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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Joe Rock / Wrote 'Since I Don't Have You,' manager of the Skyliners

Thursday, April 06, 2000

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Joe Rock, who, legend has it, wrote the words to "Since I Don't Have You" while at a traffic light in 1958, died in Nashville Tuesday of complications from quadruple-bypass surgery.

A South Side native who spent his final seven years in Nashville writing music, Mr. Rock was 63.

Mr. Rock had recently been diagnosed with a form of peripheral arterial sclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.

Mr. Rock's biggest claim to fame, the single "Since I Don't Have You" with a melody written by vocalist Jimmy Beaumont, hit the U.S. charts in March of '59 for Beaumont's doo-wop group, the Skyliners, climbing as high as No. 12.

The timeless ballad rose again to No. 23 in 1981 for Don McLean, with additional covers through the years by an amazingly diverse array of acts: the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Johnny Mathis, Art Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand, Ronnie Milsap, Guns 'N Roses and the Broadway cast of "Grease."

Mr. Rock was 21 and Beaumont 17 when they collaborated on the hit. The writing duo scored another hit in June of that year when the Skyliners charted with "This I Swear," which climbed to No. 24.

Mr. Rock wrote the words to "Since I Don't Have You" on the way to rehearsal a day after having his young heart broken by a girl who left him to attend airline school in Tulsa, Okla. Beaumont wrote the melody and original top tenor Janet Vogel added the heavenly vocal finale.

Mr. Rock was more than just a lyricist. It was his talent as a manager that won the group a record deal, after 13 rejections, with Calico Records and a spot on "American Bandstand."

Looking back on the days of "Since I Don't Have You" early last year, Mr. Rock told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "It was a completely different time. Everything about the music business was so different then. But it was a wonderful time because anything could happen, and it did for us."

He also managed Johnny Day, a local singer, to a deal with Stax and the Jaggerz, a local group featuring Donnie Iris, to a record deal with Kama Sutra that resulted in a No. 2 national hit with "The Rapper."

As a writer, Mr. Rock eventually would move to country, but not before his connections at Stax in Memphis led to him co-writing "Dreams to Remember" with Otis Redding. Mr. Rock and Redding were together the night before the soul great died in a plane crash.

Through it all, Mr. Rock continued to manage the Skyliners, writing two new songs with Beaumont for an album they began recording just last year.

"He was always on our side, 100 percent," said Beaumont. "He was totally honest. And it's pretty hard to find people like that, that you can trust your career to and not have to worry about your finances. Plus, we wrote many songs together. We were family, you know. He's like my big brother."

It was Mr. Rock who put the group together after seeing Beaumont sing at a record hop in Mount Washington with another group.

"His lyrics were so easy to compose to," Beaumont said. "It just seemed like sometimes the music would jump out at you from the page. I never had a problem."

Henry J. DeLuca, a local concert promoter, met Mr. Rock 20 years ago, before the first of many Roots of Rock and Roll shows.

"I had to apologize to him for not including the Skyliners," DeLuca said. "I thought that maybe they were seen in Pittsburgh too often. And he surely let me know that I was wrong. And indeed, I was wrong. Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners proved to be the most popular artist for the Roots of Rock and Roll. They really were the box office kings of the groups of the era. And Joe, of course, was their manager from day one."

His sister, Ruth Murphy, said when she and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, Mr. Rock wrote lyrics to a song that told their story from the day they met until their golden anniversary.

"I was just bowled over," she said.

WQED-TV will air a special "Doo Wop Shop" at 10 p.m. tomorrow titled "Comes Love: Remembering Joe Rock," featuring a never-before-broadcast interview with Mr. Rock, memories from friends and musicians and concert footage through the years of the Skyliners.

The youngest of five children, Mr. Rock, who never married, leaves three sisters, Murphy of Scott, Dorothy Kazior of Castle Shannon and Betty Losak of Baldwin.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Church, 310 Kane Blvd., Scott.

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