The music industry mourns the lost of drummer and songwriter Tommy McConnell of the funk/R&B band Skyy.
McConnell was known for his prowess with both the sticks and the pen, and he wrote several of the group’s greatest songs — including the one that brought Skyy back to #1 after rough times.
Virtually the definition of an “Unsung” act, Skyy lit up the soul and dance charts from the late 70s until the early 90s with a string of hits, often accompanied by surprisingly long gaps in between. The Brooklyn funk/soul group was formed by guitarist Soloman Roberts and Brass Construction leader Randy Muller in the late 70s with the vision of creating a self-contained band that could bridge the line between dance and funk, and would feature the beautiful vocal tones of sisters Bonny, Delores and Denise Dunning.
With Muller in the background, writing some of the material and performing keyboards on the albums, the group boasted a talented set of musicians, including guitarist Roberts, keyboardist Larry Greenberg, bassist Gerald Lebon, guitarist Anthony Sierra and drummer McConnell, laying the foundation under the Dunning sisters’ performances.
Skyy first hit the charts in 1979 on Salsoul Records with the aptly titled “First Time Around” but had their biggest crossover smash three years later with the funky #1 hit “Call Me.” However, with the sudden end of the disco era, Skyy found itself a hitmaking band in limbo. After a half dozen albums, Skyy was sputtering Salsoul shut its doors. Unfortunately, while Skyy had a lot of great music ahead, it never really again had a label then went “all in” on the group. Capitol signed Skyy in 1986 and immediately scored a top ten hit with “Givin’ It (To You),” but lack of promotion torpedoed the album, and Skyy was again without a contract.
What followed were fallow years for Skyy, as the group sought another contract. Times were so tough that group members took other day jobs to pay the bills (McConnell in a salt factory). One day after work, McConnell put together an upbeat, fun song that the group thought had promise. It became “Start of A Romance,” the key to a brand new album on Atlantic Records, and a hit that shot all the way to #1. The group then followed with another charttopper, the now-classic slow jam, “Real Love.”
Unfortunately, Atlantic didn’t know what it had with Skyy, and retooled the group’s sound for the follow up album for more electronic instrumentation and an edgier urban sound. 1992’s Nearer to You sounded unlike a Skyy album, and prematurely ended the group’s recording career. With no more records coming, Skyy broke up in the mid 90s, — though the Dunning sisters still perform as The Ladies of Skyy.
Tommy McConnell brought so much joy as a player and was a key to both the first and the second chart risings of one of the great R&B and funk bands of our time. He will be missed.