Years Most Active: 1977-1982
Genre: Progressive Rock
– 6 Platinum albums, including 1 multi-Platinum
– Juno Award for Group of the Year (1981)
Ron Tabak, lead vocals
Lindsay Mitchell, guitar, vocals
John Hall, keyboards
Rocket Norton, drums
Allen Harlow, bass
Other Members and Associates:
Rodney Higgs [aka Jim Vallance], drums 1977-78
– later formed a successful songwriting duo with Bryan Adams
– as a soloist wrote hits for Aerosmith and others
Ab Bryant, bass 1977 only
– later joined Chilliwack and the Headpins)
Tom Lavin, guitars, vocals 1977 only
– later formed the Powder Blues Band
Henry Small (keyboards, vocals) 1981-82
– Took over after Tabak’s departure
Jimmy Phillips (keyboards) 1981-82
Bruce Fairbairn, Horns and the band’s Producer
– later one the industry’s premier producers, working with the likes of AC/DC, Kiss, Yes, Loverboy, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith.
Bruce Allen, Band Manager
Tom Keenlyside, Horns
– later to the Powder Blues and solo career
1979 Night To Remember
Some Other Hits:
1977 Spaceship Superstar
1977 Take Me To The Kaptin
1977 Open Soul Surgery
1977 It’s Over
1978 Take Me Away
1978 See Forever Eyes
1979 You Walked Away Again
1980 Cover Girl
1981 Don’t Let Him Know
1981 Turn On Your Radar
1988 Good to be Back
1. Prism, 1977
2. See Forever Eyes, 1978
3. Armageddon, 1979
4. Young and Restless, 1980
Pseudo-Prism Studio Albums:
5. Small Change, 1981
6. Beat Street, 1983
7. Jericho, 1993
8. Big, Black Sky 2007
Prism was formed from members of the older rock groups Seeds of Time and Sunshyne. On the strength of their song “Open Soul Surgery”, Prism landed a deal with the now-defunct GRT Records during a gig at Vancouver’s nightclub The Body Shop. They chose the name Prism to reflect their various musical influences. Jim Vallance enrolled at the University of British Columbia did not want his classmates to learn he was involved in a rock band, so he adopted the alias “Rodney Higgs”. He helped write radio charting anthems from their debut album: the classic “Spaceship Superstar”, “Take Me to the Kaptin”, and “It’s Over”. But Vallance did not find concert tours his cup of tea, so he was replaced on drums by Rocket Norton.
Their sophomore release, See Forever Eyes went Platinum, spawning three big hits. The title-track for the band’s third album was conceived during a concert in the American city of Memphis. City police were on strike so the National Guard was handling the commotion surrounding the first anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. The band looked down on the visually apocalyptic scene below them from a helicopter: frenzied mobs were swarming around Elvis’ shrine in Graceland. The album was to be called Armageddon. Bryan Adams, who was 19 at the time contributed to a couple of tracks. Impressed by his work, Prism’s manager Bruce Allen signed him. Smart move!
Armageddon attained double-platinum status while the record company they shared with Dan Hill, facing executive problems fell into receivership in 1980. In one of the biggest worldwide contracts of the time, Capitol Records signed the band boosting sales of the album to over a million copies worldwide. Single “Night to Remember” received the SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers Of Canada) Song of the Year award. Subsequent concert tours broke sales records in many of the major Canadian venues and the band developed a reputation for being one of the best at live performances. South of the border, Prism opened for such acts as Meat Loaf, The Beach Boys, and Cheap Trick.
Young and Restless was to be the title of the band’s fourth studio album. Its title track, one of the band’s most successful songs, was nominated for Song of the Year at the Junos and the band took home the Group of the Year award. Bruce Fairbairn was given Producer of the Year honours.
The band decided to release a “Greatest Hits” album entitled “All the Best from Prism” and grace it with a new song—“Cover Girl”—to honour the memory of Vancouver starlet Dorothy Stratten, murdered by her estranged husband.
The same fate that greeted many rock bands came Prism’s way. At the pinnacle of the band’s success, conflict broke out. Differences flared up between Tabak and Mitchell leading to the firing of the group’s lead vocalist at the end of 1980, followed by the departure of Hall and a switch of producers from Fairbairn to Los Angeles-based John Carter who had worked with Sammy Hagar and Tina Turner.
Tabak and Hall were replaced with Henry Small and Jimmy Phillips respectively. Although the band’s next album, Small Change, received critical praise and housed a couple of noteworthy singles, including the Japan-honoured “Don’t Let Him Know”, composed by Adams and Vallance, Prism fans, accustomed to the unique, boyish singing of Tabak, which gave the group its signature sound, did not warm to the band’s new vocalist, a singer who admitted that his joining Prism was simply a means by which he could realize his aspirations of becoming a soloist.
It had become clear to the band’s members that a dead-end had been reached and they disbanded in 1982. Henry Small with Prism’s management recorded what was, in essence, a solo album, but under the band’s name, called Beat Street. The fans weren’t fooled by this and the album didn’t sell.
Two years later, Tabak and the original members of the band cleared up all their issues and resolved to reunite. But tragedy on Christmas eve 1984 dashed all plans of a reunion. Tabak was cycling across Vancouver, at night without a helmet, to spend Christmas with bandmate Harlow at the latter’s Kitsilano apartment. A passing vehicle knocked him off the snow-covered, icy road and he fell, striking his head on the pavement. Hospital doctors told him there was no sign of injury, when, in fact, he was suffering a brain aneurism, which was causing him to behave violently. He had a history of running into trouble with the law. So police showed no hesitation in escorting him from the hospital to spend the night a jail cell, assuming he was drunk. He fell unconscious in jail and was returned to the hospital. Doctors, in a more thorough examination, discovered the blood clot in his brain and prepared him for emergency surgery. But it was too late. He never regained consciousness and passed away on Boxing Day.
One can only imagine the regretful anguish of the other band members; that they remained silent for the next four years is understandable. In 1988, having come to terms with their grief, Norton, Harlow, and Mitchell entered the studio with singer Darcy Deutsch and keyboardist Andy Lorimer to record “Good to Be Back” a new single composed by Harlow, Vallance, and Bryan Adams lyrically reviewing the band’s history and paying tribute to Tabak. The song was included in a compilation album called Over 60 Minutes with Prism.
The single’s success gave the team enough confidence to record a new album in 1993 called Jericho. The likes of Randy Bachman and Rick Springfield lent a hand in the composing. But tracks from the album received negligible airplay at home, doing better in parts of Europe.
Prism was notable for launching the careers of both Jim Vallance, one of the foremost composers in the international music industry, as well as Bruce Fairbairn, one of the foremost producers. Alas, Fairbairn died in 1999. Band members worked on various projects while Harlow kept the torch of Prism burning and took over as the band’s vocalist for the 2007 album Big, Black Sky.