of the week

This suggestion came in from John Ward who used to attend my Thursday quiz prior to the pandemic, but then moved to the south coast to be with his family and thus, haven’t seen him for a while. John has great knowledge of 50s and 60s music and has written a couple of books, including Kelvin and Henry which was published in 2018. Anyway, John wrote to say, “Can I have the story of Since I Don’t Have You? Surely one of the best falsetto records ever. How does he reach that high note from nowhere? Well John, let’s start digging.

The song originated from 1959 when it was first recorded by The Skyliners, a doo-wop band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where it peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and missed the chart altogether in the UK. Thanks to its mass appeal, numerous artists have covered it including these versions that all made the US Singles chart, The Four Seasons and Lou Christie – a natural choice given their falsetto sound, Chuck Jackson, James Darren, Eddie Holman, Don McLean and Art Garfunkel. Art also crept into the UK top 40 in 1979 but the biggest hit was in 1994 when Guns N’ Roses went to number 10. Other interpretations that didn’t chart include Ricky Nelson, Barbra Streisand, Patti Labelle, Johnny Mathis,  Manfred Mann, Brian Setzer and New Edition. It has also been included in the various movies including American Graffiti (1973), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Mischief (1985) and Lethal Weapon 2 (1989).

The Skyliners was formed in 1958 by front man Jimmy Beaumont and included soprano Janet Vogel, tenor Wally Lester, baritone Joe Versharen and bass Jackie Taylor. Although the writing credits on the record label state Rock / Skyliners, it was Beaumont who mainly wrote the music and their producer and manager, Joe Rock, the lyrics.

Beaumont explained how it all started for him and how he met Joe, “Every Saturday night the family would get together – my grandfather, grandmother, aunts and uncles and have a little party because it was before television and we’d sing the songs of the day, the songs that were in the hit parade and I’d be singing along and then I’d go to bed and the family would carry on. As I grew up a little I’d sing bass and I did a few lead vocals and our neighbour was a famous disc jockey in Pittsburgh and he would have a battle of the groups every Friday night and I was there one night with The Monterays and I sang a lead on a cover of Sympathy by the Cadillacs and Joe Rock was there with his group The Crescents and after we came off stage he approached me and said, ‘you sing real nice so how would you like to join my group as the lead singer?’. I was 15 years old at the time and my parents were happy. Not a lot happened for a while so two of the guys quit believing they were never going to record anything. Joe had a lot of fire and passion and soon we got the call to record and that was it, we were off.”

You can tell by the title that it’s another broken relationship song which always resonates with the public and in this case,  it was Rock who was unhappy because his girlfriend had just left him. Rock apparently wrote most of the words whilst on the road and every time he stopped at some traffic lights he added more to his tale. He painted an evocative story of heartache which is why it has remained popular to this day.

The song opens with, ‘I don’t have plans and schemes and I don’t have hopes and dreams’ I, I, I don’t have anything since I don’t have you’. Here is a broken man, he’s lost everything and immediately sets the scene. He continues to reiterate the point by saying that all his desires and happy hours are gone too.

Jimmy recalled the first recording session, “The look on Joe’s face after the first playback was amazing, he just had a huge smile and we did it just three takes. Joe recalled, “That song happens to every single human being in the world before they die. Somebody gets dumped and they didn’t want to be dumped. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married 50 years or high school kids, the song happens to you. I didn’t set out to do that, I set out to write how I felt what she did to me and Jimmy put in a remarkable tune for a 17 year old boy.”

Jimmy was the lead singer, but it’s the rest of the group, especially Janet who gives it the memorable falsetto sound.

Because the biggest hit version of the song came courtesy of Guns N’ Roses, younger audiences who didn’t know the song before that might have been surprised by three words which were added by Axl Rose who, after the third verse and just at the start of the guitar solo says, ‘Yeah, we’re f**ked’. Many radio stations played this version because most downloadable versions are the album version not realising what he said because it’s a little camouflaged by the guitar. There was a radio-friendly version if they’d bothered to seek it out.

In 1965, the Skyliners were falling apart as Taylor was drafted into the U.S. Army and Beaumont left for a solo career and had a change of direction becoming a very capable soul singer. They reformed in 1974 but within a year, Lester and Versharen quit and were replaced by Jimmie Ross and Bob Sholes. The group are still together performing and its current line up comprises, husband and wife couple Donna and Mark Groom, Eric Bruce, Jim Gregorakis and John Sarkis.

Not many of the original line up are with us anymore, In February 1980, Janet Vogel took her own life aged 37, Joe Versharen died of cancer in November 2007, Wally Lester died of pancreatic cancer in April 2015 and Jimmy Beaumont died in October 2017 aged 76.

As for Joe Rock, as well as the song’s writer, it was his talent as a manager that won the Skyliners a record deal, after over a dozen rejections and secured them a slot on American Bandstand. Joe Rock, as a writer, had a change of direction and moved to Memphis to work as a songwriter for Stax records. He co-wrote I’ve Got Dreams to Remember with his friend Otis Redding and the pair were together the night before Redding’s death in a plane crash in December 1967.

After that, Rock moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became a country music song writer. In April 2000, Rock died at Baptist Hospital in Nashville following complications from quadruple heart bypass surgery.