SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 7 by Jaimie Vernon

Skip Prokop and his band The Paupers were on their way to the ‘big game’ when they had two back-to-back blows. Their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967 was an unmitigated disaster and the band’s long-time Canadian manager, Bernie Finkelstein, left the group in the hands of U.S. Uber-manager Albert Grossman. Grossman wasn’t going to let these setbacks slow the band down. In fact, he had the guys become surrogate backing musicians for several artists in his illustrious music stable. This would prove to be the undoing of The Paupers as Skip found himself attracted to working with big name acts:

I DIG ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC

We had met Paul Stookey in particular, and Peter Yarrow, of the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary over at Albert’s office. They’d heard rough cuts of The Paupers album and understood that we had started to get pretty tight. They asked us to go in and create some kind of rhythm section for their new song called “I Dig Rock And Roll Music” written by Paul, Dave Dixon, and Jim Mason.

We headed into the studio, and Phil Ramone was there as the engineer with Milt Okun as the producer. Phil Ramone was like all of us at the time, a really young guy who was starting to build quite the reputation.

The Paupers’ Denny Gerrard played bass, but for my parts it was really interesting, because they didn’t have a full kit of drums in the studio for me. They had a bass drum, and they had a snare drum, so Phil had them miked in kind of a different way, and we turned the bass drum over and put the snare up leaning against a chair or something, and I was playing all the patterns with my hands instead of foot/hand and stuff like that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqY35SYsyfQ

So Peter, Paul & Mary were out there singing, and we were in the control room with Phil and Milt. Then they got into this unbelievable discussion. I had never seen anything like it. We were these young kids from Toronto. Nothing very unique, other than the fact we had the drive to practice and work hard. Well, they got into this big fight about a harmony. They had gone beyond what the harmony was all about, and were into this huge discussion about “You are in my space!”

We were there with Phil, and Milt, who was just sitting there leaning on his hand not saying a thing, and they went through it again. This went on for an hour.
“You’re in my space!”
“No, no, no! Look, the way I see it, your space is there, and my space is here!”
“No. No. No! Your space has now drifted into my space, which has made my space drift into her space.”

We were thinking, “Are we missing something? Did we not drop the right drug or pill and somehow, maybe, we could figure out whose space is what space?”

Honest to God, we were listening to this, and finally Phil Ramone picked up his suit jacket by the collar and swung it around. I don’t know if he had his keys or change in the pockets, but he just swung it through the air and fired it at the control room glass. He didn’t break it, but there was just this huge crash, and all of a sudden everybody just stopped.

He said, “What the f’n this and you f’n that” and went apeshit on these people, and then they finally resolved who was in who’s space or whatever, and went on with doing the background vocals and singing their parts. I’ve never seen anything like that before or since.


There’s a couple of other songs that I played on their Album 1700 that I can’t remember. Not John Denver’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” but definitely “I Dig Rock And Roll Music” which kind of rejuvenated their career at one point into Rock and Roll Pop instead of just Folk.

LINDA EASTMAN

Linda Eastman had been at our Café A Go Go shows in February ’67. She was part of the Eastman family, who were wealthy New York lawyers, and they were hired by Paul McCartney later to help him with the Beatles lawsuits. She was a great photographer and wound up taking all the pictures of The Paupers from Magic People onward, which was about 8 to 10 months. She shot all the pictures inside the album and our new publicity shots in Central Park.

Linda and I actually became really close and really good friends for a long time, even to the point that one night while we were down at the Café Au Go Go, Grant Spence (our roadie and Linda’s boyfriend at the time) got his hands on a drug called STP, which was way more powerful than acid. We were at the Winslow Hotel, and Linda and I wound up having to hold onto Grant for the whole night, because he was convinced he could crawl out the window and climb down the side of the building like Spider-Man.

Linda and I did a lot of hanging out. We went to a lot of clubs. She was really well-connected as far as a lot of the artists were concerned.

I kind of lost track of her, and then I saw her again when I was at the Columbia Recording Studios one time. This was a few years down the road, and I was waiting to use the elevator, and I pushed the up button instead of the down button, so the elevator came up, and I was standing right in front of it, and the doors opened. There was Linda. There was Paul McCartney. I didn’t even get a chance to say anything, and the doors closed. They never said boo and that was it. I just thought that was really weird. Of course, the rest is history with her.

ZAL YANOVSKY

So much happened in New York. We ran into a lot of Canadians there. Zal Yanovsky had quit the Lovin’ Spoonful and he’d come around. We all wound up hanging out with Paul Butterfield and all those blues guys. There was a place called The Dugout in Greenwich Village, which was downstairs six steps into a basement. This was one of everyone’s favourite haunts, and we were down there one night with a whole bunch of us. Butterfield and Elvin Bishop, I think, were there.

