SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 4) by Jaimie Vernon

Skip Prokop and The Paupers were well on their way with a record deal on Red Leaf Records, songs on the radio, and a foot in the Yorkville coffee houses. It wouldn’t be long before the band was highly in demand and craving bigger and better rewards.


ENTER BERNIE FINKELSTEIN
We were playing on a regular basis at The El Patio, and we were doing a lot of cover tunes, but we were doing a ton of original stuff also. At the El Patio, we were packing them in. When The Paupers were there, it was ridiculous. It was a two or three block line-up to get in. It was a zoo. People would stand out there until we played a set, and they tried to turn the house over and tried to bring another crowd in. They actually started posting show times. You’d come in, have your coffee [pfft pfft], and out the door, and in comes the next group. Yorkville was crazy on Saturdays.
Bernie Finkelstein was the guy who put the cappuccino together and worked behind the little bar where you could get coffee, as there was no booze at that time.
We’d be rehearsing there in the day time, and we’d stumble over something and Bernie would say, “Why don’t you try this?”
And we’d say, “Hey, Bernie. Shut up. Go back and do the dishes or something.”
He’d say, “I’m telling you, man, you should try it.”
We’d pass on that, and we’d continue to stumble and fart around and try to overcome the problem.

Then we’d be like, “Hey, Bernie…what was that you said?”
“I think you should do this, and Denny can do that, and Chuck could come in there…”
We’d do it, and it would work.
This would go on night after night. “Hey, Bernie…shut up. Go wash dishes or something.”
But we’d finally given in, and we tried the idea and realize, damn, that was a great idea.
After awhile we started realizing this guy was pretty smart, and he started talking to us about other things like image stuff, and “I think you should think about this and I think you should think about that.” Eventually, instead of saying, “Shut up and go clean the kitchen, Bernie,” we said, “Come out here, we want to talk to you about something.”
This guy really knew what he was talking about.
“So, Bernie, we’ve been thinking. How would you like to manage the band?”
I don’t know that he was stunned, but you never knew with Bernie. He was the greatest poker player.
“Yeah. I can do that, guys. Yeah. We’d have to talk about a few things, but yeah.”
Immediately, he started managing the band, and all of a sudden things started happening. At that time, it was the Ron Scribner Agency booking shows, and we were playing in the Village, and we were the house band at El Patio, and getting articles written about us and starting to play a lot out of town. Bernie was out there doing some world shaking, and we were seeing the results.

EXIT BILL MARION
I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes, but I don’t think that Duff had the same pull running the record label on his own. All I know is that the “For What I Am” single didn’t go anywhere. We weren’t that concerned really, because the gigs were great. He always got us decent shows [like the Pepsi 21 Club at the CNE]

There was some talk of us signing with Columbia Records at the beginning of 1966, but that didn’t work out. Instead, we got one more kick at it in 1966 on his Roman Records label with a cover of “Long Tall Sally,” instead of the song that Duff had announced to all the newspapers and stuff called “Heart Walking Blues.” I think it was a mistake releasing that. We didn’t consider ourselves a covers band, and it looked like a cheap cash-in. Our fans didn’t buy the record, and it didn’t chart.

Pepsi Under 21

In the end, Duff was frustrated, and we were frustrated. There were arguments and heated discussions. He tried his best to get us a better record deal, and we ended up nearly signing with Bill Gilliland’s Arc Records, because Bill did a lot of stuff for us in the early days.

But Bill Marion wasn’t happy about the contract and walked away from the deal at the last minute. Bill has been quoted on the Garage Hangover website as saying, “Bill Gilliland at Arc Recording Studios (Arc Sound) had offered the band free studio time in an attempt to woo the group over to his label (Arc Records). At the time, the label was largely known for no airplay recordings of bad covers by unknown artists.

