Verve Forecast - 1967
For someone giving Magic People a spin for the first time, there is a point midway through the track 'It's Your Mind', precisely when the blithe rhythms segue into the sort of sunshiny chorus that sold millions of records for the Association, that Toronto's Paupers must have seemed destined to conquer the world. And indeed that was precisely what was expected of a band hyped to death even with their first LP barely released (to wit: The Los Angeles Free Press featured the headline "Are Paupers Destined to Surpass the Beatles?"). Of course, nobody could have lived up to such lofty expectations, but the fact that the Paupers failed - and failed so miserably - is the stuff of legend.
Formed as the Spats by drummer Skip Prokop, guitarists Bill Marion and Chuck Beal, and bass player Denny Gerrard, the band rechristened themselves the Paupers and released a pair of singles each on Toronto indie label Red Leaf and on manager Duff Roman's Roman imprint. But it wasn't until the summer of 1965 that things began to look up, with fast-talking Bernie Finklestein assuming managerial duties and Scottish emigre Adam Mitchell taking over for Marion on vocals and guitar. Before long the lads found themselves in front of thousands at the massive Maple Leaf Gardens, supporting the red-hot Lovin' Spoonful in December 1966. The band's first single with their new bassist, 'If I Call You by Some Name' (Verve Forecast), peaked at #6 on Toronto's influential CHUM-AM in January of 1967.
From there, the band snagged a two-week slot at New York's Cafe au Go Go in support of the Jefferson Airplane. It was there that the band found their element, upstaging the Airplane, who Toronto-based scribe Nicholas Jennings writes in Before the Gold Rush "had their Haight-Ashbury asses well and truly kicked". With the band's live reputation intact, Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman bought out Finklestein and quickly rang Bill Graham, booking the band for three nights at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, followed by the mother of all gigs at the Monterrey Pop Festival in June.
But what looked like a slam dunk - the hard-rocking Paupers were slated to follow the Association in front of some 30,000 people - was actually the beginning of the end. A set marred by slack playing and a crackling amp would see to it that the Paupers were left out of D.A. Pennebaker's crucial film document. What's worse, the band's bass virtuoso Gerrard took a liking to the hallucinogens, occasionally vanishing for days on end.
Magic People could almost be a metaphor for the band's ill-fortunes, as the opening two tracks, the ebullient title track and the aforementioned 'It's Your Mind', are probably the band's finest moments on wax. After that there is really nowhere to go but down. The sneering 'Think I Care', for which the Paupers were best known, shows the band at their tougher end, while the delightfully joyful chorus in the closer 'You and Me' should have scaled at least a few AM charts. But elsewhere the record mires itself in some pretty tepid folk mush.
Magic People limped to a dismal #178 on the Billboard charts. The band followed up with the more eclectic Ellis Island in 1968, but with Gerrard's increasing drug use, a mass of debts, and Prokop's lucrative session work, there was little left to keep the band afloat. Prokop, the Paupers' truly great talent, hopped aboard the big brass gravy train, forming the sprawling Lighthouse later that year, and scoring huge on both sides of the border with One Fine Morning and Sunny Days.
(Magic People was lovingly ushered into the digital age by the good folks at Pacemaker in 2008, complete with original artwork, additional tracks and a nifty booklet.)
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