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.
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.
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).
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.
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). 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
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
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 '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.