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One of Canada’s most original pop groups ever, Lighthouse was formed in Toronto early in 1969 when drummer Skip Prokop (ex of The Paupers, Janis Joplin, Al Kooper and Carlos Santana) had a vision of incorporating horns and strings with modern rock, sort of a heavy-hitting ‘big band’ sound. After a chance meeting in New York with Paul Hoffert – who was actually trained in more classical stylings and already an established sessions-player. Ralph Cole joined soon after. Originally a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Cole knew Prokop when he was in Thyme, who had actually performed on many bills with The Paupers during the latter half of the decade.
The ‘full orchestra sound’ which would become the band’s trademark was at first rounded out by an additional 10 members including singer Pinky Dauvin and guitarist Grant Fullerton. Their sound was as diverse as their listening audience, and contained cellos, violas, an array of horns and a full percussion section. The band was doing their first gig outdoors by May of that year and were signed to a deal with RCA shortly thereafter. They went to Toronto’s Eastern Sound Studios in the spring of ’69 and released their self-titled debut that same year. Produced by Prokop and Hoffert, it was met with critics’ praises, following the success of such tracks as “Mountain Man” and the cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”. Next up was SUITE FEELINGS, still in ’69 and also recorded at Eastern Sound, which featured a cover of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”. Their third and final album with RCA was released before year end. The label insisted on having an outside voice in the production, so Mike Lipskin was brought in. PEACING IT ALL TOGETHER, recorded in RCA’s New York studios followed the natural evolution Lighthouse was going through, evidenced by the single “The Chant”.
Problems with management saw the band switch to GRT Records the next year. Commercial success began catching up to the critics’ praise with ONE FINE MORNING, recorded in Toronto’s Thunder Sound Studios and released that summer. With new singer Bob McBride and producer Jimmy Ienner behind the controls, whose resume included work with The Raspberries and The Chamber Brothers, the first of 2 singles was released. “Hats Off To The Stranger” – the only track to feature McBride’s writing input, followed by the title-track, helped establish Lighthouse as one of the country’s most promising pop acts, and undeniably one of the most creative.
Appearances at major outdoor concerts, including The Isle Of Wight, Monterey Pop and Newport Jazz Festivals also helped make their mark on the international circuit. They also pioneered the fusion of rock with classical by playing with the country’s top symphonies, garnering more rave reviews. They were awarded their fourth straight gold record, selling in excess of 50,000 copies at home, followed by their first Juno Award the next year for Outstanding Group Performance.
Following a world tour, they returned to Thunder Sound and recorded THOUGHTS OF MOVING ON in 1971 and featured the hit “Take It Slow”. With Ienner returning as producer, the album was held together by an intricate but tight horns section, blended with a cohesive percussion unit and clever pop hooks. Other noteable tracks included the other single “I Just Wanna Be Your Friend”, “Rocking Chair”, the eclectic “Insane” and Prokop’s “I’d Be So Happy” – covered a few years later by Three Dog Night. Still owning the rights to the previous material, RCA released ONE FINE LIGHT Stateside later that year, the band’s first ‘best of’ package which covered the first three records.
LIGHTHOUSE LIVE, Canada’s first platinum-selling record, was taped at Carnegie Hall in February of ’72 and hit the shelves later that year while the band took some time off. It was during the hiatus that McBride would release his first solo album BUTTERFLY DAYS in 1972. Produced by Dennis R Murphy, it was a collection of 10 self-written tracks, with Hoffert and Prokop each contributing to one – basically tracks which for one reason or another missed inclusion in previous Lighthouse projects.
The band returned with SUNNY DAYS that same year. Recorded again in the friendly confines of Thunder Sound, Ienner again produced gold for the band. Backed by the international success of the singles “You Girl”, “One Fine Morning” and the title tune – Canada’s summer-anthem, they were soon rewarded with another Juno, this one for Group Of The Year. Following a North American tour, a changing musical atmosphere and ‘road burnout’ was urging some ‘real’ time off, and Hoffert stepped off the stage, though he continued on in a managerial role and still found time to write & produce with the group. After the tour, it was mutually decided to explore other avenues, and McBride was released from the ranks. He would go on to release a string of solo albums in the late 70’s – early 80’s, including 1973’s SEA OF DREAMS and 1979’s HERE TO SING, which featured his brother Danny, as well as Hoffert & Jack Richardson (The Guess Who, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Poco, White Wolf) producing.
CAN YOU FEEL IT? came out in ’73, recorded in New York’s Record Plant. The upbeat pop-smash “Pretty Lady”, along with the title track and “Set The Stage” fetched the band more gold. But despite following their proven forumula, they were finding themselves in the middle of a changing musical environment.
1974’s release of GOOD DAY marked a definite shift in the band’s direction. With mainstay producer Ienner again at the controls, they’d returned to Thunder Sound to record what was essentially becoming Prokop’s band, evidenced by the fact his face was the only one on the album jacket. No singles were released, though the record did contain “Wide Eyed Lady”, a song co-written by Bob McBride 2 years earlier before his dismissal. Musical burnout was taking its toll. That, coupled with problems with management caused Prokop’s departure later that year to pursue a solo career. By now Fullerton was also gone, forming Fullerton Dam, then later Madcats. With the band’s future now uncertain, GRT released a compilation that same year called simply THE BEST OF LIGHTHOUSE.
The remaining members carried on for another couple of years before succumbing to the obvious – a building can have as many bricks as you want – but it will come crumbling down if you take out the cornerstones. The members drifted off to do other projects, including Prokop serving as producer for Deja Vu’s SONG FOR EVERYONE. Gone but not forgotten, demand for simple but sophisticated pop brought the founding members back together for a series of gigs in Toronto in the summer of ’82.
In 1989 Denon Records bought the rights to the music and released BEST OF LIGHTHOUSE – SUNNY DAYS AGAIN that same year, then a remastered LIGHTHOUSE LIVE in ’91. The renewed interest spawned a full band reunion in ’93, which found them touring again for the first time in over 15 years, playing the outdoor rock festivals and rekindling the spark they ignited two decades earlier, collaberating with Canada’s top symphonies to sold out houses.
The band put out SONG OF THE AGES in ’96. Though it didn’t spawn any singles, it showed the world that one of Canada’s most original pop acts ever was back – and still strong. A remastered Greatest Hits package hit the stores two years later, shortly after the untimely death of Bob McBride. While fending off two people who’d broke and entered his parents’ house, he was savagely beaten. He eventually succumbed to his injuries, one month after the two received light sentences.
Lighthouse was undeniably one of the driving forces of the Canadian pop machine of the ’70’s. With a total of nine gold records, three platinum and 4 Junos, no other band of the day could touch them. In a time before Canadian radio stations were required to play a minimum of homegrown talent, Lighthouse wasn’t affected. Their keen pop sensibility, combined with plain musical talent and clever production styles, helped their light shine brightly, guiding many of today’s groups along the way.
Today, the group is still touring, concentrating mostly on outdoor festivals and working with the country’s top orchestras, where their oversized ‘rock meets the classics’ sound fits in right at home. Fronted by the original nucleus of Skip, Paul & Ralph with new lead vocalist Dan Clancy and a killer horn section (including originals Russ Little and Steve Kennedy) the group has now been together longer than the original band with only two personnel changes in a decade.
With notes from David & Lynn Brisebois, Kathy Elsie, Brenda Hoffert, Paul Leask and The Murf