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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Paupers · Ellis Island (1968 canada, fine psychedelic rock, 2008 bonus tracks edition)

By early 1968,The Paupers were heading towards meltdown.The group had lost its inspirational bass player Denny Gerrard, its debut album had been a commercial failure and debts were mounting. Against all odds, the group rallied and recorded its second album, Ellis Island, arguably one of the best records to emerge from the Canadian rock scene during the'60s. 

The first step towards re-establishing The Paupers as a major act was finding a new bass player; no easy feat considering Gerrard's near legendary status. An impossible task, many would agree, but the remaining musicians came up with an excellent substitute in Brad Campbell from The Last Words. Campbell's group were no strangers to the Toronto scene. Having released three singles between late 1965 and early 1967, only one,"l Symbolise You" issued on Columbia, had seriously troubled Toronto's CHUM chart, reaching #14, although it reportedly reached #1 in some Canadian cities. 

No doubt Campbell was delighted to be offered the job. The new line up hit the road in a bid to revive The Paupers'flagging fortunes,and a notable highlight during this "difficult" period was a memorable set at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto on 24 February, supporting The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine.  Taking time off the road,The Paupers stopped in Nashville to record three tracks -"All About Me""Words I Say" and "See Yourself "but according to Seal the sessions did not go well and the recordings were shelved. 

Despite the failure to complete any tracks towards a new album, Beal says the Nashville trip was far from being uneventful.  "For me the highlights included meeting Tex Ritter, listening to Flatt and Scruggs record, watching one of the Jordinaires get so rapped up in a game of ping pong, he forgot that he left his car with the engine running and it ran out of gas, and above all having Floyd Cramer play on our session. It was nuts, we just called his answering service and within 15 minutes, he was there." In early May,The Paupers travelled to New York where their new producer Elliot Mazer hooked them up with keyboard player Al Kooper, who had recently been ousted from his group, Blood, Sweat & Tears. 

Turning his creative energies to The Paupers, Kooper's contributions complement the group's performances brilliantly and the resulting album, Ellis Island, recorded at Columbia Studios over several months, remains a hidden gem of late '60s rock. Lacking the consistency of the group's debut outing, the record's strength lies in its individual tracks. These range from extended hard-rock workouts like "Southdown Road" and "Numbers" (featuring Brad Campbell on lead vocal),to more reflective pieces such as Prokop's"0h That She Might"with a rare vocal outing from the drummer. 

Adam Mitchell emerges as the dominant writing force and his "Cairo Hotel" apparently written about a hotel in Washington DC where most of the tenants were down and outs, is particularly poignant. Another noticeable difference on the album, compared to its predecessor, is the group's experimentation with exotic sounds - one particular track, "Ask Her Again' 'features Prokop on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument (and a present given to the drummer by Peter, Paul & Mary after a Japanese tour). 

Complete with a flick book gimmick, Ellis Island garnered favourable reviews. Chris Keen, writing in the Toronto Telegram's After Four section on 19 October, raved about the album, arguing that it was a huge improvement on The Paupers'debut outing."Whereas Magic People was a shallow album containing numbers from their stage show, all of which were musically similar, Ellis Island is a experience," he noted."It is a deep album - there is so much happening in each song that even after hearing it many times you will probably still be making new discoveries." 

With the album in the can, the band realized  that it needed to reproduce Kooper's keyboard parts in a live format, and duly recruited former Fraser Loveman Group member John Ord during late July. As Ord recalls, "I had a little trio called The Nuclear Tricycle that was playing in a bar on was a summer job for me and I was at university. Skip heard about me and came in to see me. I went out to Brad Campbell's house in Oakville to meet the band and they played me the album. I was able to play off the keyboard parts pretty fast and they thought it would be a good fit." The quintet quickly reconvened to Ord's parents 'farm in Fenwick in the Niagara peninsula. 

Rehearsing intensively for a week in a nearby farmhouse, the new Paupers line-up soon launched in to a small tour. The band's debut show at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on 2-4 August proved memorable, not least because the club still had bullet holes in it from the race riots earlier in the year. During this period, some of the band members flew to New York between dates to do studio work. For newcomer Ord, the musicians 'extra curricular activities contributed to the  group's collapse the following month."I found out that the band was in a state of conflict and frustration perhaps partially because some musicians were recording and the others were stuck on the road. 

In the end, the band broke up and everyone went home to Toronto." Things had come to ahead when Prokop announced his decision to leave the band after The Paupers' engagement at the Electric Circus in New York, which ran from 29 August to 1 September. Although he would subsequently form his own outfit, the big band Lighthouse, Prokop nearly joined Janis Joplin's new group, soon to become better known as The Kozmic Blues Band, but declined her offer. Brad Campbell meanwhile landed on his feet. 

