Hat’s Off to Lighthouse’s co-founder and spiritual leader Skip Prokop – Thanks for all of the ‘Sunny Days’

Hamilton, Ontario native was one of Canada’s musical treasures

A Few Words of Tribute from a fan, Doug Draper

Posted September 10th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

For many people coming of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, one of the must see bands of the times was ‘Lighthouse’ – especially if you were a young Canadian in a country that seemed to be coming of age itself in the afterglow of centennial celebrations that saw the whole world coming to one of the greatest parties of the century, Expo 67.

Skip Prokop laying down the beat for the Canadian rock ensemble Lighthouse. The Hamilton native who earned international acclaim and recoded with such legends as Janis Joplin and Carlos Santana has left us at the age 73.

This Canadian saw Lighthouse in concert more than half a dozen – almost as many times as I saw The Guess Who, another band that rose to the same level of a musical institution in Canada during those years .

Lighthouse – at one point boasting as many as 13 members, with horns and strings  built around a hard-rocking guitar, bass, keyboard and drums unit and the full-throated vocals of Bob McBride – also captivated scores of fans on the global stage, including at the legendary 1970 Isle of Wight Rock Festival where it was one of only two acts, including Jimi Hendrix, asked to perform two days in a row due to popular demand, and at Carnegie Hall in New York City where the whistles cheers accompanying t every song are immortalized on a live album that went platinum at the time.

After three critically acclaimed albums on the RCA label in 1969 and 1971, it was 1971’s One Fine Morning that finally put Lighthouse over the top with international audiences.

Sadly, The Globe and Mail carried a lengthy obituary this September 9th, reporting that one of the co-founders of Lighthouse who was the person who conceived of the expansive ensemble and who, in the view of this fan and many others, will forever be remembered as the soul leader of Lighthouse – singer, songwriter and drummer extraordinaire Skip Prokop – died this past August 30th at age 73 after a long battle with heart disease.

Even if you never had the chance to see and hear Lighthouse in concert, you may remember them for songs like One Fine Morning, Hats Off to the Stranger, Sunny Days, I Just Want to be Your Friend and Pretty Lady, that became staples on classic rock radio.

There was nothing quite like a Lighthouse show when the band was at its best, which was often. No matter how wide the stage seemed, it was covered from one end to the other with mikes and amplifiers and a floor covered with patch chords and wires before 10 to 13 musicians would take their place and wait for Skip to pick up his drum sticks and count down to some introductory chords that could drive you back in your seat.

I will always remember going, two days in a row, to the old Ontario Place Forum in Toronto on the Labour Day weekend in 1982 for what was billed as a ‘One Fine Weekend’ string of Lighthouse shows that saw much of the original line-up, including Prokop, guitarist Ralph Cole, keyboardist Paul Hoffert and lead vocalist Bob McBride, reunited on stage for the first time in more than half a decade.

Then-Toronto Mayor David Crombie greeting Skip Prokop at a 1972 concert the group performed in front of Toronto City Hall to countless thousands crowding the courtyad, adjoining streets and watching from the windows of nearby highrises.

Those shows, taped for a later TV Ontario airing and, unfortunately, never (to my knowledge, at least) released on DVD, thrilled thousands of fans who covered the hills around the forum’s stage that weekend and had more than a few of us hoping that it would lead to the band’s classic line-up returning to the studio to record a full album of new songs. Unfortunately, that never happened either, although a line-up that included Prokop, Cole and Hoffert, but not McBride who died in 1998, released an album of new material called Song of Ages in 1999 that was a pretty damn good, if not quite up to the level of the string of hot albums the band released in the late 1960s and 1970s.

This album, recoded at New York City’s iconic Carnegie Hall in 1972, was one of the biggest selling albums from a Canadian band at the time.

Skip Prokop was born in nearby Hamilton and first wowed the world with his talents as a drummer and hit maker with a group called The Paupers that became one of the first Canadian rock groups of the 1960s to break the border barrier enough to make a big splash in the United States and play at many of the then-happening clubs in New York City and elsewhere across the country.

The band also earned a gig at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival that set the stage for the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 and Prokop’s talents on drums so caught the eye of American record producers that he was invited to work as a studio musician for everyone from Janis Joplin and Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas to Carlos Santana, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomsfield.

I last saw Skip Prokop playing drums when I managed to get a press pass to a concert Lighthouse performed about 10 or 15 years ago in St. Catharines’ Montebello Park for the annual Wine Festival.

The park was so packed with fans that I was given a spot off to the side backstage where it was hard to physically see guitarist Ralph Cole and other band members standing at the front but easy to watch Skip Prokop, who was only about 30 feet away from where I stood, playing those drums – so fast and smooth, you could barely see his drum sticks moving, even as he sang lead vocals to two of his best-loved compositions, Pretty Lady and Sunny Days.

Wow. A phenomenal talent and a phenomenal musical career.

Fortunately, Skip Prokop lived long enough to write about his life’s journey in music in a memoir to be published at a date yet to be announced. Lighthouse rocks on with his son Jamie behind the drums.

Thanks for all the great music Skip. RIP.

You can visit Lighthouse’s website for more information and for more words of tribute for Skip Prokop by clicking onhttp://www.lighthouserockson.com/ .

To read the obituary on Skip Prokop in The Globe and Mail, click onhttps://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/music/lighthouse-co-founder-skip-prokop-made-rock-history/article36218827/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com& .

If you are interested in learning a little more about Skip Prokop’s first band, The Paupers, click onhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paupers .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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2 responses to “Hat’s Off to Lighthouse’s co-founder and spiritual leader Skip Prokop – Thanks for all of the ‘Sunny Days’

  1. Have seen Lighthouse twice. What an amazing experience!
    RIP Skip Prokop. You will be missed.

    Like

  2. Thanks for this wonderful tribute to Skip Prokop.
    In 2014, Skip retired from performing with Lighthouse due to ill health. Fortunately, his son Jamie was waiting in the wings.
    You can see both Skip and Jamie in a new Lighthouse video (link below) – a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song. An acoustic version was performed for him when he received the Glenn Gould prize in 2012. We decided to record the song as a Leonard Cohen tribute after he died. The video incorporates footage from the 2012 performance with footage shot during the recent recording. The song was produced by multi-award winning producer, Bob Ezrin. It will be released this fall, along with Sunny Days, on Universal’s Music’s,”Canada 150: A Celebration of Music”.

    (A Brief Note from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper – Brenda Hoffert’s husband Paul is, along with Skip, a co-founder of Lighthouse and the keyboard player in the band. That was his great piano solo you can hear on one of the band’s anthems, ‘One Fine Morning’ on the album by the same name. Thanks for sharing a comment on NAL’s tribute to Skip Prokop, Brenda, and let me close by sending out a warm hug to you, to Paul, to Ralph Cole and to everyone else who shared Skip’s remarkable musical journey in the wake of his passing.

    Niagara At Large the new Lighthouse video you provided the link to in the days ahead and will be sure to give our readers a heads up on the release, this fall, of the Leonard Cohen tribute. – Doug Draper)

    Like

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