Proudly Canadian: Prism

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Submitted by Cashbox Canada

Prism (or PRiSM) are a Canadian rock band originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada that formed in 1977. They were originally active from 1977 to 1984 and have been active again from 1988 to present. Their classic line-up consisted of lead singer Ron Tabak, guitarist Lindsay Mitchell, keyboardist John Hall, bassist Al Harlow, and drummer Rocket Norton.

The band's sound is a mix of Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) and pop rock, and they have released a total of thirteen studio albums, three compilation albums, and one live album.

Prism's success has been primarily in Canada where they won the Canadian music industry Juno Award for Group of the Year in 1981, although they also reached the US top 40 charts with 1981's "Don't Let Him Know". Prism is also noteworthy for launching the careers of several former group members, including international record producer Bruce Fairbairn, songwriter Jim Vallance, Powder Blues Band frontman Tom Lavin, and Headpins and Chilliwack musician Ab Bryant. A pre-fame Bryan Adams also contributed as a songwriter to several early Prism releases.

On Sunday, March 6, 2011, Prism's "Spaceship Superstar" was chosen as the wakeup song for the Space Shuttle Discovery crew members. This was a significant point in history as it was the last day that the crews of Discovery and the International Space Station were together beforeDiscovery returned to earth in the last mission of Discovery.

Prism was the brainchild of musician-producer Bruce Fairbairn and comprised members from two local Vancouver bands, Sunshyne and Seeds of Time. Fairbairn was originally a trumpet player in Sunshyne, a jazz-rock band, in the early 70s. Around 1974, the band switched their format to blues-rock by recruiting guitarist Lindsay Mitchell from Seeds of Time as their frontman. The Seeds of Time were a blues-oriented group that had recently wound down after a mildly successful recording career, in which they placed 2 songs in the Canadian Top 100 (RPM Magazine): "My Home Town" reached #76 and "Crying the Blues" reached #90, both in 1971.

Still operating under the name Sunshyne, Fairbairn then decided to pursue a recording contract for the band. After a year of trying, he was unsuccessful and in mid-1975, he approached former Sunshyne member Jim Vallance for help in reworking the demos. Some changes were made. First, Vallance helped with new arrangements on two of Mitchell's songs and also began contributing some of his own at Fairbairn's request. Ron Tabak was recruited to replace Mitchell on lead vocals while Mitchell remained as the guitarist and alternate songwriter. A set of five demo songs, two by Mitchell and three by Vallance, were then recorded and sent to record labels across Canada. An executive at GRT liked one of Vallance's songs, "Open Soul Surgery", and offered Fairbairn's project a recording contract in 1976.

Over the next year Fairbairn produced the group's debut album. At the time there was no fixed band line-up for the recording, and Fairbairn employed various musicians from around the local Vancouver music scene. Tabak, Mitchell and Vallance were relative constants during the sessions: others who participated in the recording sessions included Steve Pugsley, Richard Christie, Peter Bjerring, Dave Calder, Tom and Jack Lavin, David Sinclair, Dave Pickell, Ab Bryant, John Hall and Graeme Coleman.

Eventually, the group line-up "officially" became Ron Tabak (vocals), John Hall (keyboards), Lindsay Mitchell (lead guitar), Tom Lavin (rhythm guitar), Mitchell's former Seeds of Time band mate Al Harlow (bass) and Jim Vallance (drums). Fairbairn and Tom Keenlyside (saxophone) received credit as session musicians and were band members for one year, with Fairbairn acting as road manager on US and Canadian tour dates. The others were not credited on the finished album as musicians, but were listed in the credits in a section labeled "special thanks".

By the time the album was completed, 7 of its 9 songs were written by Vallance with one by Mitchell and one by Lavin. As the album was about to go into production some changes were made to the credits. The label's management did not like the name "Sunshyne", so they released a pre-LP teaser single under the group name "Stanley Screamer". That wasn't popular with the group so after trying out several other names at local gigs (including "Under Construction"), the members settled on "Prism" as the band's new name. Also, Vallance decided to use a pseudonym, Rodney Higgs, for his work as the band's drummer and songwriter. As Prism's principal songwriter, Vallance was afraid that if the album failed and his real name was associated with it, he would never land another recording contract—but by using the pseudonym, Vallance could get around that problem.

