Obscured progressive rockers Glass Prism perform at Jazz Cafe in Plains
PLAINS TWP. — In 1969, Northeastern Pennsylvania born progressive rock quartet, Glass Prism debuted what was supposed to be one of the biggest records by an American band during that golden year of music, but an unforeseen turn of events changed their path in the music industry indefinitely.
Glass Prism grew from Kingston native Tom Varano’s group, El Caminos, in the early and mid 1960s. On Aug. 27, at the River Street Jazz Cafe he’ll play with Dickson City native Rick Richards, who was drumming with the group by 1966, and Scranton native Louie Cossa, who replaced bass player Augie Christiano in 1971.
The band’s breakout record, “Poe Through The Glass Prism,” produced by electric guitar pioneer and recording innovator, Les Paul, was a concept album that combined the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe with original psychedelic rock, featuring the single “The Raven.” Due in part because of that album, Glass Prism earned a contract with RCA Records and was represented by manager Mort Lewis, who worked with Simon & Garfunkel, Dave Brubeck and Blood, Sweat and Tears, and their album began climbing the charts.
Varano said the band was excited their hard work through the ’60s was coming to fruition, but excitement soon turned to disappointment when their manager disappeared.
“A month after the album and the single got released, (Lewis) came up missing, and he remained missing until two years ago,” Varano said.
What Lewis did between 1969 and 2014 is a mystery in rock and roll lore. A Boston Globe article from 2014, said, “It’s not as if Lewis went into hiding,” but Varano’s experience suggests the contrary.
“When we got back together (in 2007), I got a call from a cousin of his,” Varano said. “She said, ‘I heard you guys were getting back together. I was wondering if you knew how to get in touch with Mort.’ She hadn’t spoken to him since 1969 either.”
RCA, displeased that Lewis dropped out, pulled promotions for “Poe” and canceled the scheduled tour with Blood, Sweat and Tears.
“We were left standing on the side of the road,” Varano said.
By 1973, Glass Prism was a trio and recorded another album, called “Sessions ‘73” under the name Shenandoah, which stayed shelved until recently.
In 1976, the band stopped performing and went their separate ways, Varano embarking on a career of management and promotion he continues today.
After nearly 35 years of not playing together or communicating much, Glass Prism reunited in 2007 to play at the German Society Theater in Philadelphia as part of a promotional event for the Edgar Allan Poe Historic Site.
The resurfacing caught the attention of documentary film maker Bob Ross, who began researching and interviewing those who had been with the band in its heyday, including Paul.
“On Joy and Sorrow: The Glass Prism Story,” was shopped around film festivals and rekindled interest in the band. The documentary culminated at a 2008 performance at the Scranton Cultural Center.
“Our story is convoluted and strange,” Varano said. “Kind of, ‘What happened to this band?’”
With renewed interest in playing together, the band came together for a 2010 show at Lackawanna College’s Mellow Theater, showing the documentary as the opening act, and again in 2012 at the SCC, celebrating their release “Resurrection,” a double album combining rearranged old songs, new tunes and the debut of “Sessions ‘73.”
And now they will return to the region to perform “Take No Prisoners.” The show is the seventh time band members have played together since reuniting in 2007, and they plan to play a mixture of their original songs, old and new, and covers from the 1960s and ’70s catalogue of music they cherish.
“We were working on putting the set together … and Louie said, ‘This show is take no prisoners,’” Varano said.
He recalled how dedicated local fans were to the band when it was getting its start.
“Aug. 27 is about making new memories,” he said. “We’ll come out and lay it on the line.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO:
What: Glass Prism: “Take No Prisoners” featuring opening act Don Shapelle Duo and guest host Shadoe Steele
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 North River St., Plains
When: 9 p.m., Aug. 27. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Additional information: General admission is $5. Reserved seating is available. For more information visit www.riverstreetjazzcafe.com or call 570-822-2992. Information is also available by contacting the band at 607-341-2994. A meet and greet autograph and photo session is scheduled for after the show.