lIGHTHOUSE • biography
One Fine Morning - Sunny Days - Pretty Lady - Hats Off To The Stranger - 1849 - Take It Slow - You Girl
Chances are, as you're reading the titles of these classic Lighthouse hits, you’re singing them in your head and smiling. Each one is still heard daily on radio, television, and home sound systems after almost forty years of continuous play. For a generation of Canadians, Lighthouse was the soundtrack of their lives.
Recognized as one of the best performing acts of their time, they toured 300 days a year including sold out performances at Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore East, Fillmore West, Expo ‘70 in Japan and the Isle of Wight Festival in England where they were the only act besides Kris Kristofferson (who had trouble with his sound system) asked to perform twice among acts that included The Doors, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, The Who and Chicago. Back home, their free concerts at Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square attracted one hundred thousand people. Indeed, it’s hard to find a person who lived in Canada through the 1970s who didn’t see the group live. They were Canada’s band.
Free-wheeling, high-spirited – the music of Lighthouse mirrored the times. Their story is interwoven with the history of late twentieth century Canada. Their rise to fame coincided with a new awareness of Canadian culture, encouraged by the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The emergence of Cancon (Canadian content regulations) influenced by Skip Prokop’s historic appearance before Parliament, allowed the music of Canadians to be heard across the country. Riding the wave, Lighthouse originated the cross-Canada rock tour, playing every major and minor venue across the country. Devoted audiences from province to province took pride in seeing one of their own make it to the top.
Skip Prokop circa 1967
In the early sixties, drummer Skip Prokop, was a fixture of the Toronto Yorkville Village scene, with his band The Paupers. Managed initially by Bernie Finkelstein, they soon attracted the attention of super-manager Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Gordon Lightfoot) who landed them a lucrative recording deal that resulted in a top-10 hit in 1966. Prokop left the band in ‘68 and became a renowned studio musician, recording with Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, Peter, Paul & Mary, Mike Bloomfield and Ian & Sylvia among many others.
Prokop was performing his last gig with the Paupers when he ran into Paul Hoffert, a hot young Canadian musician who was in New York working on his off-Broadway musical 'Get Thee to Canterbury'.
Hoffert was already an accomplished film composer, arranger and performer who had released his first jazz album at the age of sixteen. On the side, he helped develop one of the first synthesizers at the National Research Council while finishing his degree in Maths, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Toronto.
Prokop told Hoffert of his vision - a rock orchestra comprised of three quartets - jazz horns, classical strings, and a rock rhythm section. Hoffert told him, "If you're gonna do it, and you're gonna do it in Toronto, call me." Prokop did exactly that.
He immediately recruited another musician, guitarist Ralph Cole, whose playing chops he'd admired while passing through Detroit with The Paupers. He convinced Cole to quit his band, Thyme, pack up all his belongings and leave Kalamazoo Michigan for Toronto.
Cole arrived invigorated and eager to play some dates. But Prokop hadn’t told him that the band was not yet assembled, that songs had not been written, and that there was no money available until the first gig. Cole had to move in with Prokop’s parents for several months before he could afford his own place.
As the weeks went by, the concept began to take shape. They assembled a group drawn from friends, studio musicians and Toronto Symphony Orchestra members - the long hairs met the longhairs - to record a six song demo. Lush strings, jazzy horn lines and four-part vocal harmonies added to wailing guitar, funky B3 organ and a liberal dose of psychedelia made up the early Lighthouse sound. The result was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before - a combination of driving rock rhythms, exciting jazz improvisational solos, and soaring orchestral arrangements. Hardly your average three-minute pop song.
This was a bit of a shock to Prokop and Hoffert who had already signed with MGM. Fusco didn’t break a sweat as he brokered a backroom deal between the two companies. This was the sixties after all: #%*& happened!
Edmonton Symphony Programme 1970
The next year was magical as they continued to expand their horizons. They played with the Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Philadelphia Symphonies as well as the Cincinnati Philharmonic. Based on this experience, Ralph Cole recommended the Edmonton Symphony to Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker who was interested in a similar project. The resulting recording led to the biggest selling album of that British band’s career (Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra). Another high point of this period was Lighthouse’s collaboration with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Ballet High, the world’s first rock ballet, debuted at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre in July of 1970 and then made its way across Canada playing to standing-room-only audiences
Lighthouse was riding high, performing to packed houses that greeted them with open-mouthed delight. The only thing they lacked was a hit single. These were the days before album rock and there was little room on the AM radio dial for eight-minute songs featuring violin and trombone solos. Despite the growing legion of fans and sold-out concerts, their first three albums had mediocre sales. They were at a crossroads and about to lose their recording contract with RCA.
Enter Bob McBride. His distinctive voice was the catalyst the band needed to enter its next phase. Jimmy Ienner, fresh from his success with Eric Carmen’s hits, signed on as producer, honing the band’s new commercial sound. Prokop took over the majority of the song writing chores, simplifying the sound and making the songs more radio friendly. The result was the number one album and single, One Fine Morning.
Lighthouse continued to tour non-stop, garnering a reputation as one of the most exciting and dynamic live bands on the road. Audiences cheered – critics raved - as the band played every big city and small town across Canada. They performed standout shows throughout the United States and Europe as well, including The Isle of Wight Festival, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, and the Monterey, Newport and Boston Globe Jazz Festivals. When they represented Canada at Expo '70 in Japan they were so enthusiastically received they caused a near riot! They played with The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell…the list goes on and on. Elton John, in his first U.S. appearance, was Lighthouse's opening act in Philadelphia.
