Contributed by Al Harlow
Album #1 was out in '77; the band was formed from two Vancouver bands of the time. The Seeds of Time, who managed 2 respectable chart singles in '69 and '70, "My Hometown" and "Cryin' the Blues" on Coast Records, and who savoured a "bad-boy" image which saw them officially banned from the city of Calgary. Guitarist Lindsay Mitchell, John Hall on keys, Rocket Norton on drums and Al Harlow, slide guitar and later bass, came out of that band.
While the Seeds of Time's antics are still recalled by fans and collectors in western Canada, their onstage fake-french disrupted Expo '67 in Montreal, and political incorrectness included a hippie-era girl slowly passing a balloon to singer Jeff Edington, who, after accepting it, said, "thank you. A balloon. I hate balloons," using a lit cigarette to pop it. This member recalls playing a noon-hour sock hop for younger teens, with road-crew operating a bucket brigade from behind the PA wherein band members could vomit during the show due to last night's binge.
The other band fielding members to Prism was Sunshyne, a west-side collection of university-educated musicians who used Sunshyne as a way to go crazy with every musical form from Dixieland to fusion and jazz, sometimes working as a street marching band. Led by trumpeter Bruce Fairbairn, they landed a contract with a brewery to play a series of college Friday-night casuals, where beer was promoted to all, including the band. On drums was Jim Vallance, aka "Rodney Higgs", his songwriting ghost-name--he later switched back to his real name in his successful international career as a writer, producer & Bryan Adams writing partner. While Fairbairn would eventually forge a career as a world-class producer, his offer to Lindsay Mitchell to jump from an ailing relationship with the Seeds of Time to front Sunshyne was the start of Prism. Called Under Construction, they took the pay from Sunshyne's last gig and recorded a few songs at local studios.
While Mitchell was singing lead on these sides, his spotting singer Ron Tabak with a struggling band at a weekend dance resulted in Mitchell's vocal tracks being replaced by Tabak's. These recordings included a nine-minute fusion instrumental work by one of Sunshyne's horn-section, plus rock songs by Vallance and Mitchell. The latter included Spaceship Superstar, Take Me To the Kaptin, Open Soul Surgery, Julie, & Mitchell's I Ain't Lookin' Anymore, all of which emerged on the first album in these versions.
Tom Lavin was called in from the Vancouver blues scene to play some bass and guitar plus writing, and live showcases followed with a later US tour upon the release of the album and name change to Prism. This member recalls a phonecall from Mitchell, offering $50 to whoever could come up with a decent name for the band. My instant five offerings did not include the winner. During this first eight months or so, the transient membership was an issue that needed to be solved if the band was to grow. While Lavin went on to form the Powder Blues Band, & alumni Ab Bryant went to success on bass with Chilliwack, Vallance wanted no more of touring--the chairs needed filling. Three other Seeds of Time jumped in, and started recording a new album, "See Forever Eyes" in January of '78.
I was odd-man out in all this, having run my own bands, the Trees and Harlow on a different path--a very British and self-serious mod-like expression; two-minute pop songs based on the model of the Stones doing Muddy Waters at 100 miles per hour. But Fairbairn wanted some of my songs for the new album, and Rocket saw a chance for us to get into some REAL adventures on the road, so I was last man in.
The early version of the band per above did two tours, opening for Heart and also BTO, in the northern and eastern US. Upon the release of See Forever Eyes, the permanent lineup headlined in Canada, which we still do today, and toured the US extensively with the likes of Meatloaf & the Beach Boys ('78), Cheap Trick & AC/DC ('79), Dave Mason, Eddie Money and others of the time. Prism was able to jump off such tours and tour areas of the US where headlining was possible, like Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit (where a premature live album for US radio syndication was recorded at the Royal Oak Theatre--available only on blue vinyl), Seattle etc..
The band's collective influences was perhaps its coherence. We were all the students of what the Stones preached: we found out who Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters, Son House, Howlin' Wolf and all the great bluesmen were through the Stones, and quickly moved to the sources for our education. The Seeds of Time toured western Canada in the winter of 1971 with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All Stars, proudly holding our own as an aspiring blues band.
Chuck Berry and Louis Jordan were discoveries on the way; Mitchell later settled into guitaritsts like Albert and Freddie King, and we were all hit by the tidal wave of Motown, Otis Redding-era R&B, and the British wave of the Beatles, Stones, Who, Yardbirds, Kinks, Hollies etc. As a rainy seaport city, Vancouver fostered something of a musical subculture. Sailors would trade records to us of bands like the early Pretty Things, and we were aware of British bands who'd not made a mainstream impact in Canada or the US, bands like The Herd, Amen Corner, Alexis Korner's and Cyril Davie's recordings, Georgie Fame, The Small Faces, Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll etc. We knew all of these in a world that didn't. Long John Baldry, now a Vancouver resident, is a good friend; Rocket, Lindsay & I have played with Baldry on various occasions, though not at the same time.
