The Skylarks: It’s All about the Name
On the day after my last birthday I got a very nice message from a fellow named Anthony Cook, who is the bass player in a Los Angeles-based band called The Skylarks. Along with a brief note, he included the download link for their third full-length album, the cover of which you see here. I listened to it, liked it, and it sort of slipped off my radar. Over the past few months, every now and then a track has popped up when I’m listening to music in shuffle mode and I think, “Oh yeah, those guys.”
Had it not been for my old friend Will James posting their video here at No Depression last week and announcing that he’s booked them for his Gram Parsons International West showcase next October in Huntington Beach, CA, you might not be reading this. I take no responsibility for this, as you can attribute my mental lapse to the band’s name. Seriously.
At first, the name reminded me of the Pittsburgh doo-wop band The Skyliners who had a hit single in 1959 with “Since I Don’t Have You.” And then I began to think about another LA band called The Larks, who released “The Jerk” back in 1964. That song should not be confused with “Cool Jerk” by the Capitols, although both were dance songs.
And just to illustrate the way my mind takes twists and turns, it finally came to me that, in the early ’70s, one of Ronnie Hawkins’ backup groups from Canada morphed into Skylark, who were signed to Capitol Records and had a smash with “Wildflower” – an early “power ballad” covered and sampled by a diverse crowd, including New Birth, O’Jays, Kenny Rogers, Aaron Neville, Tupac Shakur, and Jamie Foxx.
When I finally decided to write about the group, the plot thickened. Do you have any idea how many bands are already out there with the name The Skylarks?
Let’s start with Miriam Makeba’s group from South Africa, who released two albums in the late 1950s.
There were also a Skylark vocal group that formed in Michigan during World War II. They sang for both the Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras, recorded two tracks with Bing Crosby, were signed to RCA Victor, and had a 37 year career.
Some of you might know the Fairfield Four, an African-American gospel group that started out in the ’20s and had their own radio show out of Nashville on WLAC, which was also syndicated across the country. When they stopped touring in 1950, two members started a new group called … The Skylarks.
Allow me just one more. Here’s my favorite video of the week, from Finland’s Skylarks, who play ’60s-style instrumental music. I’ve got no idea where this was filmed, but I’m guessing it’s at some sort of Finnish Beatlesfest. Hang in there if you can, but if you get itchy just cut to 1:45 and let it roll.
Listen, I could go on forever. There must be a thousand bands named The Skylarks. So why would you name your band that? I’ve read about this thing called Google, where one can actually search for such duplicity. Not that there isn’t a history of double-naming throughout time. Nirvana had to pay another band of the same name $100,000 to keep it for themselves. The Charlatans from the UK have to call themselves The Charlatans UK, here in the US. There’s Dead Letter Circus and Dead Letter Chorus. Lizard Wizard and Lizzard Wizzard. Dear Hunter, Deerhunter, Dearhoof and Deartick. It doesn’t end.
The Skylarks that are the seed to this story began several years ago with founding member, songwriter, acoustic guitarist, and lead vocalist Sam Mellon teaming up with pedal steel, dobro, and banjo player Julian Goldwhite, and the aforementioned bassist Anthony Cook. Over time they’ve added Amy Luftigviste on backing vocals, Brian Olamit on drums and vocals, Dan Clucas on horns and percussion, and lead guitarist Russ Chaput.
While most of their performances have been throughout California – “from the desert to the sea,” they say – the new album is being played on both international and college radio, and they’ve managed to already have their songs placed on national television shows and in commercials. This is good straight-ahead American music; rich in texture with a blend of styles and genres. Here’s a taste from the album – a tune called “Almost Feel a Breeze.” Hopefully the band will forgive me for ambling off the beaten path to get to it.