“I don’t recall the exact date, but Skip asked me to come up to Arc for a meeting. About what, he didn’t say. On arrival, I was shown into the boardroom. I remember it like it was yesterday. Skip, Dennis, Chuck, and Gilliland were all seated around a huge conference table. There was one empty seat left for me. On the table in front of each seat sat a pile of typed documents. Then, and only then, was I informed by Skip that we were signing a record deal with Arc. I was incredulous, and not a little hurt.                        I said, ‘I can’t do this”, left the building, got into my car, and went home. I was replaced as lead singer/rhythm guitarist in a matter of days.’”

What began to happen with Bill Marion, in as much as he and I had written a whole bunch of material and had basically written all the Red Leaf hits, he felt as a vocalist that he was being held back, because we were so stylistically into what we were into as the early Paupers.

He was enamoured with all the guys in a group called The Bluenotes. They were heavy R & B, who all looked like hip Toronto guys. I think it was Prakash John and those really heavy players. We liked them. I thought they were great. Bill wanted to sing with them, and he wanted to be doing more R & B. As much as I love Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, and Motown, and Soul, and the whole Black music genre, it wasn’t what I was writing, and it wasn’t what The Paupers were doing.

He also met this girl he fell in love with. All of a sudden, we’re having a Paupers meeting about whether we should be doing this song or that song, or wearing these suits or not wearing those suits, and we’ve got this woman in the meeting.  I put the brakes on and Bill would say, “Well, she really feels…”

And I said to Bill, “Well, she’s not really part of the band.”  So, all of that influence kind of inflamed the situation. Musically, that’s where he felt he was being led, and that was cool. RPM Weekly magazine ran a little blurb on July 20 that we’d be releasing a record on Arc, and that was kind of it for Bill. We did our final show with him on July 24, 1966 at the El Patio. He called me the next day and quit the band. I wasn’t that surprised.

I know Bill went on to work with Keith Hampshire, Gordon Lightfoot, The Laurie Bower Singers, and some other really great artists. Before Bill passed away on June 26, 2014, I hadn’t seen him for a long, long time. That was just through time and distance. I never had any bad feelings or animosity towards him, as we had just grown apart. Bless you, Bill. In Peace.

ENTER ADAM MITCHELL
Now the search was on for a new singer. We put the word out and auditioned a few guys.  We discussed the idea of getting this singer or that singer, and finally Bernie said, “I know a guy who would be great. He plays 12-string picking and has a really different voice, but is a great singer and a great songwriter. Skip, you and him could probably write some amazing stuff together. His name is Adam Mitchell and he plays at The Mousehole. You should check him out.”

Manager/promoter Harvey Glatt picks up the story from there: “I helped Adam after he’d finished university, managing him and getting him to Toronto, where he started playing at coffee houses in Yorkville. That’s where he started playing regular shows at the Mousehole Café, and how Bernie Finkelstein and I initially met. When Adam joined the Paupers, I began to co-manage with Bernie for a short time.”

From his biography, “True North – A Life In the Music Business,” Bernie recalls, “I had been watching a talented young singer-songwriter named Adam Mitchell. Adam’s folk background and vocal sound seemed like a great fit for the Paupers, merging in well with the more psychedelic and rock leanings of the band. I imagined the sounds to be both compatible and different at the same time, further distinguishing the Paupers from the pack. I went down and heard him a couple of times and thought, wow, this guy is good. I met him and we chatted.”

I remember Bernie finally found a basement, not far from the Le Coq d’Or on Yonge Street, where we could bring our equipment into and go through a few things with Adam.  So myself, Chuck, and Denny all got our gear, and Adam showed up, and we played maybe for a couple of hours, just some songs that we knew and he knew, and that was it. It was decided that we had to have this guy.

Adam was really into what you’d call Folk Rock. If you kinda dig the concept of 12-string guitars, and finger picking, and just the combination musically of the way I thought of songwriting and the way Adam thought of it, the whole idea made sense.

A new and improved Paupers was about to emerge                                                                                 .

=JV=

Skip Prokop’s “Sunny Days” 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

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