Thursday, January 29, 2009


Of course, we all know that it’s pretty damn cool to find bands you like and get into ‘em, become a fan. That’s, in essence, what having this hobby is all about. When such a band is from your home town, that makes it even more special. When the band is not from your home town, and yet becomes wildly popular there, well that’s kinda odd…but also cool. Enter CRACK THE SKY, from Pittsburgh PA and yet as much musical sons of Baltimore, Md as any rock group has ever been. Yes, as John Palumbo (vocals, guitars, songwriting) has said himself, CTS has found pockets of fandom in several places but there’s nothing like Baltimore – my hometown – for these guys. Sporting a style that marries heavy guitar rock to jazz lines & odd song structures to impossibly catchy hooks, CRACK THE SKY is completed by the perceptive, thoughtful yet often biting & sarcastic humor of Palumbo’s lyrics. What follows is a talk with John about the band (now back to 4/5 of their original members), their history, their latest opus “The Sale” and the world in general. Enjoy!

RAY - How did it come about that Joe Macre returned to CRACK THE SKY? I know you had some pretty damn hot bassists, like Carey Ziegler, but Joe is really a motherfucker and I mean that in the best possible way. When I first put “The Sale” in and heard the bass lines in “American Refugee,” I was like “Yeah…all is right in the world.”

JOHN - Thanks for the compliment. Joe and I worked on a project called The Precious Bros. He did such a great job producing that, I asked him to produce The Sale. He told me he was interested in playing some bass on it, and it kind of took off from there. Same thing...I heard his parts and said, "Yeah!' Except, not all is right with the world. By far. We all discussed asking Joe back in, and then gave Sonny a 3 month window. Understand, this was almost a two year turn of events. Even so, I feel bad about Sonny, as he was a terrific bassist and wonderful person.

RAY - Joe D’Amico returned on drums after “The Sale” was recorded. How did that come to pass, did his return have anything to do with the fact that he’d be playing with Joe M again?

JOHN - When I let Sonny go, John Tracey told me he could not stay on, as he felt a kinship with Sonny, and that I (we) had done him wrong. We did not want John to leave...another exceptional player and fine person. Still, he made the decision, and as for us, there was no other choice. Joey was the only person we asked. Had Joey said no, my son would probably be the drummer.

RAY - Again, I’m sorry to have to plead ignorant to a lot of what has gone on with the band over the last many years but how long has Bobby Hird been with you? He & Rick seem like a great guitar combination, that duel they did in “Lighten Up McGraw” was smoking.

JOHN - Bobby has been with us for over 20 years. He will have to die before I let him go!

RAY - The one guy from the old days who’s not involved is Jim Griffiths. Is he out of music or just out of the picture as far as CTS is concerned? I’ve gotta say that with what I’ve seen of Bobby, it’s not an issue musically. In the old days, I was trying to remember, was the lead guitar work split between Rick & Jim? It seems like Rick & Bobby each do a lot of soloing now.

JOHN - Jimmy is no longer playing. He lives in L.A. and is a pilot. Joe M keeps somewhat in touch with him. Yes, the playing was always split this way, but we never extended solos live like we do now, so maybe that is why you don't remember.

RAY - I know this story has been told ad nauseum but for the sake of any readers I have who aren’t familiar, I wanted to touch on it. Is it correct that there was a lot of record company fuck ups with distribution of the first record and that, somehow, by accident, one of the only places it became readily available was Baltimore, thereby contributing to CTS’s popularity here?

JOHN - No one knows what happened in Baltimore. We assumed things, yet since leaving Lifesong 5 other labels tried to copy the model and break us in other places...never happened. We have pockets internationally, but Baltimore is absolutely like home for us.

RAY - So, how does that work, if you’re Steelers fans? (Just kidding…I think)

JOHN - HA! yes.. see above! I'm an Eagles fan and it doesn't work out well at all!!!!!! Bobby loves the Ravens (as he should), Rick is a Steelers fan, Mac is a pond jumper... lives in Dallas but dives on who is winning at the time! HA! The rest really could care less. They are into Lacrosse.

RAY - I have to say again that I am really pleased with “The Sale.” It strikes me as a very dense, dark album with a lot of layers musically & lyrically. In that sense, it reminds me a bit of “Animal Notes.” That is to say, it’s not as immediate or catchy as the first album or “White Music” but kinda unfolds, reveals itself after several listens.

JOHN - The Sale is a task to listen to. I realized that after trying to listen to it. I got carried away. I consider it more of a novel than a record. The new Cd, MACHINE, now in the hands of Ricky and Bobby, is even darker. The Sale ended with some hope, MACHINE does not. Cheery, huh?

