SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 10) by Jaimie Vernon

Lighthouse was gradually becoming a North American force to be reckoned with. They were making in-roads on tour on both sides of the border having performed a city-wide tour with the Winnipeg Ballet, played at Carnegie Hall in New York, The Isle of Wight Festival with Jimi Hendrix, the Atlantic City Pop Music Festival, and Expo 70 in Japan. In a short 18 months, Lighthouse had released three studio albums for RCA Records. They were a live sensation, but they weren’t selling a lot of albums. Something needed to change.


photo courtesy: Larry Smith

Skip in the Studio
photo by Rob Clem Lehman

Our manager, Vinnie Fusco, was starting to look around for another label for us. We sort of knew at that point that something had to change as far as airplay and stuff like that.

We were in New York, mixing the Isle of Wight tracks at the Columbia Recording Studio. Vinnie said, “This guy contacted me and apparently he’s got quite a history with Doo Wop groups and all that kind of stuff. Skip, he wants to meet with you and talk to you. He says that he can help you with your song-writing.”
“Okay, but I’m busy mixing.”

Jimmy Ienner

The next day, Vinnie said, “He’s coming down during the mixing session, so I want you to take a ten or 15-minute break and go talk to this guy, to see what he’s all about.” Then they told me this guy was at the door, so I took a break. I came out of the editing suite, and we just leaned against the wall talking. I didn’t know anything about this guy or what he did, but his name was Jimmy Ienner.

He said, “I know you don’t have a lot of time. I’d like you to think about this. I’d like to get together with you. I’ve listened to all your stuff and you’re a really amazingly good songwriter. I think I can teach you how to craft your songs so that they’re more radio friendly, and you have the potential of getting hit records. “I listened to some of your stuff, and you might come up with what I believe would be a line to base a chorus around – which you call a hook – and you just go right by it. You sing it once or play it once and move on. And that’s probably the line that needs to be developed, because that is the basis of a potential hook that could be a potential hit record.”
“Yeah, sounds interesting. I gotta get back in and continue mixing.”
We eventually did get together, and Jimmy Ienner changed everyone’s life, most of all my own.

Lighthouse 1971
photo by Terry Schneider

GRT AND EVOLUTION RECORDS
With that lack of sales, and the lack of the return on their investment, RCA and Lighthouse decided to mutually part ways. We thanked them, because if it hadn’t been for RCA, I don’t know what we would have done. If we had been with some little label with no money, I don’t know where Lighthouse would have been.

That was the turning point, because Jimmy Ienner and Vinnie Fusco were beginning to speak with American record label Evolution Records who were part of Stereo Dimension. They were a much smaller label than RCA. I’m not even sure who else they had signed, but because of the connection between Jimmy and Vinnie, they were excited to get their hands on us. But we were smart, and decided to keep the rights for Canada, and that’s when Ross Reynolds and Ed LaBuick at GRT Records of Canada stepped up. They really had a vision in signing Ian Thomas and us.

Bob McBride
photo by Rob Clem Lehman

ENTER BOB McBRIDE
Lighthouse’s singer Pinky Dauvin, and bass player Grant Fullerton, started talking about leaving. It just seemed like something that was going to be too big for them. Lighthouse was a huge idea, and the timing of stuff was happening really quickly, and I think I intimidated them. They decided to go back to Toronto to form a funky little local band called Mud Flat.

Louie Yachnin was brought in on bass, while Ralph was left taking up the extra guitar parts. There were a lot of other internal change-ups with the addition of Larry Smith on trombone, Pete Pantaluk on trumpet, and Keith Jollimore on sax, flute, and vocals. He could also do arranging too. The biggest change, of course, was going to be finding a new lead singer.

McBride Live
photo by Charles Dobie

It was Bruce Bell – one of our roadies, and eventually a partner with Paul and me in our management company called H.P. & Bell – who said, “I’ve got this guy you’ve got to hear. I think he’d be perfect for the band.”

Bob McBride came in, and we listened to him and agreed that this guy had a great voice. He sang like Johnny Mathis. He’d been studying with Johnny, but we just couldn’t hear that voice singing “One fine morning girl I’ll wake up…”

I ragged on Bob for quite a while and said, “You’ve got this powerful voice and you need to use it.” He was so impressive. We knew this guy had an amazing voice. His biggest weapon was that he could sing the phone book and you would think it was the greatest song. Obviously, we knew this was the guy, and so we started rehearsing.

