The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) has announced its newest Inductees: Ralph Cole, Paul Hoffert, Bob McBride, and Skip Prokop – songwriters and members of one of Canada’s most iconic bands, Lighthouse – who’ll be honoured at the 2022 SOCAN Awards.
Lighthouse’s brand of free-wheeling, high-spirited, jazz-rock-classical fusion took North America by storm, starting with their debut in 1969, recorded at Toronto’s Rock Pile. The eclectic group of musicians included co-founders Prokop, who was a member of the psychedelic rock band The Paupers, and Hoffert, who was a classically trained jazz pianist and composer for film and theatre. Along with other members, including guitar virtuoso Cole, Lighthouse would bring together their diverse musical backgrounds to form a new band and new sound. McBride, who had studied singing with Johnny Mathis and toured with Ronnie Hawkins, would join Lighthouse in 1970 as lead vocalist.
Fast-forward five decades and a storied catalogue of hits, including “Sunny Days,” “One Fine Morning,” “Pretty Lady,” “Take it Slow (Out in the Country)”, and “Hats Off (to the Stranger),” ensure that Lighthouse deservedly take its place in Canadian music history with the inductions of Cole, Hoffert, McBride, and the late Prokop during a celebration and tribute at the 2022 SOCAN Awards in the band’s hometown of Toronto. Anthem Entertainment is the presenting partner of the Lighthouse induction.
“Lighthouse’s contribution to music is immense. Spanning over five decades, and still creating extraordinary works, we are proud to represent the music of Lighthouse as their publisher and as their label. We are most excited about the future. Congratulations to all of the members of this iconic group. Lighthouse, you are still a shining beacon of classic jazz-rock-fusion, and will be for years to come,” said Helen Murphy, CEO of Anthem Entertainment.
“Lighthouse epitomized the musical liberation movement that came out of Yorkville’s music scene in the late ‘60s. They grew into a 13-member band, which was unheard of at the time, were fearless in combining musical influences in their songwriting, and were known for taking risks such as incorporating classical instruments like the flute and trombone into a rock sound,” said Nick Fedor, Director, CSHF. “Their music is emblematic of the Canadian mosaic; all of its members coming together as one, with each person contributing their unique talents and musicality.”
Prokop and Hoffert met by chance when they were seatmates on a flight to Toronto after Prokop’s last performance with The Paupers. Prokop had an idea for a big band with a huge cinematic sound. Being familiar with Hoffert’s reputation as a jazz musician and film composer, Prokop asked if this would be something he might be interested in pursuing, and the rest is history.
Prokop knew the rock scene, and Hoffert knew the classical and jazz scenes, and together they assembled a group of musicians including guitarist Ralph Cole, whose band Thyme had great success throughout his home state of Michigan. The band began performing around Toronto, and quickly gained a loyal fanbase. The band’s success at Carnegie Hall and the Boston Pop Festival led to performances at the Newport and Monterey jazz festivals – the first rock band to do so. Along the way, Lighthouse issued three albums in quick succession, and the singles “Feel So Good” and “The Chant” became their first national hits.
In 1970, New York producer Jimmy Ienner, helped steer the band’s writers towards creating the hit songs that have kept Lighthouse on the airwaves for more than 50 years. At the same time Lighthouse brought in Toronto-born Bob McBride, whose distinctive vocals became a hallmark of the Lighthouse sound.
With these changes in direction, the band immediately scored its first Top 10 hit, the SOCAN Classic “Hats Off (to the Stranger)” by Prokop, McBride, and Peter McGraw). Next, Prokop’s celebratory and jazzy “One Fine Morning” charted to No. 2 on RPM and Billboard’s No. 24.
Lighthouse continued its winning streak with JUNO Awards three years running from 1972 to 1974, plus a JUNO for lead singer Bob McBride. In addition to their four gold albums and platinum-selling 1972 Carnegie Hall live album, they pioneered performances with symphony orchestras, were the only band asked to perform twice at the historic Isle of Wight festival, and collaborated with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet resulting in the first Rock Ballet titled, Ballet High, that swept the nation with standing-room-only performances.
1972’s Sunny Days made RPM’s Top 10 album chart, its joyful title single (by Prokop) reaching Billboard’s No. 34, CHUM’s No. 10, and RPM’s No. 4. Other hit Lighthouse singles included Cole’s “Take It Slow (Out in the Country)” (written with Keith Jollimore and Larry Smith), Prokop’s “Pretty Lady” (now a SOCAN Classic), and McBride and Prokop’s “I Just Wanna Be Your Friend.” Five Lighthouse albums have made the Billboard 200 chart.
Although the group disbanded in 1976, Prokop, Hoffert, Cole, and McBride would re-unite as a 10-piece band in 1992; however, within a short time, McBride was replaced by Dan Clancy, whose unique ability to capture the dynamic Lighthouse sound while maintaining his own style has kept him front and centre for the past 30 years. The current band has had few changes since re-forming. When Skip Prokop retired in 2014, the band welcomed his son Jamie, who is currently on leave. With the retirement this year of Ralph Cole (guitar) and Steve Kennedy (saxes and flute), the Lighthouse family now includes Marc Ganatakos (guitar), Michael Stuart (saxes and flute), Paul DeLong (drums), Doug Moore (bass), Don Paulton (keyboards), Russ Little (trombone), Chris Howells (trumpet), Simon Wallis (saxes and flute) and co-founder Paul Hoffert (keyboards and vibes).
Lighthouse’s 40th anniversary was marked by the release of Forty Years of Sunny Days, a compilation that included 16 classic hits, along with a DVD of the current band performing the same hits. A new double-album set will be released in the new year.
While maintaining a touring schedule with Lighthouse, Prokop, Hoffert, Cole and McBride continued to expand their horizons. Cole established a successful jingle production company, produced many artists (including Shirley Eikhard), and was a sought-after session musician. McBride released several singles, such as the hit “Pretty City Lady,” and several solo albums, one of which went gold – before his untimely death in 1998.
Hoffert continued to compose and conduct original music for film and television. His 1979 album Concerto for Contemporary Violin won a JUNO Award for best engineering. He established a research centre at York University in the ‘80s, and his expertise in digital copyright law resulted in Faculty positions at Harvard University and the University of Toronto. Hoffert received the Order of Canada in 2004 for his contribution to music and the arts.
And Prokop released several albums, including Smoothside, which was awarded Jazz Album of the Year at the 2012 Hamilton Music Awards. He was a producer, session player, and radio show host before passing away in 2017.
Ralph Cole, Paul Hoffert, Bob McBride, and Skip Prokop will be honoured with a permanent exhibit inside the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame’s home at the National Music Centre in Calgary.