SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 5) by Jaimie Vernon

Adam Mitchell was an integral new addition to The Paupers on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Bernie Finkelstein had come on board as manager and wasted no time getting the band signed to MGM Records stateside. It was a springboard for what was to come. Bernie wanted to showcase the band to their new American label. It meant heading to the USA.



NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
It was at this point Bernie decided to get us booked into New York to show the people from MGM Records what we could do. Bernie was determined to break us in New York. He went down and talked to Howard Solomon at the Café Au Go Go about the band.

As Bernie recalls from his book ‘True North’, “He (Howard) tells me he’ll book the band, and opens up his booking ledger…and he says, ‘Hey, I’ve got a perfect show for you, with Ian & Sylvia.’ Now there are times in your life when you have to take a shot…I’m being offered a gig with one of the greatest Canadian acts of all time. And what did I say? ‘No thanks.’ And then I asked him if I could look at the upcoming schedule.”

Bernie had big cojones. Howard could have told him to jump in the East River. Instead he said, “I definitely have an opening February 27th through March 5th and I have this other band coming in and it would be a good double bill. They’re a band that’s having tremendous success on the West Coast. They’re called the Jefferson Airplane. It would be a really good combination from what you’re telling me.” So Bernie set a date for us to go to New York in the New Year.

“IF I CALL YOU BY SOME NAME” – THE SINGLE
We started working on our first single for MGM around the third week of September 1966 down in New York City at Bell Studio, and again in early October with overdubs done at RCA Studio in Toronto. It was “If I Call You By Some Name” written by our producer, Rick Shorter. It was released November 26, 1966 and finally got us some action on the RPM Magazine singles chart over Christmas time and would go on to sell about 35,000 copies in Canada which, at the time, was insane. The B-side was one of the first songs Adam and I ever wrote together called “Copper Penny.”

By then we had played with Wilson Pickett at Club Kingsway (October 2), The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Association at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto (December 11), and with The Troggs at the Ottawa Coliseum (December 28). We were back in the game, and people were loving it.

“SIMPLE DEED” – THE SINGLE
We started working on four new songs including the second single, “Simple Deed,” in New York on January 26, 1967, again with producer Rick Shorter. “Simple Deed,” and the B-side, “Let Me Be,” were both songs I wrote with Adam, and we finished the sessions January 30.

The single was released in February 1967, and we went out on a mini-tour of high schools around the Toronto area and further east in Ontario (including two shows in Kingston). We also did York University and put 1,000 kids in there. It was outrageous.

We finished up the “Simple Deed” recordings in February 1967 and went back to Toronto for one more show at Boris’s with Luke & The Apostles on February 12, before spending a couple of days rehearsing for our big American debut.

CAFÉ AU GO GO – NEW YORK
February 27 – March 5, 1967
with Jefferson Airplane

So off we went to New York. It was big. We were a Canadian band, young kids, coming out of Yorkville Village in Toronto. We were going to NEW YORK! The word in the Village was “Wow! This is huge for Canada!”

Of course, we all packed way too much stuff. I remember having two enormous suitcases. We get down to the Café Au Go-Go, and we go set up our gear, and we were set to do a sound check in the afternoon. The staff was in there doing the typical bar thing, tidying and getting everything all clean. We decided to run through a few things and just make sure everything’s good, sound-wise. I counted it off, and we went into “Magic People.” And the walls started shaking.

All of a sudden, the staff just stopped dead. They put down their trays and their brooms, and they gathered at the tables at the front of the stage completely stunned, jaws on the floor. We finished and they were banging on tables, and yelling and screaming. So we did “Think I Care” and we did a couple of other things. They just went nuts. Then owner Howard Solomon came in and said, “What the hell are you people doing? I don’t pay you to sit around.” He left shaking his head.

We went back that night and the place was packed, because it was The Jefferson Airplane, this group coming from California on this huge wave of success. We had big amps, and they had big amps. Howard Solomon got up to the mike and said with his dry New York humour, “Welcome to Amp City.”

