Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Today in Music History:

In 1969, Janis Joplin was arrested during a gig in Tampa, Florida, after badmouthing a policeman and using vulgar and indecent language. Joplin was pissed off after police moved into the hall forcing fans to move back to their seats. As the singer left the stage she confronted a detective calling him 'a son of a bitch' and told him she would kick his face in.
When I went to work this morning, it was pouring down rain and the man on the radio also said there was a wind warning in effect and because of an earthquake in Japan we were under a tsunami watch. I thought what the hell is this, Armageddon? Which got me thinking about the best end of the world song ever written.

Prism TodayArmageddon is arguably the biggest hit by Canadian retro rockers, Prism. Researching the history of this band I relied heavily on the bio page from the Prism website, as there aren't too many pages to go to about these guys. So don't go thinking I'm some amazing writer or blogger.

Guitarist Lindsay Mitchell conceived the tune Armageddon in August 1978 in Memphis, when Prism played a concert to the combined backdrop of the sometimes violent Memphis police strike and all the hoopla surrounding the first anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

Prism is another one of those bands whose lineup has constantly changed over the years. Hailing from Vancouver, the original lineup went like this
* Ron Tabak - Lead vocals
* Lindsay Mitchell - Lead guitar, vocals
* Tom Lavin - Rhythm guitar, vocals (later formed the Powder Blues Band)
* John Hall - Keyboards
* Ab Bryant - Bass (later joined Chilliwack and the Headpins)
* Rodney Higgs - Drums, keyboards (Real name: Jim Vallance, later went on to form one of the most successful Canadian songwriting duos in history with Bryan Adams)
* Bruce Fairbairn - Horns (later went on to be one the industry's premier producers)
* Tom Keenlyside - Horns (later went on to the Powder Blues Band)

In July 1975, Prism went into the studio for their first recording session. In what can be considered the first Prism song, Open Soul Surgery would long stand as a concert favorite showcasing the hard-nosed rock attitude of Ron Tabak and Lindsay Mitchell. It was on the strength of their first recorded song that Prism landed a record contract with the now defunct GRT records.

As they headed to the studio to record their second album, Prism recruited Al Harlow from his own band. Harlow brought a new facet to the powerful rock quintet as they entered the studio in early 1978 to record their second album, See Forever Eyes. The new album would set the stage for a series of releases that would take Prism through a series of harsh high and lows. Despite a continued struggle in the direction of the band, See Forever Eyes was an instant success going platinum nearly overnight. The new album bubbled with 10 tracks full of commercial potential and produced 3 powerful singles. The band had begun to makes its mark as a powerhouse on stage but was straying too far into the lightweight pop field.

The Prism lineup from 1978-1980

* Ron Tabak - Lead vocals
* Lindsay Mitchell - Lead guitar, vocals
* Al Harlow - Rhythm guitar, vocals, bass
* John Hall - Keyboards
* Rocket Norton - Drums

1979 finally saw Prism take hold of itself and launch the album highlight of their careers. Armageddon. However, the Armageddon tour would have a long, difficult haul to keep the momentum that Prism had built the previous year while opening in major U.S. markets for Meatloaf. In it's first month prior to its U.S. release, Armageddon sold 150,000 copies in Canada making it one of the best selling Canadian albums in 1979. The first two albums had now sold a combined total of over half a million copies in the U.S. and the market was ready for them. However, gas shortages, rising energy costs, and truck stop violence would make the tour difficult at best.

Armageddon brought the band double-platinum awards for sales in excess of 500,000 copies. At the time, the album set sales records and there is accounting of sales somewhere around 700,000 copies. But as the sales of the album were peaking, GRT went into receivership and the true sales numbers will never be known. Judging by the fact that the album is still in demand and actively sold in music stores, it is entirely likely that sales have exceeded 1 million copies.

One highlight to the new album was songwriting contributions by a 19-year-old Vancouver whiz-kid songwriter named Bryan Adams, who had just recently signed a new management contract with Bruce Allen Talent.

Following hot on the footsteps of a monster success with Armageddon, the band once again returned to the studio to record their fourth album, Young and Restless. 1980 also saw Prism win 2 Juno Awards for Group of the Year, and Bruce Fairbairn's Producer of the Year for Armageddon. Rumours had begun to circulate that all was not well in the band. Prism had begun to take its toll on its members. The relentless touring schedule, and internal songwriting battles began to fracture the group. A falling out between Ron Tabak and Bruce Allen late in 1980 led to Tabak's departure from the band and became a flashpoint for all of the band's tensions.

In June 1981, Prism, with new lead vocalist Henry Small, went into Sunset Sound in Los Angeles to record the band's sixth album, Small Change. At the time, it seemed to signal the end of Prism. Small Change was a well-rounded album with some good songs but it just wasn't Prism.

The members of Prism decided that they had enough and disbanded in 1982. However, Henry Small, Prism's management and label then recorded Beat Street, essentially a solo album. Prism's original fan base had abandoned the band by this time, and the project itself soon disbanded.

In early 1984, the 5 original members of Prism began to collect themselves and put the pieces back together again. The members had begun to discuss the possibility of reforming the band, and Ron Tabak had beaten some personal demons that had nearly destroyed his career.

But disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1984. Ron Tabak was cycling across Vancouver to visit his friend and fellow bandmember Al Harlow. The two had planned to spend Christmas together. Harlow last saw Tabak on the afternoon of the 24th when he picked up some of his belongings in his car. Tabak decided he would cycle to Harlow's Kitsilano apartment as part of his "fitness program". Tabak was struck on the head as he was brushed by a passing vehicle at about 8pm. He had also been injured in a mugging the week earlier and already had stitches on the back of his head. He was brought to hospital by ambulance but was told there was nothing wrong with him. Tabak became abusive and was arrested by police who happened to be there at the time. Early Christmas Day, Tabak's mother was advised by telephone that he had been found unconscious in the police cells and had been returned to Burnaby Hospital and then transferred to Vancouver General.

Vancouver General told Mrs. Tabak her son's condition was grave: A scan examination had shown a blood clot on the right side of his brain, and a neurosurgeon was preparing to operate. He did not regain consciousness and died December 26, 1984.

With the death of their lead vocalist, Prism remained silent until May, 1988 when Al Harlow, Lindsay Mitchell, and Rocket Norton entered the studio with local artists Darcy Deutsch and Andy Lorimer to record a new single, Good to be Back. The new track, written by Harlow, Jim Vallance and Bryan Adams, outlines the 13 year history of the band including a small tribute to the late Ron Tabak. However, the strength of the new single was not enough to land a new record deal. But the band drove on and finally recorded a new album, Jericho, in 1992.

Prism is still rocking on stage playing outdoor concerts, festivals and clubs. The glory days of 80's Stadium Rock may be gone but Prism continues to deliver on stage wherever they play. As a matter of fact, homercat will be seeing these guys in the near future. I'll have more about this in subsequent posts. Prism's current roster includes:

* Al Harlow - Bass, Guitar, Lead Vocals
* Gary Grace - Drums
* Steve-O - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
* Tim Hewitt - Bass

Armageddon by Prism
Buy It
Nightmare by Prism?(Henry Small)
Buy It

Funny Toon