After briefly gigging with the Pozo Seco Singers, he did accept an offer to play with Joplin.The bass player would remain with the troubled singer until her untimely death, appearing in both The Kozmic Blues Band, and its successor, the Canadian-dominated Full Tilt Boogie Band. With Prokop and Campbell out of the picture but with debts of $40,000, the remaining members decided to carry on. "l recall advocating that we reform The Paupers in Toronto as the band was well known and we could probably do well with a change of members," says Ord. 

The Paupers recruited local drummer Roz Parks from The Creeps and Magic Circus fame and perhaps more importantly, in terms of credibility, brought original bass player Denny Gerrard back in to the fold. Though Gerrard had spent most of 1968 recovering from his drug exploits, he had recently returned to studio and live work with Toronto's highly rated blues combo, McKenna Mendelson and was in fighting form. After intensive rehearsals,The Paupers returned to the local club scene, debuting at the Night Owl on 26-27 October. 

Journalist Ritchie Yorke writing that November in the local RPM magazine, reviewed the show and captured perfectly the new line-up's potential."They emerged as a tight, cohesive musical unit, devoid of pseudo-hippiness and brimming over with confidence." True the group may have found a new confidence, but this was soon shattered by Gerrard's erratic behavior. As Ord recalls, "we did well for a while getting quite a bit of work and playing a lot. Then Denny started to lose it again...missing rehearsals and eventually not showing up for an important concert. In the end we had to fire him and found a new bass player." Denny Gerrard made sporadic appearances on record throughout the 70s, most notably on Jericho's superb eponymous album for Bearsville Records in 1971, and in his work with Rick James's pre-Motown bands, Heaven and Earth and Great White Cane. 

Still revered by his contemporaries, Gerrard remains a local legend. In 1997, after years of inactivity, he made a rare appearance on record, playing with Mike McKenna's blues band Slidewinder. Gerrard's departure prompted Adam Mitchell to exit the group in April 1969, and while the remaining members carried on for four months with guitarist James Houston from The Magic Circus and bass player Mel O'Brien, it was the same band in name only. "We did a bunch of local dates with Mel but it was clear that the band was going nowhere real fast, "says Beal."We knew we needed a record deal and booked some time into the RCA studios in Toronto to do some demos of Jaime's tunes. Mel didn't show up for the session and that was it for him. After that none of us had the energy or the desire to start over again so, we packed it in. A sorry end to what was once a pretty good band." While The Paupers' potential was never fully realized, the degree of talent within the band can be gleaned from its best work, and the subsequent achievements of its leading members. 

Following a successful career with Lighthouse, Prokop leant his talents to a diverse range of projects, including working with street kids, running an advertising agency and doing jingles. In 1979, he issued a solo album,/4// Crowed Up, and in recent years has played in a reformed Lighthouse. He is currently writing his autobiography. Adam Mitchell worked as a producer and a musical director before emerging as a successful songwriter; his compositions covered by John Waite, Olivia Newton-John, Art Garfunkel and Kiss to name a few. He also found time to record a rare solo album, Red Head In Trouble, in 1979 and continues to produce, write and perform in the US and Canada. 

Chuck Beal briefly worked as a music producer, promoter and manager for Canadian bands, including Jericho. Later, he worked at the Canadian National Institute For The Blind, producing the talking books series and also did some writing and research for CBC radio in Toronto. Looking back, Mitchell is philosophical about the band's premature demise."As incredible as the band truly was, we were victims of just plain bad luck," he says."Bad luck, not only that Denny did too many drugs at Monterey and Chuck had a bad guitar chord. But perhaps more importantly, bad luck that we had the wrong record producer, the wrong studio and the wrong label. We were young, the business was new and we didn't know any better."
by Nick Warburton 

1. South Down Road (Mitchell, Prokop) - 8:30
2. Cairo Hotel (Mitchell) - 4:10
3. Cant Go On (Mitchell, Prokop) - 3:35
4. Another Man's Hair On My Razor (Mitchell) - 4:15
5. Numbers (Mitchell, Prokop) - 5:33
6. Oh That She Might (Prokop) -  4:56
7. Yes I Know (Campbell, Mitchell, Prokop) - 6:23
8. Ask Her Again (Mitchell, Prokop) - 4:00
9. Juliana (Mitchell) - 2:49
10.If I Call You By Some Name (Rick Shorter) - 2:52
11.Copper Penny  (Prokop) - 2:36
12.White Song (Prokop) - 2:55

The Paupers
*Chuck Beal - Lead Guitar, Steel Guitar
*Brad Campbell - Bass, Vocals
*Adam Mitchell - Guitar, Organ, Piano, Vocals
*Skip Prokop - Drums, Guitar, Koto, Vocals
*Al Kooper - Keyboards

The Paupers
1967  Magic People

The Lighthouse
1973  Can You Feel It?

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