We were all sitting around drinking, and talking about going to jam that night, and Zal was drinking his Anisette. We were standing up by the bar and he said to me, “Skip, watch this.”

The Dugout had sawdust on the floor – that was one of its things – and you could take peanuts, break them up, and throw the shells on the floor. He took the glass of Anisette and just dropped it on the floor which then caught on fire. Everyone was running around, stamping this shit out on the floor, and I was just standing there thinking, “I can’t believe this guy.”

He was nuts, Zally, just totally crazy. That night, I told him that if he wanted to jam with us at this loft he could but he said, “Sorry, I’ve gotta go.”


Then we all headed out together and we ended up in this loft nearby to jam. It had to be 2:30 – 3:00 a.m. A whole bunch of guys waited around for him then he finally showed up with his guitar and basically said, “Okay, let’s go,” and opened his guitar case.

We asked him to come sit in. He played about six chords like ratatat-tat and we’re looking at him going, “Okay, we’re not really sure where to kick in the song.” He immediately took off his guitar, packed it up in his case, and left. Zally was really a funny guy and a talented guitarist for what he did.

“MAGIC PEOPLE” – THE SINGLE

The “Magic People” single was released in July and it didn’t do nearly as well as “Simple Deed” did earlier in the year. It only reached #178 on the Billboard Top 200 singles chart.

WHISKY A GO GO – HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA
The Paupers opened for The Youngbloods (July 14 – 15) and Johnny Rivers (July 21 – 22). These were both veteran acts and it was a great experience being in Los Angeles to actually play some shows, rather than just doing promo.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2w8lBTi87Q

BORDER HOPPING
It was getting crazy with us jumping back and forth between Ontario and doing showcase gigs in the United States. After the MGM promo tour, we went to Montreal for a week to play at the Garden of the Stars Theatre for Expo 67 from August 20 thru August 26. From there we headed to Washington, DC to do three nights at the Ambassador Theatre with a band called U.S. Mail from August 30 to September 3.


We hopped back to Toronto for a few days at The Flick (September 15 – 17) and a corporate gig for Bell Telephone on September 19 at Maple Leaf Gardens with comedian Rich Little, legendary Canadian folk group The Travellers, and Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Orchestra.  That was a weird one for us. We kind of had to tone down our show, and then we got squeezed off stage before finishing our last song. We clearly weren’t the right band for doing corporate shows anymore.

MAGIC PEOPLE – THE ALBUM – September 1967

From Hullabaloo Magazine  ( November 1967)
This foursome from Canada has had three singles from the Verve Folkways MGM people and
this is their first album. All the tunes are original and are way out in a true sense of the word.
If this album doesn’t net them a gold LP, something is wrong. For the best contemporary
music  and the ‘Psychedelic’ side of Canadian music,don’t miss this smash album by the PAUPERS.

From RPM Weekly  (September 23, 1967)
‘Magic People’ proclaims the first LP by The Paupers, and the foursome does its best to
justify its title with some magical sounds. Best selections are “Black Thank You Package,”
“Think I Care,” and “Tudor Impressions.” Unfortunately, the recording studio didn’t
capture the magic that the group produces lives
.


CAFÉ A GO GO – NEW YORK – September 28 – October 1, 1967 with Cream
Playing with Cream was incredible and very interesting. Here were a bunch of guys who’d put out some of the heaviest British blues music in the 1960s, but it was obvious by this time that they hated each other.  They’d arrive at the club in separate limos because they were fighting all the time.


So there we were, this little band from Canada, given half a dressing room to get ready for our opening set, and there’s Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton on the other side of this paper-thin room divider, just going at it. Baker seemed to be out of control. F-this and f-that.  I thought, “Oh, man. They’re gonna kill each other before they even get on stage.” Instead, they got dressed, and grabbed their guitars or whatever and stepped on the stage like nothing had ever happened and played the show. It was incredible.

ENTER BRAD CAMPBELL

It was around this time we kicked Denny out of the band. He was pretty much out of control with his partying. Bass player Brad Campbell was added at this point. He was a really funny guy, and was very fast on his uptakes.  Brad (later of Janis Joplin’s band Kosmic Blues Band) had been with The Last Words. They had done some shows with us, and he was very enthusiastic to get a better paying gig. The Last Words were great, but Brad was frustrated that they weren’t getting much love from their label, which was Columbia in Canada at the time.\

He also brought along keyboard player Peter Steinback. It was a different sound for us, because we’d never been a five-piece before. Both guys brought a lot to the table and we just carried on without Denny, but as it happens with these things, there were lot of growing pains. We didn’t have much time to rehearse because we already had a lot of commitments. I gotta say, they did great under the circumstances, and we were under a lot of pressure to get better in a short period of time.

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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