Small thinks big with first album in a dozen years

Small World Studios moves into more spacious second-floor digs on Victoria Street

Small World Studios has, in a sense, moved up in the world.

After 10 years in a basement off Columbia, artist/producer Henry Small and company have moved downtown to spacious second-floor digs at 242 Victoria St.

The change better equips one of the city's top studios to serve its clients, and it has prompted Small and band to record his first album of original material in a dozen years.

"I wanted to do another album - well, before I pack - but to mostly go through the new studio," he said Wednesday in his office, surrounded by rock 'n' roll memorabilia dating back to the 1960s.

"We wanted to be able to do anything they could do anywhere else. (The old studio) was good enough, but we wanted to compete with anybody, anywhere. I think what's different is more space."

The Henry Small Band includes Kris Ruston, Matt Stanley, Leon Racicot, Sean Poissant and Marie Jackson. In its final stages, the recording won't be available in time for the band's opening for Prism on Friday, Jan. 27 at Kamloops Convention Centre.

"It's kind of a departure. It's a combination of rock and rhythm-and-blues. I think I take everything from my roots. It's a more retro album. We have a lot of young people working on it and they're going back to stuff I did years ago. It comes full circle if you live long enough."

The Prism gig is a flash from the past for the veteran rocker, who was lead singer for the rock band in what seems like a previous lifetime BK (Before Kamloops). Small - who'd previously worked with Srubbaloe Caine and Small Wonder as well as with Burton Cummings - was recommended by Paul Dean of Loverboy. He stepped into the fold after the firing of original front man Ron Tabak in 1981.

The '81 lineup recorded Small Change, Prism's sixth album. Small Change and its singles, Don't Let Him Know and Turn On Your Radar, proved to be the Canadian band's U.S. breakthrough, but the success was short lived. The band broke up after that, although Small and a new lineup still used the Prism name and released Beat Street in 1983.

Prism, as it turned out, went on to have an after-life, re-forming in 1987 with three original members. Over the years the original lineup has dwindled to just Al Harlow, who now plays opposite Gary Grace, Marc Gladstone and Tad Goddard.

As with many classic acts from the glory days of rock, Prism keeps the beat largely on the basis of its reputation from the early years, although they've got a new album out, Big Black Sky. They have a devoted fan base, as demonstrated last year with the last mission of the space shuttle Discovery. Prism's Spaceship Superstar was chosen as the wakeup song for crew members on the final visit with the International Space Station.

In the '80s, while working in the L.A. recording industry, Small met a Kamloops girl and opted for life in the small city of Kamoops. It wasn't easy leaving the spotlight of the music industry for a slower pace.

"It was Scrubbaloe Caine, Small Wonder, Burton Cummings, Prism, John Entwistle. And then, after that, it was the (Kamloops) arts council."

He closed the door on a music career to raise a family, not without regrets, but willing to devote his energy to fresh pursuits. He turned down Loverboy, Bryan Adams and a chance to record the soundtrack to the film Top Gun, which went on to earn a Grammy and a fortune for its creators. Hindsight is 20/20.

"Kamloops has been a blessing. I'm always doing new things. You're not stuck musically." At times it's challenging, other times it's terrifying, but "that's what keeps you young."

Any favourite memory of the Prism days?

"You get on stage in front of 30 or 40,000 people. That's kind of fun. I like the hours you perform. The other 22 are not so hot. Rock 'n' roll, in all fairness, there's not too much left."

Small continues to host the morning show with Stan Bailey on 98.3 CIFM, but the studio move and life itself has brought him to a juncture of sorts.

"I'll be sweet 16 on Feb. 29," said the leap-year kid. "Sixty-four."

Recording has renewed his creative drive and it's turned out better than he'd thought with a natural sound to it.

"It's kind of a rebirth with a new sense of freedom, Prism being one of the things from the past. It's like a benchmark.

"I'd like to do more music over the next three or four years. My children are all out of school, all educated, all have jobs, so I'm free to roam."

One of his kids asked him recently what he was doing with the newfound freedom.

"I said, 'I'm doing what I've been doing for 30 years.' But you get so ingrained with what you've done for 30 years," he added. "There's a lot of that on the album. It's about change."

His irreverent humour is notorious yet always appreciated in rock journalism to disrupt the tedium of stock replies and glib comments. Take, for example, this 2006 interview with the webzine RockUnited.Com.

RockUnited: Looking back, do you regret anything you did during the Beat Street days?

Henry: I regret not wearing a condom.

Rock United: What about the scream on Nightmare (a Beat Street track). You were unable to talk for a week afterwards?

Henry: That's bullshit. I still can't talk.

RockUnited: Can you still relate to those songs or have your turned your back to the '80s?

Henry: Of course, it's part of my life … some of which I remember.

There is a serious side to the man, though, a self-awareness that's equipped him for the road less travelled.

"I think people think more than anything that money is the answer. It's not the answer. There's a personal payment for that I don't think you can conquer. Everybody sees it as wonderful life; in many cases it's not. As an old man, now I understand the yogis a little bit better when they say life is an illusion."

IN CONCERT

WHO:Prism with special guests The Henry Small Band

WHEN:Friday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m.

WHERE:Kamloops Convention Centre, 1250 Rogers Way

TICKETS:$35, available from Kamloops Live! Box Office, www.kamloopslive.com

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