RAY - You seem to be looking very closely at the American condition, the political & social environment with “The Sale.” Is this a concern that’s escalated for you over the last several years? Do you see any chance for this changing appreciably with the incoming administration or is it going to take a lot more than that?

JOHN - I sincerely wish President Obama the best. My theory is that humans are too stupid to inhabit something as beautiful and peaceful as the Earth, and so no...I see nothing but a slow slide to the inevitable end. I am hopeful that my children get to grow old, otherwise I don't care, as I wasted too many years giving humanity the benefit of the doubt. We - in my opinion - can form tiny loving communities (family, a few close friends) and attempt to do our best within that dynamic. I plan on living out in joy and fun, but also in relative isolation. When I come back, my hope is that it is to someplace harmonious and not as an invader.

RAY - A couple things have always stood out to me about CRACK THE SKY, one lyrical & one musical. Since we were on the lyrical bent, I’ll stick with that for a minute. A lot of so-called “progressive” bands (what the hell does that mean, anyway!) are often brutally serious lyrically, to the point of putting me off. What I always dug about your stuff is that you seem to be able to speak about things you think are important, yet lace it with a kinda humor that makes it seem human & sometimes more than a tad sarcastic, yet not preachy. Any commentary?

JOHN - If I were to write a song like I just wrote the above paragraph, do you think anyone would be entertained? Humor is art. To be able to say, "My congress has moved to Mexico," is way more interesting than saying, "My congress has sold out."

RAY - I know you worked in the psychology field. How much of your interest in this do you think has come out in your lyrical take on things?

JOHN - It helped only in that I can identify certain aspects of the human condition, and play with them a bit more accurately. Otherwise, the two are completely separate.

RAY - Would I be wrong in guessing that John Lennon was a big influence?

JOHN - No.

RAY - Musically, another thing that’s always stood out to me in CTS, and is delightfully prevalent on “The Sale” is a funk influence. Any love for George Clinton out there?

JOHN - YUP! But that credit should go to Mac.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Which of the following 4 musicians from the past would you think would have been the most interesting to work with? Hell, comment on all of ‘em if you want! Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Brian Jones.

JOHN – Miles Davis.

RAY - Something that impressed me as much as anything you or the band did at the recent Recher show was when you brought your son & daughter up on stage for a minute and made a comment to the effect that there is nothing more important than this. I’m a father of 5 children myself, including a special needs boy (a 14 year old who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) and I agree with your sentiments exactly. While I think it’s the right, the only way to feel, it was also very nice to hear that come from a musician that I admire. Any comments?

JOHN - Being a father, you understand it completely. Once we bring life into the world, we must come 2nd. You have been blessed with a special needs child. To me this says that whatever power is out there made a determination that you and your wife are special , as well. You have my deepest respect.

RAY - I understand a live DVD is coming in 2009 as well as another new studio album. What can you share with us about those upcoming releases?

JOHN - The new music, I already spoke about. The DVD is more of the know, walking down memory lane in HD.

RAY - What do you see as the future of CRACK THE SKY and John Palumbo? Do you see the band continuing on indefinitely, and if so, is this more likely now that 4/5 of the original line-up is working together?

JOHN - Actually, it is less likely since the original people are together! HA! No, I don't see any reason for us to stop. I mean we are in our 50's!!! I imagine we will do it until we realize how absolutely silly we are being, or if we start to get critiques that "explain" to us how out of touch with EVERYTHING the band is.

RAY - You’re not going to get away without this one, it’s always one of my favourites. Tell us about one of the most bizarre, crazy, ridiculous or just plain funny things that has ever happened to you in the times of being in CRACK THE SKY, either on the road, onstage, in the studio, etc. Jesus, don’t hold back!

JOHN - I was handed a baby once. We had finished a Painters Mill show, and walking off stage and up the aisle, a woman actually handed me her baby!!!!!!!!!! At first, I didn't know what it was...then, the security guy stopped everything, thank god!!!! It was one of those frozen one, but the security guy knew what to do. He fetched "mom" and gave the baby back. I don't think she was really giving me her kid, but ya never know!

RAY - John, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. Any final comments for the readership?

JOHN - Just thank you to everyone for continuing to enjoy and for showing us they enjoy the music.

When it comes to the terms hard rock, prog, heavy lead guitar, intelligence & humor there are few places you could go and do better than CRACK THE SKY. For any longtime fans who’ve not yet done so, grab “The Sale” immediately. For anyone else, who’s never had the chance to hear this awesome band, get searchin’ for that as well as these “Ray” picks: “Crack The Sky,” “Animal Notes,” “Safety In Numbers,” “Live Sky,” “White Music” & “From The Greenhouse.”

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