Friday, September 24, 2010

The Paupers - Ellis Island (1968)

Formed 1965 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Paupers were originally formed as the Spats in 1965 by lead guitarist Chuck Beale, bassist Denny Gerrard, guitarist Bill Misener and vocalist Skip Prokop. In 1966, Adam Mitchell replaced Misener and in 1968 bassist Brad Cambell joined the band after Gerrard departed. After two albums recorded in the late '60s, Magic People and Ellis Island, the Paupers broke up in 1969. Adam Mitchell went on to release a solo record in 1979, Redhead in Trouble, for Warner Bros..

Ronn 'Skip' Prokop (drums)
Denny Gerrard (bass)
Bill Marion [aka Bill Misener] (guitar)
Adam Mitchell (guitar; replaced Misener)
Chuck Beal (lead guitar)
Brad Campbell (bass; replaced Gerrard and was replaced by Gerrard)
Mel O'Brien (replaced Gerrard)
John Orde (keyboards)
Roz Park (drums; replaced Prokop)
Wally Cameron (drums; replaced Park)
Peter Sterback (organ; replaced Orde)
James Houston (drums; replaced Prokop)
Bill King (drums; replaced Park)


Following the tepid response to their 1967 debut LP Magic People, and the near-mythical meltdown at the Monterrey Pop Festival that followed it, the Paupers went back to Toronto to regroup. Essentially broke, travel-weary, and on the verge of break-up - bassist Denny Gerrard was given the boot for his constant drug use and errant absenteeism, and co-leader Skip Prokop even considered bailing - the band played an impressive set at CNE Stadium in support of the Soft Machine and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. After shelving three tracks cut in Nashville, the lads headed to New York in early May to record that "difficult second album" as it were, with producer Elliot Mazer bringing in Al Kooper on keyboards for the sessions.

The result, despite the former Blood Sweat and Tears member's best efforts, was an unfocused, patchy affair that lacked the occasional brilliance of their first. The menacing acid guitar of opener 'Southdown Road' seems to portend great things to come, but from there Ellis Island fragments into a bit of an incoherent mess. The choice of Adam Mitchell's folksy ballad 'Cairo Hotel' as the single is baffling to say the least. Ditto for the inclusion of flimsy ballads like 'Another Man's Hair on My Razor' and the country-tinged 'Can't Go On'. Still, when the Paupers choose to rock, as on the aforementioned lead-off track and the frighteningly electric 'Numbers', the results are occasionally gripping, if not exactly stellar. But pair that with the cheesy AM-fare of 'Juliana' and the lethargic 'Ask Her Again', where drummer Prokop curiously plucks the Japanese koto (a gift from Peter, Paul and Mary after a tour of Japan), and it is easy to see how Ellis Island would ultimately sound the band’s death knell.

Prokop left soon after, while guitarists Mitchell and Chuck Beal, saddled with $40,000 in debts, dutifully carried on for a year or so before jumping ship themselves. As for the talented Prokop, he would emerge the following year stronger than ever, later leading his soul-brass behemoth Lighthouse into the charts on both sides of the border with the likes of 'One Fine Morning' and 'Sunny Days' ~

1. The Paupers - South Down Road (8:21)

2. The Paupers - Cairo Hotel (4:07)

3. The Paupers - Cant Go On (3:29)

4. The Paupers - Another Mans Hair On My Razor (4:03)

5. The Paupers - Numbers (5:28)

6. The Paupers - Oh That She Might (4:47)

7. The Paupers - Yes I Know (6:07)

8. The Paupers - Ask Her Again (4:13)

9. The Paupers - Julliana (2:36)
llis Island, the second album by the Paupers, contains a front cover color photo of the four bandmembers inserted on a Sgt. Pepper-style collage by Ollie Alpert. Inside the LP is a very psychedelic black-and-white picture of the group, which also features 16 single photos of Cambell, Mitchell, Prokop, and Beale -- photos which you can cut out to make a flick book. Like a trendy flicker ring with more sustain, you can see the musicians move in the optical illusion if you follow the instructions. Problem with this concept was that there was no Andy Warhol to splash his name on the cover and get the idea some attention à la the famous banana cover. If Verve had difficulty understanding the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground, where the Paupers fit in was anybody's guess. Adam Mitchell takes seven of the nine lead vocals as the band touches on a variety of psychedelic styles, beginning with "South Down Road." This opening track plays like Procol Harum battling the Electric Prunes -- it's eight and a half minutes of acid blues on an interesting album by an interesting crew. Mitchell's originals, four co-written with Skip Prokop, are an odd bunch. It seems Procol Harum won the war on the first song because "Cairo Hotel" sounds like they've now taken on Kaleidoscope U.K. in a battle of the bands. The intellectual display quickly disappears when the country comedy of "Another Man's Hair on My Razor" brings side one to a close. OK, it's amusing, but despite all the Sgt. Pepper trappings, there's no "Lucy in the Sky" in these grooves. Al Kooper guest stars on keyboards, and maybe they should have taken his "This Diamond Ring" and jumped the gun on Frijid Pink by reinventing that pop classic with a wall of distortion. Side two's opener, "Numbers," could be "Eight Miles High" meets Simon & Garfunkel's "Fakin' It." "Numbers," with its Strawberry Alarm Clock guitars and Janis Joplin bassist-to-be Brad Campbell singing lead, is jarring, but that's the rule on this album. Campbell would go on to track I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! and Pearl with Joplin, as well as Joplin in Concert. That live album was collected and assembled by Elliot Mazer with some of the tracks recorded by Fred Catero, both men involved with the Paupers' Ellis Island project. Interesting to note the credible resumés involved in this esoteric project. Skip Prokop's one solo composition is also his one vocal. The man who would perform on Live Adventures of Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield and create the band Lighthouse does an off-key Keith Moon-style vocal over a dreamy track, the Small Faces phase shifting guessed it...Procol Harum. This track is minus the fuzz guitars, instead employing the strings, piano, and effects, giving the listener some breathing room. Adam Mitchell takes the vocals back from here on out -- it's a dramatic "Yes I Know" written by Campbell, Prokop, and Mitchell, six minutes and 23 seconds of more psychedelic blues. This music would've been a blessing for the latter-day Blues Magoos and Electric Prunes, groups who moved away from these types of sounds, much to the chagrin of their fans. Without the hit singles those groups enjoyed, the Paupers' Ellis Island never got the attention it kind of deserved. It is both vintage and obscure, which could make it quite collectable at some point in time.~ Joe Viglione, All Music Guide
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