SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 8) by Jaimie Vernon

Through most of 1968, Skip Prokop’s band  The Paupers had been touring with new bass player Brad Campbell as they were making their way through recording and releasing their second album for MGM Records called “Ellis Island.” But Skip was getting a taste for session work and expanding his musical horizons beyond a 4-piece rock and roll ensemble.  It was leading him to decisions that would change his life and Canadian music forever…

MEETING PAUL HOFFERT
The Paupers were playing Stan Freeman’s Electric Circus in New York for the second time, from August 29 through September 1, 1968. I stepped out one night between sets and I was standing at the front steps by the sidewalk to have a cigarette.  This guy named Paul Hoffert – who I knew from the Toronto scene, and was hailed as this phenomenal jazz pianist – introduced himself to me. We knew of each other but had never really talked.

He’d been watching us and said what a great band we were and blah blah blah. He was in New York rehearsing an off-Broadway show called Get Thee To Canterbury. He had a night off as the show hadn’t launched yet, and he’d come down to see The Paupers. So, we were just talking, basically, about music and what was going on. Shooting the shit. He asked me what the future looked like.

1968 RobertCorwin

I said, “Albert is really hot to manage me, and he’s got some projects coming up. One of the things is that Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield want me to do the Super Session with them on the West Coast. Albert’s also been talking to me about possibly getting together and doing some work with Janis Joplin. In particular, putting a brand new band together. But we’re keeping this all hush hush. However, I have this idea to put together a band that could do anything and everything.”
“Interesting. What’s that all about?”
“Well, the way I see it, if you look at what’s going on today and you go out and buy a group’s 45 or their album, and then you go out and see the group and there’s only three guys and not 27 on stage, you think to yourself, ‘What happened? Where’s the horns and the big production that went into making the record?’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deTm8sPYp_M

So I got this idea that if you put a rock nucleus together for bass, drums, guitar, and keyboard, and then you have a brass quartet to do funk and R & B. But you could also do jazz and you have a full-blown string quartet, which means you can cover off the string things like classical meshed with jazz and rock.”

He just stood there looking at me thinking, Are you out of your mind?
“The thing is, Paul, you could go in the studio and record your songs and then go out on stage and sound like you did on the album.”
“Wow, that’s an amazing idea. Do you think you’ll ever do it?”
I said, “I don’t know. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s something I keep mulling over. I’ve got the Super Session, Janis, and Harvey Brooks of The Electric Flag wants me to do the first rock act in Vegas with Cass Elliot. I think I’m going to put this band together for Janis and move my family to California.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRWgtYtrrj8

Paul and I happened to catch the same flight back to Toronto the next day and our conversation continued. I told Paul jokingly, “When you stop all your nonsense of making good money and having no stress in your life, we can have a hell of a band.”

Paul nodded, “I expect if you ever do it, you’ll do it in California, but if you ever decide to do it in Toronto, call me.”

It was a prophetic line. The New York Electric Circus show on September 1, 1968 was my last gig with the Paupers. I officially left the band on September 21 and kept the Lighthouse idea in the back of my mind.

THE BLESSED FILLMORE PLAYERS

It was at the Fillmore West where I was starting to meet people, and while I was out there, The Paupers’ manager Albert Grossman wanted me to start hanging out with Janis Joplin, to build a relationship with her. I was going to be putting a band together with her because she was about to leave Big Brother & The Holding Company.

The Fillmore’s Bill Graham was in tune with all this, and knew something was brewing. Bill knew about Janis leaving the band, and let her get up and jam with Steve Miller or Carlos Santana. We all did a ton of jamming on that stage behind Janis. They were really great players.

JANIS JOPLIN
There have been a lot of books and articles that I’ve read on Janis talking about Situation A or Situation B, and I was right there. This is not an ego thing, but I find it really interesting that my name is never mentioned. I hung out a lot with Janis. [editors note: in 2019 a new biography on Janis Joplin was released and Skip was included – quite favourably]

People have wondered if I ever had a sexual relationship with her, and I can say I did not. It was business. I was there to do a job. It was very professional: however, I did have a great personal relationship with her.

Everybody has this image of her as a hard drinking, ass-kicking, wild woman. I got very, very close to her. Some of the times I spent with her were very intimate, and in my opinion, she was very insecure about a lot of things. And she was sweet. She was always good with me. She may have been a diva with other people, but she was more like a sister to me. She never had a bad word to say to me. We never had a conflict.