Expo '70 Japan Band Member List: Paul Hoffert, Bob McBride, Louie Yacknin, Skip Prokop. Ralph Cole; Keith Jollimore, Howard Shore, Bruce Cassidy, Pete Pantaluk, Larry Smith, Don DiNovo, Paul Armin, Dick Armin.
Lighthouse was on a roll, releasing more than a dozen charting singles over the next four years, including radio mainstays Sunny Days, 1849 and Pretty Lady. Lighthouse’s popularity continued to grow at home and abroad and they toured endlessly to meet the demand. Starting in 1971 they won the first of three successive Juno Awards for Best Group of the Year, with McBride taking Best Male Vocalist in 1973. Album sales soared resulting in four gold albums and Canada's first platinum album - Lighthouse Live! The band could be seen on television, in newspapers and magazines, even on Coca Cola bottle caps. Life became an endless cycle of performing, recording and promoting one album after the other. It was inevitable that something had to give.
Hoffert was the first of the founding members to leave. In 1973, tired of life on the road, he left performing but continued to act as Lighthouse’s executive producer. Then Bob McBride mysteriously failed to show up for the New York recording of the band's next album, Can You Feel It. Prokop and Cole considered scrapping the sessions but producer Ienner insisted they sing all the lead and vocal harmonies. The result was one of the band's biggest hits, Pretty Lady. The frenetic pace continued without McBride on vocals as they toured across America three times from September through December. The hectic schedule is typified by the band's final concerts of the year, one in Edmonton at 9:00 pm and one in Calgary at midnight.
1974: Each tour saw several personnel changes as the band criss-crossed the continent but the biggest shift occurred when Prokop decided to step away from his drum kit and join the front line on guitar and vocals.
This was the line-up for the 1974 recording of Good Day. Prokop went out for one last tour in support of the album then decided it was time for him to call it quits as well.
Lighthouse's popularity ensured the success of several more tours led by the remaining original member, Ralph Cole but in 1976 the band came off the road and returned home for good. Or so they thought.
Six years later Ontario Place approached Lighthouse with a proposition. They wanted to celebrate their tenth anniversary with the band that had performed the venue's first concert. Would Lighthouse be interested in reuniting for a series of weekend performances? You bet!
It was a memorable weekend for Lighthouse and the 33,000 fans who came out to see them. The concerts were broadcast as a highly rated special on CBC but when the weekend was over, to everyone's disappointment, the musicians went their separate ways. It wasn't until 1992, when a request for the band to perform at the Calgary Stampede set the wheels in motion again, that Lighthouse decided to seriously re-unite. Skip Prokop, Ralph Cole, Paul Hoffert & Bob McBride shared the stage once again. The magic was back.
But McBride’s performances became increasingly erratic. He had developed an addiction to drugs and before long it became apparent that he was unable to continue performing. With great sadness he was asked to leave the band. Hoffert, Prokop and Cole were looking to take Lighthouse to some new musical places and approached vocalist Dan Clancy to join them. Clancy, with his enormous vocal range and powerful stage presence, fit the bill. The result was Lighthouse's 1994 CD release, Song of the Ages, and their first top-forty hit in three decades, Remember The Times.
For McBride, life continued to spiral out of control. He committed a series of petty crimes to feed his addiction but he strove to put all that behind him and by 1996 he was off drugs and making plans to return to a career in music.
Sadly, that year he received serious injuries while fending off burglars during a break-in at his parents' home. He was already suffering from a number of illnesses and the injuries he sustained during the attack compromised his system even further. He struggled with health problems over the next few years and died in Toronto of heart failure on February 20, 1998. This was a very tragic end to one of Canada's best and most loved singers.
Lighthouse has found stability and commitment with the current line-up, together now for twenty-two years. The rhythm section for the ten-member group still features the original founders, Skip Prokop (back on drums), Paul Hoffert and Ralph Cole leading an all-star band that includes original members trombonist Russ Little and Steve Kennedy (saxophones and flute) with lead vocalist Dan Clancy, Don Paulton (keys), Doug Moore (bass), Simon Wallis (saxophones and flute) and Chris Howells (trumpet). However, after so many years together, it could easily be argued that all the musicians are original members of the band.
Lighthouse continues to generate excitement with innovative works including a multimedia stage show created in collaboration with the Desrosiers Dance Theatre that toured Brazil. Their 1994 release, Song of the Ages, was one of the first CDs to include games and animation that could be viewed on a computer. They performed a series of exhilarating and technologically demanding concerts in which sections of the band performed in different locations across Toronto linked by broadband cable.
Their sold-out reunion concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was broadcast live across Canada. In 1996, they were honoured for their many years of success by being inducted into Q107s Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Whether performing for summer Festival crowds or rapt Concert Hall audiences they continue to bring down the house.
Lighthouse songs have been enjoying a renaissance lately having caught the attention of young artists such as Akon and Shobha as well as rock legend Carlos Santana who've all recently recorded cover versions of Sunny Days and One Fine Morning respectively.
One Fine Morning was also recently played by Jay Leno's band with Robert Downey Jr boppin' to the beat!
The band's music has also found a following in Japan with several artists performing Lighthouse covers. And last year a Japanese break-dance troupe created a spectacular routine using the band's recording of One Fine Morning.
For Lighthouse's recent 40th anniversary the band toured across Canada in support of its ole/Universal release, 40 Years of Sunny Days.
Lighthouse continues to tour and is in the early stages of a new release.
Grammy Award® winning musicologist Rob Bowman, sums up the DVD as follows: "The result is a lovingly shot and edited film with a surround sound mix that is spectacular, brilliant and luxuriant beyond belief. Those who have kept up with the band will surely agree that the film faithfully captures Lighthouse in its full glory.... For those who just remember the AM hits, 40 Years of Sunny Days should be a revelation."