1964 in Toronto, Canada
The group was formed as The Spats in Toronto during 1964 by ex-Riverside Three drummer Skip Prokop (b. Ronn, Dec. 13, 1946, Hamilton, Ontario) and former Last Words rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bill Marion aka Bill Misener (b. Hamilton, Ontario). The other original members comprised lead guitarist Chuck Beal (b. Apr. 6, 1946, Scarborough, Ontario) and bass player Denny Gerrard (b. Feb. 28, 1947, Scarborough, Ontario).
According to legend, The Spats rehearsed for 40 hours a week, sometimes on a 13-hour a day shift, and as a result became one of Toronto's most popular outfits. After changing their name to The Paupers in early 1965, the group attracted the attention of local manager Duff Roman, who signed them to Toronto's independent label Red Leaf. In March Red Leaf issued Prokop and Marion's 'Never Send You Flowers' as the group's debut single and it soon became a modest local hit, as did the follow up 'If I Told My Baby'.
As 1966 dawned, the band signed a new deal with Duff Roman's label Roman Records which issued the group's next single 'For What I Am'. A cover of 'Long Tall Sally' followed in the spring of 1966, by which point the group had parted with Roman (who subsequently became program director of CKFH) and signed up with Bernie Finkelstein (later Bruce Cockburn's longstanding manager). Finkelstein arranged a one-off deal with the Canadian arm of Columbia Records, which resulted in the single 'Heart Walking Blues'. However, in August Marion left (after his wife gave him an ultimatum) and subsequently recorded a solo single before moving into production work.
In his place, The Paupers recruited Scottish émigré Adam Mitchell (b. Nov. 24, 1944, Glasgow, Scotland), apparently on an hour and a half's notice. Mitchell quickly asserted himself as the group's new lead singer and chief songwriter with Skip Prokop. Finkelstein signed the new line-up to New York label MGM shortly afterwards and on September 24 the group made a prestigious appearance at a 14-hour pop music show held at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, featuring 14 top local bands. The group's reputation began to spread rapidly and in early 1967, Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, convinced Finkelstein to sell his interests in the group. Grossman renegotiated the MGM contract and signed the band to its associate label Verve Forecast. The group's debut single with Mitchell, 'If I Call You By Some Name' was released and reached #31 on Canada's RPM chart, the band's biggest hit. Apparently The Paupers hated it, feeling that it wasn't representative of their music.
The single was followed by a well-received date at New York's Café Au Go Go in March 1967 supporting Jefferson Airplane, where apparently they 'blew the latter away.' The group remained in the city to cut its debut album with Rick Shorter and then set out for a series of concerts on the West Coast including several appearances at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 16. Back in Toronto in late summer, the band issued its latest single 'Magic People', which was followed by an album of the same name. MGM then sent the group on a $40,000 promotional tour where they played around 17 US cities in a month. One of the most memorable dates during this period took place at the Café Au Go Go supporting Cream.
In late 1967, The Paupers debut album peaked at US #178, but its modest success was overshadowed by Denny Gerrard's departure. His replacement was bass player/vocalist Brad Campbell from Marion's previous group The Last Words. Around the same time, The Paupers also added (for live purposes) keyboard player Peter Sterbach, who was replaced early the following year by John Ord (b. England).
In January 1968, a final single was lifted from The Paupers' debut album, 'Think I Care' (considered by many to be the early group's definitive song), but it failed to chart. Prokop started to grow restless and was soon drawn into the lucrative session world; he duly appeared on Peter, Paul & Mary's single 'I Dig Rock And Roll' and Richie Havens' album 'Something Else' amongst others.
The band continued to play high profile dates and on February 24, supported The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine at the C.N.E Coliseum in Toronto. This was followed by a second a US tour, which proved to be as memorable as the first - in April the group was playing in Chicago when Martin Luther King was assassinated and narrowly missed the subsequent riots!
Internal problems however, continued to dodge the band. Following a final date at New York's Electric Circus in August, Prokop left to form Lighthouse, while Campbell joined Janis Joplin's Kozmic Blues Band. The band's second album 'Ellis Island' was released in the aftermath of the group's break up and was a maturer offering than the debut. Side two included (arguably) the band's best work and on several tracks, the Japanese instrument the koto was employed. A final single, Mitchell's 'Cairo Hotel' (later recorded by McKendree Spring) was released simultaneously, but failed to chart.
In October, a new line-up of The Paupers featuring Mitchell, Beal and Ord was formed (to pay off the existing debt) with original bass player Denny Gerrard and new drummer Roz Parks. Gerrard however, soon left to be replaced by James Houston, who had previously played with Parks. Mitchell's departure in April 1969 signalled the end of the group and The Paupers split for good.
Mitchell briefly embarked upon a solo career, playing the folk circuit in Ontario and then worked as a producer for the likes of McKenna Mendelson Mainline and Linda Ronstadt. Ord embarked on a multitude of sessions while Gerrard joined Luke & The Apostles briefly before forming Jericho in late 1970. Beal worked as a music producer and manager, and was last heard of working at the Canadian National Institute for the blind, producing a talking book series. Houston recorded a rare single for Yorkville Records in 1971, while the band's final drummer Billy King later became a member of Lighthouse.
Thanks, Nick, once again for the beautiful biography.