SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 6) by Jaimie Vernon

In our previous installment, Yorkville Village heroes The Paupers had effectively ambushed New York City and taken the American music business by storm following their gigs at the Café Au-Go-Go. It landed them both a U.S. record deal with MGM/Verve-Folkways and a deal with Uber-manager Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan, The Band, Odetta, Peter Paul & Mary, Paul Butterfield, Janis Joplin). The wheels were in motion for The Paupers to conquer America. The band did a promotional tour across the U.S. to radio stations in preparation for the release of their debut album ‘Magic People’ and live dates to follow. Skip Prokop continues the story…

SAN FRANCISCO

I’m not sure the amount of time that went by as we were flying back into Toronto and doing some playing at the El Patio and some high schools, but we had a base of operations in San Francisco at the Seal Rock Inn on Point Lobos Avenue.

Radio was giving us a bit of airplay, and Albert was tied into a lot of the scene there. With the beginning of the Summer of Love in 1967, we fit in well especially after playing with Jefferson Airplane. It got us into Bill Graham’s Fillmore West club in San Francisco. We had a whole month of shows lined up.


We played with The Grateful Dead (May 5 – 6). I think it was supposed to be three nights. I got sick on the last night with some kind of flu. I ended up in bed back at the hotel for nearly a week. I still wasn’t feeling the best, but we had the Jefferson Airplane next (May 12 – 14), and then it was Martha & The Vandellas (May 19 – 20, 1967).

MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL – CALIFORNIA – June 16, 1967

With Albert having the kind of power that he did, it wasn’t too long after that that we were starting to play some of the – what I could only describe as – big electric rock halls. We started having tremendous success, and a lot of the same kind of hoopla that happened in New York was happening everywhere.

I guess the big one was when John Phillips, of The Mamas And Papas, decided to have this huge festival. I guess it was the first real Rock festival ever, which was called Monterey Pop. Lou Adler was promoting it, and the Rolling Stones’ Andrew Loog Oldham was involved. We were scheduled to play there because of Albert’s connections, and John was really excited. He’d heard all kinds of stuff about the band and what happened in New York, and he thought it was going to be great.

On the weekend of June 15 to 17, 1967 it was the Monterey Pop Festival in California. So, we were there and it was really incredible to see all these fantastic artists from Hugh Masakela right through to Jimi Hendrix and, of course, Janis Joplin and a slew of amazing artists. I mean, it was outrageous.

There were a lot of jams going on during the nights at the festival. I mean jams where people were totally loaded. Some of the guys – Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen of the Airplane and Jimi Hendrix – just playing on one chord for like three hours. One chord! And just the same drum pattern, same feel, and people playing for hours on end and you’re kinda looking at it going, “God, it’d be neat if they just changed the chord maybe here and there.”


Those kinds of jams were going on all night, all over the park. I remember Brian Jones being there, and if you’ve read Keith Richards’ book, Life, and picture the time period Keith was talking about in reference to Brian Jones, it was Brian out of it over there and Keith Richards is like, “we’ve got to get rid of this guy.”

So there we were, in the middle of the very, very hot summer in California, and there’s Brian Jones wearing this unbelievable full-length, to the ground, fur coat. I’m talking about fur. All different kinds of fur. He might have had 62 animals just to make that coat up, and he walked over, and I’m standing there, and this was the day before we played. I’m standing right beside Albert Grossman. Albert was such a character, man, and Brian Jones comes up and says, “So where is it all happening?”
Albert looks down at him, because Albert was fairly tall, and without missing a beat says, “Under the sea.” We walked away, and Brian Jones was just standing there confused.

The next day, June 16, 1967, The Paupers were set to perform on the bill with The Association, Lou Rawls, Johnny Rivers, Beverley Martyn, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and Simon & Garfunkel. Of course, we knew at this point about the power we had as a group called The Paupers, musically, so we figured – everybody figured – we were going to go there and just blow the festival away.

We went out on stage, and they introduced us, and everything’s big applause and all that. We started to play “Magic People,” and the first thing we realized is that bassist Denny Gerrard was stoned on acid. That was to begin with. Then we were pretty sure he’d tuned his bass sharp. He must have been grooving out on that. So, that was going on. We started playing and on Chuck Beal’s Echolette – this had to be the first or second song – the tape broke.


So instead of the huge big thundering drums going and the Echolette delay making it sound like the sky has just cracked open, it was just going wonk, wonk, wonk, you know what I mean? These little short bursts of nothing. No echo, no nothing. It was the whole entire sound of what we had been doing. Then I think Denny’s amp blew up. Then Chuck’s amp blew up. This is right on stage. So now you have a four-piece band, but there’s only the drums and Adam Mitchell’s guitar and some vocals.

It was really a disaster, and it was a humongous crowd too. We faked our way through five more songs – “Think I Care,” “Tudor Impressions,” “Simple Deed,” “Let Me Be,” and “Dr. Feelgood” where Denny was supposed to do his bass solo. You know it just died.  He talked to a lot of people, and everybody felt bad as to what happened. We didn’t get a second chance to go on, which was unfortunate.

It was like a Biblical disaster.  I know it was long ago, but I can’t even describe to you how it was one of the worst things that I’d ever seen. I’m back there playing drums, looking around and listening to Denny’s bass out of tune, then Chuck’s Echolette that should have been screaming this big huge massive thing over top of all the drums, and it cut out, and Denny’s bass blew up, and I  was sitting there playing drums listening to nothing but Adam’s rhythm guitar. Cue the theme music from Laurel & Hardy.

Don Pennebaker – who would film The Toronto Rock Festival in 1969 – or his people, contacted me years later, and said they had footage of The Paupers. I can kick myself now for not following up on it. Typically, I just never bothered, especially remembering that the show was such a disaster.

OTHER OPPORTUNITIES KNOCK

With the recording of the Paupers’ Magic People album complete, our Canadian manager Bernie Finkelstein decided to move on and go back to Canada. He had been thinking about doing something else again which, of course, became the hugely successful True North Records with artists like Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLauchlan.  Finally, the day came when he told us that he was leaving. It was March 24, 1967

We were like, “What do you mean you’re not going to be here?”
“No, Albert’s going to manage you guys.”
And we’re thinking, “Albert’s not going to go on the road and make sure the guitars are in tune!”
We basically wound up being road managed by a whole pile of different people, like Ronnie Lyons, and it just got really crazy with stuff that was going on in Albert’s office.  Mostly, it became amazing opportunities that came through for Denny and I.

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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