyyline 1981 Salsoul SA 8548
Skyyjammer 1982 Salsoul SOSLP-076 (European)
Skyylight 1983 Salsoul SA 8562
Inner City 1984 Salsoul RHR 5105 (European)
From The Left Side 1986 Capitol ST-12448
Start Of A Romance 1989 Atlantic -
Nearer To You 1992 Atlantic 7 82328-2 (CD)

 

   
 


Aurra | Joe Bataan | Rafael Cameron | Loleatta Holloway | Instant Funk | Salsoul Bio

     

Maria Granditsky February 1997.
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