Ron Tabak in-memorium
Prism’s roots go back to 1967 to Seeds of Time, a popular group in Vancouver barely out of high school formed by guitarists Bob Kripps and Frank Brnjak. Several lineup changes ensued over the next couple of years, and by ’69 the group consisted of Geoff Edington on vocals, John Hall on keyboards, drummer Rocket Norton, guitarist Lindsay Mitchell, and Steve Walley on bass. Financed by studio CEO Steve Grossman, they recorded a bunch of tracks at Coast Records studio in West Vancouver over the course of the next couple of years, and released several demo singles in ’74, including the moderately succesful on the local airwaves, “My Home Town”.
The band broke up in ’74 and Mitchell formed the R&B based Sunshyne, which featured trumpeter Bruce Fairbairn. The group developed a tight, friendly pop sound while doing the bar circuit in BC and the prairies, and eventually morphed into Prism. In the band were new singer Ron Tabak, bassistTom Lavin (ex of Denise McCann), keyboardist John Hall, and drummer Rodney Higgs (Jim Vallance – Bryan Adams‘ future songwriting partner, under a pseudonym). With management from Bruce Allen, they were signed to GRT Records and went into Vancouver’s Can-Base Studios.
With Higgs doing the bulk of the writing, four drummers and three bass players (but not Ab Bryant, despite him being on the credits) took part in their 1977 self-titled debut album. It instantly became a radio favourite with the single “Spaceship Superstar”, “Open Soul Surgery,” and “Take Me To The Kaptin” – a loose commentary on the state of the ecology. The socio-political commentary of “Vladivastok” and the stinging power ballad “It’s Over” helped showcase the band’s versatility. The record also marked a four-album relationship with producer Bruce Fairbairn, (who’d later go on to produce such meaga-acts as Heart, Aerosmith and KISS.
Their second effort came in ’78 in the form of SEE FOREVER EYES, certified gold (50,000 copies in Canada). Recorded at various venues throughout Vancouver, it featured a reunion with ex-Seeds of Time drummer Rocket Norton when Vallance left following a production quarrel with Fairbairn. Al Harlow (real name Allen Hawirko), another Seeds Of Time alumni that Mitchell had replaced, was the new guitarist and eventually took over bass duties after Bryant left to join Chilliwack, and later co-found The Headpins. Other tracks included “Nickels & Dimes” (originally a Seeds of Time song), “Take Me Away”, and “Hello”, the album again showed great dexterity, covering all spectrums of the rock prism (… pun intended …) , including horn arrangements, spearheaded by Fairbairn.
The band’s only live recording was issued later in the year. Recorded in Chicago, LIVE TONIGHT was a radio-only release, and is highly sought-after in collectors’ circles.
The band was left looking for a new label after GRT went bankrupt, leading them to sign with Capitol. Following Lavin’s leaving to join Powder Blues, ARMAGEDDON was next on the list and was certified gold almost immediately upon its release in ’79. “Night To Remember” remains argued as one of the most powerful “I love you – the sky is blue” ballads ever written. Backed by the single “Virginia,” penned by Vancouver’s Bruce Miller, Bryan Adams‘ “You Walked Away Again”, and the title- track that featured the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the record eventually went double platinum.
With Harlow switching fulltime to bass, they followed it up in early 1980 with YOUNG AND RESTLESS. In an attempt to gain more success in the US, “American Music” was the first single. Though still Prism, the new record possessed a slicker feel to it, showing a definite maturity. The title track and “Satellite” helped push it gold at home, but failed to make much of an impression south of the Coutts/Sweet Grass border.
Radio stations were playing the new single “Cover Girl” to death when it appeared as the only new track on ALL THE BEST FROM PRISM later that year.
The first change in vocalists came in late 1980 when Tabak was replaced with New York native and former Gainsorough Gallery, Scrubbaloe Caine, and Small World singer Henry Small . SMALL CHANGE was released in ’81 and the group was caught still trying to meld their new singer’s style into an already established sound. “Rain” and the success of “Don’t Let Him Know”, penned by Vallance with Bryan Adams, helped push the album gold. Other tracks included the other Vallance-Adams tune “Stay” and the country standard “In The Jailhouse Now.”
Small returned in 1983 with BEAT STREET, though the lineup was really a different group than what people knew as ‘Prism’. Despite cameos by the likes of Timothy B Schmidt (Eagles), Toto’s Bobby Kimball and Richie Zito, an LA session player that earned his stripes with the likes of Neil Sedaka, Diana Ross, Art Garfunkel and Leo Sayer, the record was doomed to fail when the label put no effort into supporting it.
After Small went in a solo direction shortly after the record’s release, the rumour mills were buzzing with a projected reuniting of the original Prism. Unfortunately though, that would never be. Canada mourned the loss of one of rock’s most dominating voices when Ron Tabak succumbed to a brain hemhorrage caused by a bicycle accident on Boxing Day, 1984.
The group’s future stayed a question mark for the next couple of years, but Mitchell and Harlow decided to regroup in ’87, giving several new singers a chance to shine in the spotlight on the road, including former China White frontman Rick Shermack. Eventually they recruited new singer Darcy Deutsch, whose previous band Simon Kaos was regarded as one of the top unsigned groups from the West Coast. The first recordings with the new lineup that included Frankie Baker on drums came the following year, when they released the single “Good To Be Back”, written by Harlow with Adams & Vallance.
Capitol released a compilation in their OVER SIXTY MINUTES series in 1988. Three years later, the old Seeds Of Time recordings re-surfaced on Eternal Enterprises Music, on an album called IMMORTAL. Though still active on the touring scene, the group wasn’t heard from again until 1993, when they released JERICHO. Regarded by many as one of the most underratedalbums that year, “Speed Of Light”, the title track and “Good To Be Back” blended classic Mitchell hooks with a strong melody base.
In ’94 Deutsch also released an album overseas called WHITE VISION, and then contributed to a Foreigner-tribute project. He then hooked up again with Simon Kaos buddies for the shortlived group Pokerface and its one album in ’96.
Deutsch then formed Renaissance Records in the States, and released a modified version of OVER SIXTY MINUTES WITH PRISM in ’98, along with FROM THE VAULTS. More than simply another ‘best of’ package, the record also contains outtakes from the BEAT STREET and SMALL CHANGES albums. He then became a successful vocal coach and highly sought after producer.
The band continued to tour throughout the ’90s and into the next decade, until Mitchell quit in 2004 to pursue other projects. Persevering, Harlow continued on, switching from bass to lead guitar and assuming the vocal duties, fronting various ensembles. In 2007, with a cast that included Gary Grace on drums, Steve-O on keyboards and guitar, and bassist Tad Goddard, they released BIG BLACK SKY, the band’s first record of new material in a decade. It featured 11 new recordings, including the title track, “Tangiers,” “Hundred Years,” “Across The Border” and “Say You Want Me.”