See Forever Eyes was a high-point for me as a writer. We had just purchased a state-of-the-art synthesizer, the German Oberheim. Unfortunately so had Styx. As writer of the song "Flyin'", I have lived with a quick, staccato keyboard line in the chorus, which, while being the sort of line Prism was known for, used a sound Styx was known for. This caused several hundred thousand fans to ask for that new Styx song "Flyin'" at local record stores all over the USA. Some of them made it all the way to our album, many were turned back by record store clerks who couldn't find such a title in the Styx catalogue. We were more careful in our choice of keyboard patches after this.
The Live in Detroit album, again for radio stations across the USA to broadcast our "live" show, while probably helping us at the time, was actually a rushed and premature project. It now stands as an interesting document of the youthful, aggressive live approach of the band as it was in the days prior to the creation of the Armageedon album.
We were starting to be recognized as a live band. The fact that it was born in the studio was in the surrounding context of all its members playing in local bands at the time. We were signed by GRT in Canada, a viable label of the time, built on a patent for the audio cassette. Ariola was a German label with the likes of Mary McGregor aiding its success. Expanding globally, Ariola signed us in the USA for all territories outside Canada. While we stayed in this arrangement up to the recording of Armageddon in '79, Ariola USA wasn't getting off the ground, and GRT was having management problems at the top, despite the considerable financial success of its artists, including Prism and Dan Hill. In late '79 we signed with Capitol/EMI worldwide.
Armageddon was a natural third album. All existing songs having found their way onto the first two albums, the need to build something new for the third was present. The use of horns wasn't new, but bringing in the Vancouver Symphony orchestra for the title track was. Mitchell hit his stride as writer, with Fairbairn growing as producer.
As for any questions regarding Bryan Adams' involvement, Bryan was still a local kid who was very good at hanging out without getting in the way, and contributing the right thing at the right time. He sang harmony on my band Harlow's demo version of "Take Me Away", had fronted Sweeney Todd, a Canadian pop success, and while legend has it he met Jim Vallance at a local music store, I recall the day Prism was in a demo studio to work on tracks for S.F. Eyes, which Vallance/Higgs was involved in, when I walked over to a health-food restaurant for lunch. This was 200 yards away from the music store, Long & McQuade. Vallance was already at the restaurant ahead of me, and was engrossed in a heady, ambitious conversation with young Bryan. They were so engrossed, I took my tray of food and sat elsewhere. Perhaps they'd just come from the music store... Adams was talking to our manager, Bruce Allen about a career as a songwriter and solo artist. In one of Prism's frequent personality clashes, we'd kicked Ron Tabak out for five minutes, and in a phonecall, Bruce had Bryan lined up as Prism's singer. This lasted an afternoon. But yes, he wrote with us on Armageddon & Small Change, began working with Vallance during Armageddon, opened for us on a Canadian tour, and from this community, went on with his career. All involved recall times and dates of early events, and speaking personally, have quietly cheered Bryan on for his success.
I got back together with Bryan & Jim in '89 to write & record for the reformed Prism with Darcy on vocals. Bryan, Jim & I wrote "Good to be Back" which was on our "Over 60 Minutes" hits CD on Capitol/EMI; it also appeared on our 1993 album "Jericho". Plus, I'd been labouring over a ballad called "Way of the World" which Jim & Bryan liked--we reworked it and recorded the basic track which also appeared on Jericho.
We're all somewhat in touch--Vallance guest-lectured my songwriting class at a local college for years into the early '90s. The last time I saw Bryan we had dinner together in '89 or '90, and then went along to my gig at the 86 Street Music Hall in the Expo site, where I was playing with a Zydeco accordian band. He stayed the evening, we said goodnight, and I haven't seen him since. Lindsay wrote with him a few years later; I don't know what came of this.
Prism's success was limited by our ability to work together as people, and ride it out. In the early '80s we fired Ron Tabak, quickly replacing him with Henry Small. I was against axing Ron--we could've weathered the storm & lived to fight another day. Paul Dean of Loverboy told us Henry was the greatest singer alive, which he is. But the expectation was that this was a rescue mission, and while the ensuing Small Change album was largely Henry's songs and direction, from the band's viewpoint we were a house divided. Management became a strong influence, and it wasn't long before the band was once again a studio project, an 8-album worldwide contract with Capitol Records in need of some musicians. Mitchell and I played on the Small Change album with Henry in '81, and Rocket came back for a follow-up tour. But soon the band was Small and some recruits from the USA on a tour and follow up album, "Beat Street", with none of the original members. Due to ongoing budget balances with Capitol, Bruce Allen now owned the name. Ironically the single "Don't Let Him Know", an Adams/Vallance contribution to our work on Small Change, put the band on the map in the US and Japan, after a lull. Vallance and Adams claim it was their biggest success up to that time--they flew to Tokyo and performed it on Japan TV with the Tokyo philharmonic as part of accepting the Yamaha award for writing it. Helping the album sell gold in the US, it leads one to speculate that, had the original tight-knit, if argumentive line-up stuck out this phase, we could have survived the '80s building on all that had gone before. The radio-friendly New Wave explosion of the Cars, Elvis Costello & Blondie had made bands like Prism reassess themselves; our Young & Restless album featured only a cheap organ and stripped guitar sound. The introspection and changes in the music industry itself made Prism's internal arguments more intense, hence an incorrect decision to fire Tabak. Lindsay's recollection of turning on the TV in '83 to a popular US talk show and watching Henry perform our songs with a new line-up was a blunt realization that we were all sitting at home with our various bands and projects, while our main job had gone south.
