Split the Dark

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Split the Dark, c. 1983

Split the Dark was a rock band active in Birmingham and around the southeast during the 1980's. The group started out in 1981 as the Calton Phillips Group, named for founders Tommy Calton (guitar) and Marc Phillips (keyboard and vocals), long-time friends who had been members of Hotel and other short-lived groups dating back to the late 1960s.

Another Hotel alumnus, Eddie Usher played bass guitar and Steve Sample, Jr played drums. In the beginning the group played mainly covers, establishing themselves at clubs around the south, appearing in Birmingham mainly at Louie Louie in 5 Points South. In 1983, at the suggestion of their management at Southeastern Attractions, the band adopted a new name that was easier for club owners to spell correctly. "Split the Dark" was suggested by Phillips, recalling a television ad he had seen for a flashlight. Vocalist Lolly Lee, formerly of The Mortals, joined the group and added a rhythm guitar to the line-up.

After their first show in Memphis performing, ironically, as "Split the Dog", the group started to think about original music. They had been in the studio recording a few commercial jingles for Conrad Rafield's Concept Company when they presented plans for a 6-song EP to manager Michael Trucks. Shortly after recording the EP, entitled "Keep it to Yourself", Sample and Lee both left the band -- Sample to broaden his range and Lee to have a child. Jeff Florreich joined briefly, taking over keyboards for Phillips, and was soon replaced by Scott McDavid. David James became the group's new drummer.

In 1984 Split the Dark shot a video for "Take off the Mask", one of three singles they had recorded at Polymusic Studios as a follow-up to "Keep it to Yourself". The idea of making a video was suggested by Tommy Petros, an engineer at Air Mobil and long-time friend of Calton's. Steve Ashlee directed the video, which was shot in Birmingham. It was Rafield, however, that discovered, just before the video release, that it actually worked better with another of the band's songs, "Always a Chance". After a little re-work in the studio the video was released. It won an MTV "Basement Tapes" competition in 1986 by an overwhelming margin of votes.

Split the Dark kept recording new material, putting down four tracks for producer James Stroud in Nashville. In 1987 McDavid left the band and guitarist Damon Johnson joined the veteran group. They recorded three more tracks together before breaking up in 1988. Johnson and Usher joined Witness. James returned to college, Phillips joined Boardgames and Calton packed up to move to New Orleans. The group played their last show together, at Louie Louie, in April 1988.


  • Split the Dark. Keep it to Yourself (EP) - RSVP