While we were jamming and just starting to get to know her, I recall the first time she invited me to her house. She wanted to make a steak dinner, and was so nervous about making sure the meat was just right. It was sweet.

I had a very different relationship with her. I remember a friend of hers coming over and sitting at the kitchen table talking. This chick looked at Janis and said, “You wanna do it?”

Out came ‘the works.’ She shot up Janis and herself with heroin. It was one of the first times she’d ever shot up. I was like “No, thanks. I’m not into this.”

At some point, the girlfriend left and Janis she was ‘going.’ She was riding this high and talking a lot, but making no sense. Finally she said she just wanted to go to bed and sleep. I helped her up, and got her undressed, and she got into bed, and as I went to put a blanket over her she grabbed my arm and said, “Whatever you do, don’t tell Albert.”

This is what I was dealing with. It was like being with two different Janis’s, and I had to report back to Albert.


There were a lot of nights I was out in her Porsche in San Francisco, and there was a 26’-er of Southern Comfort, and the top was down, and she was screaming down the highway. I could hold my own, but you could not keep up with her drinking-wise. I’d be in the passenger seat, trying to keep it together, and she was screaming down the road. We did a lot of club hopping. I couldn’t keep up with her.

She got very comfortable with me putting the new band together.  When we were jamming, she’d come back to me and ask, “What did it sound like? Was it good?” She wanted to know my opinion.

I didn’t tell Albert about her shooting up. It was a tough position to be in. I’m very loyal, and Albert was giving me these huge opportunities. I had Janis as a possible meal ticket. I wanted to move my family to California. We were looking at schools and stuff.

So all of that was set to go. Funding wasn’t a problem, so it was just a matter of picking the band members and finding a place to rehearse.


At one point, Albert thought it was a really good idea to go into a recording studio in New York and record a bunch of stuff live-off-the-floor. It was up to me to get Janis to try out some Aretha Franklin or standards like “Hey Joe.” It was all stuff that she normally didn’t do. More R & B, and even some funk.

I still had the guys from The Paupers with me – Brad Campbell on bass, John Ord on keyboards. We recorded a whole bunch of stuff during a couple of sessions with producer Elliot Mazer. I have no idea where that stuff is. I know Elliot contacted me not long after she died to sign off on it, but I know it’s never come out. Maybe Albert had it buried, or her estate did. All I know is that there were some good ideas there and she was amazing.

I had called guitarist Ralph Cole during this period and said, “I really want you to be in this project with Janis. It’s going to be a great band.” Ralph was excited about me and him playing together. It wasn’t chopped liver. It was us putting together a band for JANIS JOPLIN!

Everything was moving toward a date where we could get the players and get this project rolling in California. But when I got back from a disaster run at Caesar’s Palace backing Cass Elliot’s solo thing – which only lasted a week, because they shut the whole thing down after some really bad reviews and Cass having a health scare – Janis was starting to get weird about having Sam Andrew, her guitarist from Big Brother & The Holding Company, be in the band.

Just stylistically, in putting together this very different band, we were three steps away from a hit-of-acid type of band. How was this guy going to play? He was used to getting the feedback going and holding the note for eight minutes. I was looking for a real player. That’s why I thought of Ralph.

She and I started to get into a disagreement whenever we talked on the phone, or talked through Albert. I’d have one conversation where she’d be like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, Skip. Sure.”
Great! We were back on. Then I’d get another phone call and it was like, “Nah, I talked to my friends and I think we should…”
This went back and forth and back and forth. I finally had to say to her, “If we can’t resolve this, then I’m out of here.”


Albert felt strongly in his mind that I was the guy that could put an ass-kicking band together – as tight as a tight shoe – and it would be amazing. And that’s what he paid me to do. It’s why he hired me. If I couldn’t have control and choice over the musicians, then I wasn’t going to do it.  It would be a compromise. Basically, it really came to a head when I was out playing with Cass over that last week or two.

I spoke to Janis one more time, and she wouldn’t back off. She was pretty adamant about who she wanted, and I was adamant about who I wanted. I told her, “I’m out of here. It’s been great working with you.”

I called Albert and had an in-depth discussion with him about why. He understood. I told him I’d finish the week and head back to Toronto. I flew from Vegas and had a face to face with Albert in New York, and then returned to Toronto. She continued calling me to ask if I’d change my mind. She started calling me when I was playing with Cass, and then when I came home to Toronto after Cass. She still called for awhile after that to go back down to the States and put the whole band thing together for her. I still said no.  Lighthouse was already in my mind.

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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