In the winter of '84 we had the original line-up back and ready for a fresh season together. Following the Christmas holidays rehearsals would begin, and we were even talking to Bruce Allen for management. Ron was killed as he rode his bicycle across the city on December 23rd. He was in the process of moving, with an apartment being renovated for the move; we had decided he should move in with me for the two-week interim, and I had driven to the city of Surrey to collect him and his luggage that day. He accepted a ride to nearby New Westminster, where he insisted he ride his bicycle the rest of the way. I argued as to the distance and recent snowfall which left wet slush on the streets, but Ron was adamant. Along his route a passing car brushed his bicycle; he fell off and hit his head in the temple. While the arriving ambulance crew correctly diagnosed an annuerism, a bungling emergency-room staff at a nearby hospital mislaid documents & allowed local police to remove the now-reeling Tabak from the ward. He collapsed in the local police station, & died during corrective attempts to move Ron to a hospital with latest cat-scan equipment.
All thoughts of reorganizing Prism were abandoned until the fall of '87 with Darcy Deutsch as Ron's replacement, three years later.
Again Jericho was '93--we should have recorded it in '88, which we partially did, demoing many of the songs and working again with Bryan and Jim. But we toured Canada endlessly during this time; the gigs took priority it seems, as the demand for the band live was very strong. As for the songs, "Speed of Light", "Way of the World", "Who Put Those Things in Your Head", "Lonely Town" & "Out of My Head" were all part of my catalogue, with "Things", "'Head" and "'Town" having been demo'd years before for See Forever Eyes; they were part of Prism's favourite unreleased collection.
Vallance offered "Stand Up For Love", a co-write with with Rick Springfield, and Lindsay had worked with Randy Bachman on "Bad News". "Good to be Back" came per above, and Lindsay wrote "Faces on a Train" especially for Jericho. The surf instrumental title track was a re-titled Vallance tune called "Tsunami", an ode to the Ventures. We went with an independent label, Spinner Records, and learned how tough the indie scene is in Canada. Bundled together for collective release via wholesalers who specialize in gathering up indie labels for one-stop delivery to retailers, we couldn't quite get Jericho to our Canadian fan base. Stabs at distribution deals in Europe did little to put the album in full public view, though it was a critical success from reviewers there, in the US and Canada. Sony Canada looked at it as a licensing deal for the world, but finally declined.
Re what's on CD: Armageddon plus Young and Restless are now out on CD in their original form, and I'm told by collectors that Capitol in the US have repackaged our material at least once, including licensing to Renaissance Records for a greatest hits CD, plus a bogus collection called "From the Vaults" which mainly features the last Henry Small sessions. The liner notes on this are grossly incorrect, posing as track information for collectors. I'm in posession of, or know where others of our master tapes are, and there are plenty of out-takes from all the albums, if someone wanted to release them. I've heard See Forever Eyes is being considered for CD release--again it's a matter of making the effort to contact and work with the decision makers at Capitol. While our albums were bootlegged in Russia, I understand we're on labels in the US we know nothing about.
In the summer of '95 we played the Kamloops coliseum, hired by a promotor for the civic event, a man named Henry Small. Kamloops is his new adopted home, being his wife's home-town. In '96 we played another gig there, a club where Henry showed up and talked in the dressingroom long into the night. Rocket left the band in '94 to produce Broadway style stage shows, returning in early '97 for two western Canadian tours. Popular Vancouver drummer John Cody then took over followed by Colin James' drummer Darrell Mayes, but Rocket could return for all we know. John Hall was adamant that Prism not exist after Ron's death; the "new" version of the band in '88 saw Andy Lorimer on keys, a former bandmate of Darcy's. While Andy is still in the band to this day, Prism has occasionally toured with keyboardists Richard Sera (Loverboy), John Counsel, and Dave Stone (Max Webster and Ritchie Blackmore), who was '81 tour when John Hall chose to exit during the Henry Small phase. It's possible that all four living originals and 12-year veteran Darcy could tour and/or record. Meanwhile the band still tours Canada with veterans Mitchell, Harlow, Darcy & Lorimer, recording concerts for a discussed live CD. Offers to tour the US and Europe are being considered also.
Though the band still argues about the the concept of a future Prism studio recording, to quote Mitchell, "never say never..."