SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 1) by Jaimie Vernon

In 2012 I took on the task of interviewing internationally renowned drummer Skip Prokop on what we thought would be a quick set of sessions to lay down the most interesting stories from his impressive career as drummer for The Paupers and Lighthouse with side projects involving Peter Paul & Mary, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Elliot, and Mike Bloomfield’s ‘Supersession.’

The pretense to these interviews was to publish Skip’s biography. It took until 2019 to finally release the book from those audio transcripts. Meanwhile, Skip would pass away 2/3s of the way through seeing it to completion in 2017. His family asked me to complete the task of researching, contextualizing, and publishing the book that became “Sunny Days – The Skip Prokop Story.” It was a bittersweet labour of love.

This month I thought I would start a series of excerpts from the book to introduce you to the man that gave us “One Fine Morning,” “Sunny Days,” and “Pretty Lady” among so many hit songs from our collective pop culture playlist. Photos are courtesy the Prokop estate, Cathy Irving (CBC), plus Don Daber of the Optimists Club.

Skip was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario and his parents encouraged his love of music. He started on accordion but soon was attracted to the idea of learning drums via the Sea Cadets. Skip discusses how the ball got rolling back when people still knew him by his real name Ronn Prokop…

NAVY LEAGUE CADETS AND THE MUSIC BUG
Across the street from where we [lived in Hamilton] there was the Maracle Family. They were full-blooded Mohawk Indians. Bobby Maracle was older than I was, and I used to watch him come out in his Sea Cadet uniform with the polished brass and the spats – the whole thing. And he had a trumpet. He looked so sharp, and I remember thinking that I wanted to look like that. We used to call him Chief.

One day I said to him, “Hey, Chief, what is this thing…this Sea Cadets?” He told me all about the band and all the details about the RCSCC Lion Sea Cadets in Hamilton.
I said to him, “You know I really would like to be in Sea Cadets.”


He said, “You’re too young, but they have a junior group called the Navy League Cadets. You could probably get in there.”

The Sea Cadet Corps in Hamilton was RCSCC 31 Lion. The Royal Canadian Navy band was full blown regular Navy, and I went on a course with them that was all based on the HMCS Star and regular Navy ruling and judgment.

I was also looking at a thing called the Venture Plan. You’d finish your last two years of high school out in Esquimalt, British Columbia. You’d take your Grade 12 and Grade 13 and then you’d go to Pensacola, Florida to become a jet-fighter pilot. I thought this sounded incredibly exciting and spent a lot of time considering it.

Anyway, I went down immediately and joined the Navy League Cadet Corps. Cadets were my first taste of what many would consider today as being bullied. You were 12 or 13 years old and you’d have some Navy League Cadet Officer four inches away from your face just screaming at you. And most kids would just wrap it up and go home. But I was used to it as my Dad was a heavy disciplinarian, and didn’t put up with crap from us kids, so I thought this was pretty interesting. I would do anything to be in Sea Cadets because I wanted to be in the band. I endured all of this and so when I turned fourteen it was time to have a shot at Sea Cadets.

Now, musically at this time my Mom and Dad had worked really hard, spent a lot of money and had me in accordion lessons. That’s where the whole music thing all started for me. From the time I was 8 until I was 13 I played accordion. I started out going for lessons at Waddington’s Music on John Street in downtown Hamilton. I had this amazing teacher named Richard Simchuk – one of the great, great world-class accordionists.


I practiced a lot. Lessons were expensive in those days, never mind the price of a Scandalli accordion on top of it. I would practice at least three hours a day. Every day. So, I got really, really, really good. I was also sight reading on the spot. I spent about a year with Mr. Simchuk and I learned so much from him. Then he decided to go to Paris and parts of Europe to further his own music career.

Well, that left me sitting there on my own. I know it sounds egotistical, but I don’t mean it to be except it happens to be a fact that at this point it didn’t matter what piece of music was put in front of me because I was already sight reading violin books. I left Waddington’s and went to a music lesson place called Viola Music. I went there for about three months and it was just crazy. I’d go for my lesson and they’d get this piece of music out expecting that I was going to take it home and work really hard on it for a week. Of course, they’d put it in front of me – a really difficult piece – and I’d just sight read it perfect. Boom. Next.I won gold medals at the Kiwanis Music Festivals and all kinds of talent shows. I didn’t mind playing accordion but basically I was getting to the point where I really just wanted to get into Sea Cadets and play snare drum. I wanted to be one of the drummers. I carved my first set of drumsticks out of an old pool cue.

