SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 2) by Jaimie Vernon

In last week’s installment of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story” our young drummer, Ronn Prokop (he had yet to adopt his nickname), was heading to the Preston Scout House to hone his drum corps chops. Suffice to say Skip would not only become quite adept at marching band drum skills, but became a reigning SIX time champion in Canada and the United States with the Optimists Drum & Bugle Corp.

It was there that he bought himself an acoustic guitar and regaled his fellow drum corps band mates on long rides to and from competitions. That led to a short-stint in a folk trio called the Riverside 3. Skip had also left school and was working full-time as an intern at the Toronto Police Department.  This is where we pick up on Skip’s musical evolution with another excerpt from his posthumous book:

THE DRUMMING BEGINS
I won my last National Individual Drumming Championship for 1963-1964 with the Optimists Drum & Bugle Corp and up to that point I’d never really played a full drum kit. There was a police officer who had an old set of drums and he wanted to know if I was interested in buying them. It was crazy because they were, like, $35. They were beat up but I’d never had a set. I paid him 10 bucks a week. I brought them home and put them in our little room downstairs – that was our house on 9th Street in New Toronto. I literally sat down and started playing.

Coming from drum corps the music we listened to was 1) Jazz, 2) Big Band stuff, and 3) Broadway hit shows. That’s where I came from. So then, I’d put jazz records on and just listened and figured out what was going on and sort of fell into playing. Then I went out and bought my first brand new set of Ludwig drums.

THE TRANSITION TO PLAYING PROFESSIONALLY

I’d been out playing some little jazz gigs and working with a trio and a sextet. Aunt Lois and Uncle Stan’s son, Doug Guy, was a great guitarist and a brilliant kid. With Doug the sun rose and set on him. The whole family felt he could do no wrong. In the meantime he and I would get together and he’d be showing me Zip Guns. We used to make these with a pipe or whatever shape you wanted the wood to be, and we’d clamp it down, and fill it up with stones, and plug in a cannon cracker and away you’d go.  He was also a really good traditional jazz guitarist.

He had a friend (whose name I don’t remember unfortunately) and we had vibes, guitar, bass, and drums. We were doing a lot of that kind of jazz playing as the Skip Prokop Five. This would have been early in 1964.

Doug remembers those days fondly, “As a mediocre guitarist, I envied Skip’s reputation as the prima donna accordionist for the Waddington School of Music in Hamilton. We lost touch until a fortuitous Christmas Eve when we reconnected at my Aunt and Uncles’. I discovered that Skip had become an aspiring drummer and we ended up performing at various coffee houses in Guelph where I attended University. While I was attending the U of T we performed with several pickup bands and he was adamant that we should commit to music full time. Not having his talent or dedication, I pursued a conventional professional life (while) Skip formed The Paupers, a band that in my opinion did not garner the recognition they deserved.”

THE BIRTH OF “SKIP” PROKOP

One day I got a call from a Bob Cringan to find out if I might be interested in going up and playing at Fern Resort all summer. I was thinking if I did that I’d have to quit my job. But the money was pretty good and we would play a little suppertime type thing and then we would play dance music and jazz all night.

I remember my Dad saying to me, “What do you mean you’re going to quit your job? What will you do about a job?”
“I’m going to be playing up there all summer.”
“Well, what about after the summer? What happens in September?”
“I don’t know, Dad, but I’m going to do this.”

And that was the transition of getting out of the Toronto Police Department and into playing professionally. I played with a sensational bass player who is now one of the top Professors at York University named David Bell and he studied under Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, and Oscar Peterson in their Toronto Jazz School. We also played with a guy named Paul Chabeau, a tremendous guy and great pianist.


We had this little quartet and we’d play supper hour and then we’d play the dance. But where we had the most fun and where I really got to stretch out and really learn a lot about jazz was when we took a break and then we’d come back into the main hall. It only took one or two nights and everybody was packed back in because we were playing jazz – unless you were going to bed.

We’d just play straight out with “Love For Sale” and “Sing Sing Sing” and all the big, big jazz numbers. That is where I really begin to hone my chops in playing jazz. It was all instrumental and people loved it. We’d pack that place until 2, 3 or 4 in the morning. That was the transition to: you don’t have a day job and this is what you do.

Coming out of the Fern Resort gig I wound up doing a lot of gigs in Toronto with different Big Band groups.  One in particular that I remember was playing at the Royal York Hotel, and I’m playing with a lot of heavy hitters in this Big Band. One of the things I didn’t bother doing was to study reading for drums. We were backing up some female singer and I looked over at one of the guys sitting on my left just off the hi-hat and I said, “I don’t know how to read this crap.”
He said, “You know what, Ronn? Don’t worry about it. You’re great. Just kick the crap out of it.”
I never really got put in a position where I had to read percussion, if you will.

It was around this time that I got the name “Skip”. We were at this gig with one of these groups in Thorold, Ontario and we were killing time at the local pool hall until it was time for the show. I had this bad habit of making the cue ball skip over all the other balls which usually fell to the floor. It was an accordion player named Dino who gave me the name Skip.

DAWN OF THE PAUPERS
I’d grown up with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, and American Bandstand. All of a sudden, there was this group called The Beatles, and they were so different – especially their songs. That’s really where I wound up seeing what was going on with them, listening to what they were doing. I thought I could write stuff like that. Never mind my folk stuff like “Wind In the Willows.”

One of my buddies was a guy by the name of Bill Misener (he went under the stage name Bill Marion). Bill lived in Hamilton, on the Mountain, and at this point I would have already been in Toronto. We just started talking about putting a group together.

He was a good friend, and we’d gotten together with some other musicians over the period of a year. We went out and played a lot of Beach Boys and Duane Eddy stuff.

There was a period here where we wound up working with some guy out of Grimsby. It was 1964, and we were thinking about calling the group The Spats. This guy was willing to put money in, and I think he had a club.

Anyway, it never went anywhere, but at some point along the way, Bill and I decided to do something serious. I talked to him and said, “Hey, you know this whole Beatles thing? I think we can do something like that.”

This is when the Beatles had hit. Like I said, when I first heard The Beatles I thought I can write this kind of stuff. In my head I wasn’t thinking I could write Beatle songs, but the formula seemed easy. I got together with Bill and we just started writing songs.


I put an ad up at the Larry Sykes Music Store in Scarborough, looking for a guitarist and a bass player. I got a response from guitarist Chuck Beal who was already in the musicians’ union and worked at Sykes’. But, we were still looking for a bass player. He said he knew a great bass player named Denny Gerrard who lived in downtown Toronto and so they were both in.

We called ourselves The Spats, but that was sort of the beginning of The Paupers.
We officially formed December 10, 1964.

=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 2) by Jaimie Vernon”

  1. David Maye Says:

    I know that Skip had a Christian Rock Band for awhile. Lighthouse was Canadas answer to Chicago. Pretty Lady was an awesome hit along with others. 70′ s music riled and still does. Loved The Wacker and The Dudes. MoonQuake also had potential to be great.

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