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They were the “sleazier, more extreme Village People,” according to Doug Brod, author of They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll. And while the porno-disco-rockers’ signature song and only U.S. hit, “Walk the Night,” didn’t exactly become a wedding-reception staple like their Casablanca Records labelmates’ ubiquitous “YMCA,” there’s no doubt that Skatt Bros. — led by Sean Delaney, the lover of KISS’s then-manager Bill Aucoin and the costumer/choreographer who helped shape Casablanca superstars KISS’s outlandish stage show — made their mark.
Brod admits that he didn’t know much about Skatt Bros. until he started working on They Just Seem a Little Weird, but tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume, “I'm so glad you asked, because this was one of my favorite chapters to write and research! Sean Delaney was this guy who worked for Bill Aucoin, worked for KISS. He basically created, or helped create, KISS’s show for them, and he also worked extensively with [Aucoin-managed glam-rock band] Starz early on, sort of grooming them — he was their guru, their choreographer, and he sometimes co-wrote songs with them. … So, there were a lot of connections to KISS that the Skatt Bros. had.”
The openly gay Delaney also had a co-production credit on Gene Simmons's 1978 solo album, produced uncredited demos for Peter Criss’s solo album, and co-wrote multiple KISS songs, many with Paul Stanley, including “Take Me,” “Mr. Speed,” “Makin' Love,” “All American Man,” and “Rocket Ride.” But after releasing one failed solo album for Casablanca, the man known to many fans as “the fifth member of KISS” was ready to launch his own, even more flamboyant band.
In They Just Seem a Little Weird, Stanley confessed that he was put off by the risqué meaning of Skatt Bros.’ moniker (which the book amusingly says “suggests an unholy fellowship bound by both improvisational jazz singing and a sexual preoccupation with poop”), telling Brod, “It was uncomfortable. It was too edgy and dark and represented something that most people couldn’t relate to.” KISS’s Gene Simmons, speaking to Yahoo Entertainment earlier this year, was a bit more blunt. “Scatting in the gay male culture is a reference to poop-scooping — and eating it, I guess. It's also a jazz terminology, of course,” a deadpan Simmons shrugged. “Sean Delaney was actually a very talented guy. … [Skatt Bros.] were a band that had some good ideas, but no DNA, no fingerprint.”
Simmons was actually wrong about Skatt Bros. having no fingerprint. The supergroup’s half-gay/half-straight lineup, featuring Delaney on keyboards, also included ex-Starz bassist Pieter Sweval, guitarist David Andez (who’d played for Village People), guitarist Richard Martin-Ross, and drummers Craig Krampf and Richie Fontana (the latter of whom had played in the Billy Squier-fronted rock band Piper, which was also managed by Aucoin). They wrote their songs and co-produced their recordings, so they obviously had the rock chops to back up their shock. (And according Sweval, their complex harmonies were actually jazz-influenced.) “David’s playing lead guitar like Hendrix,” Fontana stated in They Just Seem a Little Weird. “People would think, ‘Are they gay? Are they not?’”
Skatt Bros’ full-length debut Strange Spirits didn’t generate much mainstream buzz upon its 1979 release, despite the KISS connections or Village People comparisons, but The Advocate praised the album for being “altogether relentlessly masculine.” Unsurprisingly, “Walk the Night” quickly became a favorite among DJs in leather bars like New York City’s Spike and San Francisco’s Catacombs, and at NYC club Flamingo’s legendary annual sex-themed Black Party. (In 2013, one fan even made a viral video for the song set to footage from William Friedkin’s Al Pacino S&M thriller Cruising.) But Record World said the album was packed with “Top 40 perfect hooks,” and it did eventually find a larger audience, when “Walk the Night” spent almost three months on Billboard’s disco chart in 1980, peaking at No. 9. That same year, incredibly, the Skatts even got to perform two other Strange Spirits tracks — an ode to anonymous truck-stop trysting titled “Midnight Companion,” and the album-opening bubblegum-disco stomper “Dancin’ for the Man” — for millions of unsuspecting housewives when they appeared on Dinah Shore’s popular afternoon talk show.
Strange Spirits was out of print for years, before European music company Premium Series released a reissue, advertised as being digitally remastered from original master tapes, in 2010; when Rockstar Games had wanted to license “Walk the Night” for the Grand Theft Auto IV video game soundtrack two years earlier, the company actually had to hire a private investigator to track down relatives of Delaney, who’d died in 2003. But now the metal-disco trailblazer “Walk the Night” is an enduring underground favorite. A strutting rough-trade anthem — which, it should be noted, featured a (very X-rated) rap a whole year before Blondie’s “Rapture” became a crossover smash — “Walk the Night” has been covered by sex-positive queer electroclash pioneer Peaches, served as the concert entrance music for both LCD Soundsystem and Queens of the Stone Age, and appeared in both Grand Theft Auto IV and the HBO series The Righteous Gemstones. Most notably, it hugely influenced LGBTQ+ dance-rock icons Scissors Sisters, whose “Harder You Get” off their 2010 album Night Work was a blatant and loving homage to Skatt Bros.
“I had a moment. I was at a sex party in Mannheim [in Germany], I was on the dance floor,” Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears told Rolling Stone while previewing Night Work in 2009. “It was 6 o’clock in the morning. I was wearing a little rubber wrestling singlet. I was having a great time. It was disgusting. … The most vile place I’ve ever been. And I was dancing, and the DJs put on ‘Walk the Night’ by the Skatt Bros. It’s one of my favorites. It was one of those revelatory moments for me when I realized what I wanted the album to sound like and how I wanted it to make me feel.”
Skatt Bros. never scored another chart hit in the U.S., but a second fist-pumping, gang-vocal-laden single from Strange Spirits, “Life at the Outpost,” went gold in Australia (where it’s still the victory song for the North Queensland Cowboys rugby team), even though the music video for the song caused a minor scandal when it was discovered that no actual Skatt Bros. band members had appeared in the clip. (It instead starred a bunch of Village People clones, synchronized-dancing at a cowboy bar.) The Aussie success of “Life at the Outpost” resulted in the Skatts' second and final album, 1981’s even more hard-rawkin’ (and even more obscure) Rico & The Ravens, only being officially released Down Under.
Still, Brod tells Yahoo/SiriusXM that it’s the landmark Strange Spirits album that has left a legacy as a queer cult classic, even if it was (or maybe because it was) way too ahead of its time in 1979. “They created this album which is just an incredible record. It's this like really sleazy disco-rock record with some great songs and some cheesy ballads, but it's just extraordinary,” the author and former Spin editor marvels. “Because it sounds like nothing else from that era.”
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Doug Brod's quotes above are taken from his appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.