I think initially my parents were a little disappointed, especially my Dad, but on the other hand the transition into something that was so disciplined and was highly militarized made them happy.

SEA CADETS
Then at that point it was time to move from Navy League Cadets up to Sea Cadets and work toward getting into the band. It’s hard to explain to people in a book the way they played. It was really haphazard stuff. So if you wanted a five-stroke roll it was: da-da-da-da-DA (and really fast like a gunshot). But in Sea Cadets nobody could do that. They took the head of the drum stick and dragged it across the top of the snare and ended with the gunshot. It was a cheat. But I didn’t know. I was still learning.  Aside from the drumming in Sea Cadet Corps, I learned sailing and cracked up a couple of rudders. I got holy Hell for that.

There were several great guys, older men that put their time in as officers including the Merritt Brothers. If John Merritt decided to chew you out – which I had done to me several times especially when I came flying in to dock the boat and forgot to bring the keel up – you would be out there later with a hand plane trying to straighten out the bottom of the boat.

[Skip Bugle Corp photo]
Then there was a Gunnery Officer named Nash. He was the one that took the kids out and did all the old fashion gunnery style marching and that type of stuff. Along with this, I did a lot of shooting and became a crack shot.

That’s when the talk started about whether I’d consider taking a scholarship for the Royal British Naval Academy. I was looking at that for awhile. It would have meant going to England.

But leading up to this the Royal Canadian Navy National Band was recruiting for people to take an eight or ten week course to join their band. I got picked. It moved me out of Sea Cadets and into the Royal Canadian Navy Band.

REAL DRUM CORP
Next thing I know Bob Maracle quit the Sea Cadet Corps.
I said to him, “What’s the deal?”
He said, “We’re going to get involved in real drum corps?”
“Well, what’s that mean?”
“There’s this world famous drum corps called Preston Scout House from Preston, Ontario and they’ve been all over the world. It’s way, way better, and more complicated, and more disciplined. You’ve gotta be really good.”
“Wow”
“…and you’ve gotta see the drumming. They call it rudimental drumming. It’s incredible.”
I didn’t even know what that was but I was fascinated, “Well, where would I go to be part of this?”
He said, “I’ve got a couple of buddies that are now marching with the RHLI Drum Corps out of the
[Hamilton Armoury]
Hamilton Armoury and they’ve got a great horn line and a great rudimental drum line. They practice every week and I can take you down there.”

So I went down to the Armouries on James Street North which was the home of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, and it was incredible. I sat on the side watching these drum lines and the brass lines, and then they’d split off and back again. I looked at the way these guys played and I was thinking Holy mackerel, I gotta learn what these rudiments are.

They were all playing. There might have been five snare drummers across the line and when you looked down the line it was like it was one drummer. Everybody’s style was synchronized. They all played perfect open rolls, none of that junior buzzing-like- bees stuff. It was bang on rapid fire machine gun style. I was blown away.

Bob introduced me to this buddy of his named Don Truman. He said, “Don, when you guys are done tonight do you think you can spend a little time showing a few things to Ronnie (I wasn’t known as Skip yet)?”

The practice ended and everybody was sitting around having a beer and relaxing and Don Truman came over and so I asked him what all the stuff was.

He said, “Look. I’m going to show you a few things and write it down for you and you go away and practice. I’ll show you slowly what a paradiddle looks like – a single paradiddle, a double paradiddle, a triple paradiddle, and a double stroke or “mama-dada” open roll, and a seven stroke triplet and a four stroke triplet.”

=JV=

Skip Prokop’s “Sunny Days” is available is available as a 325 page book from Bullseye Publishing
http://gwntertainment.wixsite.com/bullseye-records
Or Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/Sunny-Days-Skip-Prokop-Story/dp/1698098464

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Jaimie+Vernon 

One Response to “SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 1) by Jaimie Vernon”

  1. Sandy Reddy Says:

    I feel I have lived this story myself. I also am a drummer and live to play at age 76 I still gig and look forward to playing about every 2 weeks with a 50s and 60s trio in Kitchener. I never knew Skip but
    his talent is Legend and find this story interesting. Thank You for witting this book the Man and his Life in music.

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