The self-titled Prism album was finally released in May 1977. Although Ab Bryant appears on the back jacket, he'd actually only been hired days before the photo was taken, as Harlow had (temporarily, it would turn out) left. Within a few months of the album's debut, Bryant exited the group, later joining Chilliwack (and later still The Headpins). Lavin switched to bass in Bryant's absence, keeping the band's lineup a five-piece for their ensuing tour (with Vallance still drumming as "Rodney Higgs"). After the first leg of touring, Vallance resigned as drummer but remained as principal songwriter. Vallance did not enjoy the lifestyle of touring, preferring instead to write songs in home studio. He was replaced with another former Seeds of Time alumnus, Rocket Norton. "Spaceship Superstar" and "Take Me to the Kaptin" were released as singles and both charted in Canada. The debut album reached platinum status in sales (100,000+ units sold) by the next year.

As Prism was preparing to record their follow up album, some changes happened to the lineup that would remain fixed for the next three years. Firstly, Al Harlow was brought back in as bassist to replace Tom Lavin. (Lavin departed to form the Powder Blues Band, who in the next few years would hit the Canadian charts with several singles and albums.)

Then, Vallance quit the band as principal songwriter. Upon rehearsing song demos with the band, Mitchell and Vallance fell into heated disagreements over the style of songwriting. When it became apparent they were at an impasse, Vallance elected to go. He did leave two songs for the band, "N-N-N-No!" and "You're Like The Wind" (both credited to Rodney Higgs as songwriter). But his departure left a gaping hole in songwriting for the band to fill. Fortunately, the returning Harlow supplied two songs, and the remaining members' songs filled out the album. See Forever Eyes was again produced by Fairbairn, and employed a number of un-credited studio musicians playing alongside or in place of the credited band members. The album was released in 1978 with the title track and Harlow's songs, Flyin' and Take Me Away, released as singles. See Forever Eyes reached platinum status by the next year.

During the summer of 1979, the band returned to the studio to record their third and what would be their most commercially successful album. Mitchell was now the principal songwriter and wrote/co-wrote 4 songs for the album. Although it was his largest contribution yet for a single album, it fell short of what was needed. In an effort to help, Vallance became involved again and brought along his new songwriting partner, Bryan Adams, to contribute to the songwriting effort. Adams, who at the time was an unsigned recording artist, wrote/co-wrote 3 songs. Vallance, meanwhile, co-wrote 1 track as Rodney Higgs, arranged two tracks using his real name, and played drums, bass and guitars on several tracks without credit.

Armageddon was released in the fall of 1979 to much promotional hype. "Virginia", "Armageddon" and "Night to Remember" were released as singles and charted in Canada. The album reached double platinum status (in excess of 200,000 units sold) by the next year and helped garner the band their lone Canadian music industry Juno award for Group of the Year in 1981. Also, Mitchell received the SOCAN Song of the Year award for "Night to Remember" in 1980. The title track "Armageddon" would become one of the band's most recognizable songs. Despite the album's commercial success, the record label GRT went into receivership, and the band signed on with Capitol Records.

The group's next record, “Young and Restless”, was released in 1980. This was the first Prism album written without any credited contributions from Vallance/Higgs: all songs were written by Mitchell, Harlow or Norton. (Vallance claims he did participate in the making of the album as an arranger, and as an un-credited co-writer of one track, but admits that his participation in Young and Restless was "minimal".) The album spun off Prism's highest charting single, also called "Young and Restless", which peaked at #14 on the Canadian charts.

At this point, Prism parted company with their long-time producer and founder Bruce Fairbairn, They recorded one new track for their 1980 Greatest Hits album “All the Best From Prism” with new producer John S. Carter, who was known professionally simply as "Carter"; Carter would be the group's producer for all their subsequent releases through 1983. The new song, "Cover Girl", was written by Mitchell and Bryan Adams and was released as a single, but did not chart.