A NEW DIRECTION
There was also a distinct change in the arranging of the material from the previous albums because of Bob’s vocal range. One of the big things was when I started to spend more time with Jimmy Ienner, just analyzing and tearing songs apart. I sat down at one point and I remember going over the finished productions we’d done with RCA. Then I pulled out the demos of all the songs at Paul’s place and my place in Mississauga, where we could bring in the whole band.  I started listening to the demos with Jimmy before all the big arrangements and all that would go on top of the songs.  Paul really wrote a lot of great arrangements, and for what Lighthouse was doing at the time, it made sense. But, I realized that they had become more arrangements than actual songs. In there somewhere was great song ideas, but we couldn’t get to them because there were horns and strings and riffs covering most of it up.

I expressed my concern to Jimmy that the arrangements seemed to be overpowering the songs.
“You’re hearing all the arrangements in your head?”
“Oh, yeah, I hear lines, melodies, everything.”
He said simply, “Look, go back to Toronto. You need to sit the band down and tell them straight out that you are going to arrange all the stuff. If you need to get stuff written out for the horn players, work with Keith Jollimore and sing him the lines, and he’ll write them out and away you go.”

I told everybody that’s what we were doing. It certainly raised a few eyebrows, but I put my foot down and said that’s the way it was going to be. And that’s how the next album was done

“HATS OFF (TO THE STRANGER)” – THE SINGLE
With “Hats Off to the Stranger,” Bob came to me and said, “I’ve got this great song for the album. Peter McGraw and I wrote this.”
“Well, let’s hear it.”

He had it on cassette and played it for me, “Walking down by the river/hanging down my head/be very careful everywhere you go/take it very slow.”
Then he said, “What do you think?”
“I think it’s a nice idea. I think it’s really good, but where does it go?”
“You go back and sing the second verse and then you sing the chorus.”

“Bob, it’s like a jet that’s taken off, gets half way up and crashes.” There was nothing. I said, “Listen. Give me a cassette of that and let me live with it for a little awhile. I think it needs a chorus. It needs to explode into something.”


photo by Rob Clem Lehman

He gave me a tape and I took it home and pulled it out to listen to it a few days later. I just kept playing it and would shut it off right at the end of the B section. I kept waiting in my head for the next part. Eventually, after going back and forth maybe 20 times I finally got this idea about “hats off” – meaning someone with a good idea. I got to that point again and went right into the melody and the lyric, “Hats off to the stranger for telling me what he knows…”

I went back and played the idea on guitar for Bob, and he sang the whole song. It was right then we knew: THERE’S THE SONG!

It became our first GRT single, and oddly enough, that song broke out of Miami and went right across the Southern states before heading up the East Coast and eventually out west to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We were already getting airplay in Canada (hitting #27 on the CHUM chart for two weeks before it dropped out), but along came Rosalie Tremblay at CKLW in Windsor, blowing the song straight down to the Gulf of Mexico, making it our first big hit single in the States. It opened the door for the One Fine Morning album.

“ONE FINE MORNING” – THE SINGLE
I had written “One Fine Morning” in England, at the hotel, during our appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. The whole inspiration was just the idea of walking around in the streets and the windows in the little shops and that it had been there for hundreds of years. It already had the “Yeah, we’ll fly” chorus, but I really wasn’t thinking at that time about it being a commercial record. It was seven and a half minutes long.

The FM stations flipped to the whole full-length version of “One Fine Morning” and then it was the AM stations that started calling Evolution Records. They then called Jimmy Ienner, saying they needed an edited version of the song because people were calling stations wanting to hear the song.


photo by John Rowlands

I remember at one point talking to Jimmy about how much I hated the single version of “One Fine Morning.” It was just hacked right up. He sat there very quietly while I ranted and raved for about five minutes telling him how much I hated what he did.
Then he said, “I have a question for you. Have you checked your song-writing royalty cheques lately?”
Touché. I just shut up after that.

He wasn’t wrong. By October 1971 the One Fine Morning album had already gone Gold in the US which, at that time, meant $1,000,000 in wholesale sales. It was going over the top in Canada too through GRT. Ross Reynolds and his crew like Jutta Ney and Ed LaBuick busted their asses for us.

It’s astonishing when you think about it. When I wrote “One Fine Morning,” I was more concerned that we needed a hit in the States. I never thought that this song would still be getting played all over the world 40 years later.

Lighthouse would repeat the process again for “Sunny Days.” Ultimately, Bob McBride left and a change in record label stateside caused Skip to finally leave the band, he originally envisioned, in 1974. There would be reunions and a full-blown revival of the band 1990s. The stories about these times and many other earlier chapters in the Lighthouse and Paupers stories can be found here:

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

One Response to “SUNNY DAYS: THE SKIP PROKOP STORY (PART 10) by Jaimie Vernon”

  1. well done

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