That helped a bit, but it didn’t change the fact that everyone was there to see Jefferson Airplane.  We came out and it was like, “Ladies and Gentlemen here’s a young group from Toronto, Canada, yada yada yada – The Paupers!”

We opened with “Think I Care.” BOOM. DUGGA BOOM. WAAAAAAAH!!! The wall of sound crushing them into the wall. We look out at the audience. It was just stunned shock. Their eyes were as big as saucers. Their jaws were on the floor. Just completely stunned. We finished and they went berserk. The whole place went nuts.

“Thank you very much” and [BOOM] we went into the next thing which was “It’s Your Mind,” and we slowed it down with the mandolin on “Tudor Impressions” and all the drum things going. They were just freaking out.

After that, they wouldn’t stop clapping and shouting. We had to wait five minutes or more before we could carry on with the set. We dedicated “Magic People” to everyone and after that it was more of the crowd losing it.

We finished the show and they wouldn’t let us off stage. We got off stage and they’re screaming and yelling. They were banging chairs on the floor and pounding mugs on the tables. They would not let us go. Howard came into the dressing room and said, “You gotta go back out or they’re gonna tear this place apart.”

We went back on and played another song, and then another song, and that was it. The Airplane was coming on next. We didn’t want to overstay our welcome. The Airplane came on and the response was golf claps with barely enthusiastic “yeah, these guys are alright. But the Paupers…wow!” It was a typical kind of polite applause. By the third night they were talking to Howard Solomon about getting out of their contract.

The word went out of that club, and the next night, everybody who was anybody in the music industry was at those tables. William Morris, all the big agencies, Brian Epstein, everybody. It was unbelievable. We thought what do we do now?


That was it. Then the press hit. There were guys with limos. Guys wanted to wine and dine us. Every groupie in New York, all the fashion people.  It was just insane. It’s also where I met Bobby Colomby and Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears. The guys from the Blues Project like Steve Cropper were also there.

In that audience was manager Albert Grossman and he asked us, “Okay, who do I have to talk to about this band?” Grossman was already managing Dylan, Odetta, Peter Paul & Mary, Paul Butterfield, and The Band.

THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN FROM NEW YORK
When we went back to Yorkville Village in Toronto, it was insanity. We were the first Canadian group to break out and get a major US record deal. When we were sitting around with the Mynah Birds or The Sparrow it was, “What is it like?” From there every band wanted to head to the States – either New York or California.


At that point, Bernie had been sitting all week with super-manager Albert Grossman, and they had worked out a kind of co-management deal.  The more publicity we got the more people wanted to see the band, and at that point we were playing and the line-ups at Boris’s Red Gas just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

We were outgrowing the rooms, but at the same time, oddly enough, there was nowhere else to play. Where were we gonna play? You could maybe play some arena gigs or places like The Broom & Stone in Scarborough, which was a dance hall. And we had to start work on a full-length album.

Paupers 1967

Because we were playing so much it was second nature. It was like The Beatles at theStar Club. So, we started with producer Rick Shorter coming up from New York’ and Ithink we were probably back playing at the Hawk’s Nest. He had some ideas to taper this, massage that, a little bit of blah blah, but in pretty well every case, we were set to go.

Anyway, we were basically playing here and there, and rehearsing and working with Rick Shorter, and then it was time to go back to New York and start recording. We were excited. First of all, we were blown away because we were going to New York to record, and this wasn’t fooling around.

This was a full blown eight track studio. Our recording experience up to that point had really been over at Hallmark Recording Studio, which was a little four track studio, so this became a huge thing.

We went in and just started laying down the tracks. I think Rick was very helpful in many respects on some of the material with the backing vocals, and things like that, which were sung by me and Denny Gerrard. Chuck didn’t sing. Rick probably popped his voice in here and there. But the idea of expanding from four to eight tracks, it was ridiculous. It was like, “Holy cow! We’ve got all these tracks. What will we put on them?” It didn’t take long to get the actual recording done on our debut album ‘Magic People.’


http://gwntertainment.wixsite.com/bullseye-records

=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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