As the band was preparing to record their next album in the summer of 1981, Tabak was fired. Various reasons cited were his conflicts with other band members, several run-ins with the law, and/or lack of songwriting ability. Around the same time, keyboardist John Hall left the band. Vocalist Henry Small was brought in, and the new four-piece line-up (Small/Mitchell/Harlow/Norton) recorded the album Small Change, which was released later in 1981. The lead track "Don't Let Him Know", written by Jim Vallance (using his real name) and Bryan Adams, became Prism's first top 40 hit in the US and a #1 single on Billboard's new Rock Tracks chart, the follow-up single "Turn on Your Radar" also charted, becoming their fifth and final American hit.

By the end of the tour for Small Change, Mitchell, Harlow and Norton had individually left Prism. With Mitchell's departure, Prism now had no original members left.

In 1982, the band's touring line up was Small, guitarist Paul Warren, bassist John Trivers, keyboardist Robyn Robbins and Doug Maddick on drums. Although the band had essentially broken up by the end of 1982, Small decided to continue recording as a solo artist but using the Prism name, and assembled a group of session musicians including Alan Pasqua, Richie Zito, Mike Baird, and backup vocalists Bobby Kimball (Toto) and Bill Champlin (Chicago) to assist him. Together, this ad hoc line-up released the album Beat Street under the Prism name in 1983. The album was not a commercial success, and failed to spin off any charting singles. Small—by now the group's only member—essentially retired from using the Prism name in early 1984, and the 'group' became defunct.

Several former members of Prism were in the preliminary discussion stages of a Prism reunion in late 1984. Al Harlow and Ron Tabak had made plans to spend Christmas, 1984 together at Harlow's place. Tabak decided to cycle to Harlow's home on Christmas Eve as a way to get some exercise. This turned out to be poor judgment, as the roads were snow covered and he rode at night without a headlight and helmet. It is believed that on the way, Tabak was struck by a passing vehicle, fell and hit his head on the pavement. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where doctors did not detect anything wrong with him. Upon being released, Tabak abruptly became abusive, prompting two police officers at the hospital to arrest him on the belief he was drunk. He was later discovered unconscious in his jail cell and was rushed back to the hospital. A second examination discovered a blood clot had developed on the right side of his brain. Tabak died on Christmas Day 1984, before a pending neurosurgical operation could be performed. Previously discussed plans for a Prism reunion were canceled, out of respect for Tabak's passing.

In 1987, Prism reformed with a revised line-up, and a new Prism track was recorded for another greatest hits album called Over 60 Minutes with...Prism, released in 1988. The new track, "Good To Be Back", was composed by Al Harlow, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, produced by Vallance, and in a nod to long-time fans, was mixed by "Rodney Higgs". The song was performed by new vocalist Darcy Deustch (vocals), Al Harlow (guitar and bass), Jim Vallance (drums and keyboards) and Lindsay Mitchell (guitar solo). Paul Janz and Marc Le France provided backing vocals. Subsequently, Harlow, Mitchell and Deutsch recruited former member Rocket Norton on drums, and new keyboardist Andy Lorimer. This line-up toured live.

Five years later, this same line-up released the first new Prism album in 10 years, 1993's “Jericho”. Guest musicians on the album included Bryan Adams, Paul Janz and Mark LaFrance, with Rick Springfield doing some of the songwriting.

Norton left the band in the 1990s, and Mitchell left in 2005 shortly after Darcy Deutsch's departure. Mitchell's departure left Prism once again with no original members from the first album. The band continues to tour with Harlow playing guitar and performing lead vocals. By 2008, Prism consisted of Harlow, Gary Grace (drums), Steve-O (keyboards, guitars) and Timothy B. Hewitt (bass, guitars, keyboards). This line-up released a new studio album called “Big Black Skyin” July 2008. It featured mostly compositions by Harlow, with one track written by long-time ally Jim Vallance.

Prism's current line-up is Allen Harlow (vocals, guitar), Gary Grace (drums), Marc Gladstone (keyboards) and Tad Goddard (bass).

Although Prism has had only moderate success as a band, their legacy is renowned for some of its former members who went on to have success in the music industry. Prism helped launch the careers of Bruce Fairbairn as an international record producer and Jim Vallance as a music industry wide songwriter. Fairbairn would go on to produce successful albums for international artists such as Loverboy, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Kiss and Yes. Vallance would team up with Bryan Adams to become Adams-Vallance, one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history Vallance then continued that success as a music industry "song doctor" for many well known international recording artists.

Spaceship Superstar Prism

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